No matter how hard you try to avoid it, disappointment is simply part-and-parcel of having expectations of a particular situation or even putting them onto other people, for that matter. It comes in varying degrees and every day can bring about new circumstances that leave you feeling a little jaded or discouraged – take a cancelled holiday due to COVID, for example. Sure, it’s a blow, but it can also be ranked pretty far down on the disappointment scale in retrospect. On the other side of the coin, life has its more serious consequences that may stem from somebody’s actions or high expectations. While we can’t guarantee you can remove disappointment from your life for good, we can offer tools for how to deal with it better and come back even stronger. Take it away, experts…
What a shame
What makes disappointment such a difficult pill to swallow is that it can be a very internal emotion as opposed to anger or sadness, which may manifest in a more physical way, say, having a good cry or perhaps a heated argument with someone. “Disappointment is an emotion that can be powered by shame and is usually related to expectations and often regret,” explains Liz Richie, an integrative psychotherapist at St Andrew’s Healthcare (stah.org). “It can manifest as a feeling of loss perhaps associated with a lack of achievement; a missed opportunity; something we feel we want but we can’t have and thwarted ambitions.” Although it’s an uncomfortable feeling to sit with, being disappointed does have some benefits. Dr Lynda Shaw, neuroscientist, psychologist and change specialist (drlyndashaw.com), says that disappointment helps us to zoom in on those aspects of our lives which can help us to learn and grow. “Feelings of disappointment highlight what’s truly meaningful to us. It also has the power to illuminate your passion for something, provides opportunities for personal development and growth, and ultimately can make you stronger in the end.”
All the feels
Didn’t get that job? House sale fall through? Receiving bad news is hard to deal with – especially if your confidence has taken the mother of all knocks – and feeling a bit sorry for yourself is a totally normal reaction. Dr Shaw recommends embracing this in order to make getting over the disappointment easier. “Take a moment to truly feel what you feel, whether that’s shock, upset or hurt.
Blocking [out] or suppressing any emotion isn’t beneficial for your mental or physical health and subconsciously invalidates your true feelings, which can have a negative impact on your self-worth.” Rather than seeing it as wallowing, Siobhan Jones, lead psychologist at Mindler UK (mindlercare.com), is on a mission to reframe the self-pity narrative and wants to address the band aid approach to masking feelings. “You shouldn’t be worried or scared of having difficult emotions, as they have a lot to teach you. At the moment, there’s a general culture for positive feelings and thoughts only, which isn’t helpful in my opinion. You need time to feel the difficult things, understand what caused you to feel this way and how you would like your responses to be different in the future.”
Showing up for others in times of disappointment can also take strength of your character, especially if there’s someone you know who has the potential to be a bit of a Negative Nancy. While sharing and being heard is important in relationships, Liz comments that your feelings of empathy can often be met with a strong attraction to those who like to vent and think pessimistically. “There’s a limit to how much you can give and when your empathic tendencies attract those kinds of people, it can leave you feeling drained. In these circumstances, your responsibility is to be mindful of not neglecting your own needs and to serve and protect yourself before you can be in a healthy position to help others.” Siobhan agrees and says by simply being a listening ear for someone, that’s often enough. “Ask yourself, what do they need and are you the person to give this to them? Then, ask them what they need from you. You can also set boundaries if you feel this is [getting] too much for you, which doesn’t make you a bad friend or family member. Once you’ve asked them what they would like from you, you can say ‘I don’t think I’m the best person to do that for you’.”
Let it go
When you get stuck on constantly trying to avoid disappointment, it detracts from what you really want because all of your energy is focused on that. Learning to cope with difficult feelings is by experiencing and then surviving them, and once you have a run in with disappointment, it can give you the opportunity to find ways to work towards getting or wants and needs met, notes Siobhan. “Once you’ve spent some time reflecting what you feel disappointed about and how you show your disappointment to yourself and others, think about if there’s anything you need to do differently. Do you need to adjust your expectations or negotiate with someone in your life?
It’s only when you’ve gone through difficulties that you can emerge stronger.” Don’t underestimate the power of hope, either. In times of trouble, a bit of perspective goes a long way. Yes, the breakdown in the chain hurts, especially when you’ve had your heart set on that house, but chances are it won’t matter in 10 years’ time and you’ll be much happier in the place you’re in now. “Learn from the experience through reflection and consider what went wrong; why and how this could be prevented in future,” reaffirms Dr Shaw. “Accept that your life doesn’t always follow the plans that we set out for ourselves, and try to let go of the need to control and live in the now.”