6 Steps to Deal with Disappointment

April 15, 2018

Are you feeling the impact of a major disappointment right now? Let down. Somewhat defeated. Things didn’t go your way? Finding it difficult to deal with unfulfilled dreams or expectations?

Dealing with disappointment can feel like you are covering a lot of emotional ground……..sadness, frustration, embarrassment, worry, anger, jealousy, guilt, confusion, rejection, hopelessness, helplessness, and feeling reflective wondering ‘why’?.

Feeling disappointment doesn’t tend to feel great. It can though, be a powerful emotional experience to help clarify your own personal expectations of yourself. The self-appraisal in the aftermath of disappointment can help pave an alternative path to the attainment of future goals that are important to you.

Getting a grip on disappointment

How you handle disappointment can be a defining moment. The vast majority of people tend to wallow in disappointment which then leads to self-doubt, discouragement, and even a reactive depression. Disappointment can feel physically ‘heavy in your body’ and burdensome at times and can involve unhelpful, negative thoughts, for example “I’m just not good enough…” or “nothing ever works out for me”. Is it any surprise then that some people can feel stuck in the cycle of disappointment? Oh, and if you decide to try and hide your disappointment, this can maintain that stuck feeling even more.

Here are some suggested steps for dealing with disappointment:

1. Calm yourself down first. Give yourself permission to create space and clear your mind. Disappointment can feel completely overwhelming, but you won’t be able to solve any problems if you are obsessing about disappointment. Take a nap, go for a massage, head out for a long walk, talk to a friend, take a shower or soak in a bath. Do whatever will help to adopt a more relaxed and calmer state of mind. Avoid reaching for any mind-altering substances (i.e. alcohol, drugs), or engaging in impulsive behaviours at this time of overwhelm and heightened emotional distress (e.g. online shopping, binge eating or gambling).

2. Admit it and be curious to learn more about it. Be open and honest about your feelings of disappointment. Ask yourself:
What really happened here?
What did I want to happen?
Why am I feeling disappointed about this?

3. Evaluate your expectations. Explore the thought processes that led to your feelings of disappointment. Ask yourself:
Was I blaming myself, someone else or simply the circumstances?
Was I searching for excuses?
How have these thoughts hindered me?

If you find yourself looking to blame, make excuses, complain excessively, or dodge responsibility then you may be ignoring or missing out on identifying the real problem.

When it comes to disappointment, your expectations coming into the situation will always determine how you will feel after the event has taken place, so delve into understanding what your expectations were prior to the situation. When you approach a situation with no expectations, you naturally see it for what it is…..the facts and not the fiction, so to speak.

Without judgments, opinions, beliefs and ‘heartfelt’ interpretations skewing your perception, you are more capable of adopting a resourceful and mindful path for yourself moving forward.

4. Learn from the experience. Reframe disappointment as a learning experience. Finding out what disappointment means to you in the bigger picture of your life can be helpful in learning more about yourself and your values. Ask yourself these questions to help learn from the experience:
How do my expectations set me up for disappointment?
How could I potentially adjust them for next time?
Just maybe there is a silver lining here… What could that be?

5. Strive for improvement, not perfection. Perfection is not attainable. There will always be something that chips away at the ‘perfection’ standard when appraising a situation or performance. You can still experience disappointment in the pursuit of improvement, however, at least improvement is an attainable benchmark, whereas perfection is not and is often associated with unrelenting high standards and criticalness. Modifying your expectations to deviate away from perfectionistic standards can build self-confidence and optimism in the likely pursuit of progress and continual improvement.

6. Reflect and seek clarity. In an effort to ‘make lemonade out of lemons’, ask your self a final set of questions:
How can I be clearer with myself about what I want?
What can I learn about why I was attached to a specific outcome?
What did I think was going to happen?
Was I realistic about my expectations?
How will I benefit from letting go of the fact my expectations were not met?
Will this disappointment really matter in six months/1 years’ time?
Could I have done something differently to influence a different outcome?
What support and resources could assist me to move through this disappointment successfully?
How can I best utilize these supports and resources?

Taryn Oak
Clinical Psychologist


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