Have you ever tried to just make an emotion go away? Or have you ever tried to create an emotion that you didn’t have? Either way, we know that things simply don’t happen that way. Once we feel an emotion, we know that the emotion is there until it passes or fades. Sometimes this happens more quickly than other times because some feelings are more intense, while others less intense. But they all do fade with time, no matter how intense they were at first. Disappointment is one such emotion that can present itself with such intenseness that we tend to be reminded exactly how bad it made us feel.
Disappointment is an emotion that happens when hopes or expectations are not met. All of us feel disappointment at times in our relationships, in other people, and in ourselves. It’s not an easy feeling to sit with, but there are healthy (and unhealthy) ways to cope with this unavoidable emotion. One thing that I do want to point out is that it might be tempting to handle disappointment by avoiding it altogether. We might try not to have expectations and that would be nice, but it is not realistically possible – it would be like trying to have no thoughts or ideas about how something should be or might go. To be honest, expectations can be helpful for us in many ways, but where we get into trouble is when our expectations are not healthy or realistic. Sometimes it’s better to wait to know more about the situation or the person before we set expectations.
So how can we cope with the unpleasantness of disappointment that is sure to come up? Let’s talk about some healthy ways to deal with disappointment:
Understanding the Disappointment and Validating It
Acknowledge that you’re experiencing disappointment. It’s tempting to ignore, minimize, or do just about anything to distract us from unpleasant feelings, but this can make these feelings more of a problem over time. Instead, acknowledging and naming a feeling and going as far to even doing this out loud can help us cope in a healthy way. Validating our emotions means accepting that they are present and remembering that it’s ok to have those feelings. Also, understanding that emotions always happen for a reason can help us to ask for help in identifying them and what they are trying to tell us.
Riding the Wave of Disappointment
Part of healthy coping with disappointment is reminding yourself that disappointment is like a wave — we need to ride it until it passes. Being kind toward yourself and validating the feelings can help you ride out a wave of disappointment. Getting support from others can also be so helpful. Sometimes focusing our energies or attention on something else meaningful to us helps lessen the intensity of the feeling. If we have already acknowledged and validated our feelings of disappointment, then distracting ourselves can be a helpful coping strategy to get through the wave.
Checking Expectations and Adjusting Them to Match Reality
Sometimes, adjusting expectations is the best way to cope with disappointment. If an expectation is rigid or inflexible or doesn’t line up with reality, it’s easier to set ourselves up for being disappointed. For example, if you believe you should never need to try something new more than once to learn it, or that people should always reply to your text messages within 5 minutes, you might frequently feel disappointed. In a case like this, it’s helpful to soften or realign your expectations to make them more realistic.
Focusing on the Bigger Picture: Expecting and Accepting Disappointment in Life
Another helpful way of dealing with disappointment is remembering that it is simply a part of life. There’s no way to avoid it altogether. Remember, disappointment is a feeling that comes up around expectations that aren’t met. So, if you expect to have a life free of disappointment you may find yourself disappointed. Although accepting emotional circumstances despite our emotional reaction, can make things less uncomfortable, it will require time and practice.
Next, here are some situations in which disappointment often comes up, and examples of how you can best handle them:
Disappointment in a Relationship
Disappointment can come up in any meaningful relationship. Whether it’s a romantic relationship, a friendship, or a family relationship — every relationship comes with expectations. Valuing a relationship and having expectations for that relationship go hand in hand. The more the relationship means to us, the more the possibility of disappointment.
Disappointment in Yourself
Feeling disappointed in yourself can be so uncomfortable and can wreak havoc on our self-esteem. Sadness and shame tend to come up when we feel disappointment in ourselves. We all have many expectations we hold of ourselves: how we should act, feel, and think, what we should do with our time and energy, what abilities and traits we should have, and so on. Given all these expectations, it’s easy to see why feeling disappointment in yourself is a near-universal experience. However, understanding that we all have strengths as well as weaknesses is beneficial. No one will be good at everything just as no one struggles with everything.
When People Disappoint You
Just like feeling disappointed in yourself, it’s inevitable to feel disappointed in others sometimes too. Other people have their own ideas, feelings, desires, and challenges, so there’s no way they will always meet the expectations we have of them. When you feel disappointed in someone else, it’s also common to feel frustrated or resentful, or even angry. Sometimes we equate how we are treated by someone else to where we are on an imaginary list that we have already created in our mind. We want to be first…we want to feel important…we want to feel that someone sees us for the competent person that we feel that we are, hoping that we receive the validation we so badly need. The truth is there is no list. People tend to think about themselves as being the first in line…they are the most important…and they are likely looking for their own validation they so badly need.
Whether you’re feeling disappointment in a relationship, in others, or in yourself, there are various healthy ways you can deal with this unpleasant emotion. Acknowledging disappointment, by naming and validating it, is a good place to start. Validation can also help you “ride the wave” of disappointment, which will pass with time. Getting support from others and distracting yourself with constructive activities are also helpful ways to tolerate feelings of disappointment while they persist. Making your expectations more flexible and realistic can also help lessen the discomfort of disappointment. Lastly, it’s healthy to remember and accept that disappointment is a part of life. We are not being singled out; we are human beings that are not perfect dealing with other human beings that are not perfect. Let's work together to respect each other, show grace, and realize that our experiences in life are sometimes not so different.