A lump in your throat. A brick in your gut. Heat rising from your chest up to your head. Tears fighting to escape from your eyes. The numbness of being frozen in time…
We all experience the physical and emotional symptoms of disappointment in different ways, but for each of us, it is unpleasant at best and depressing at worst.
Maybe it was a match on a dating app that seemed to hold so much promise, or a job interview that you thought went really well – and then in the end, things just didn’t work out the way you wanted, and you’re left feeling utterly disappointed.
Expectation, disappointment, and sadness
As an emotion, researchers describe disappointment as a form of sadness that can lead to depression – leaving you in an uncomfortable state between expectations and reality. We often hear the words, “manage your expectations” – but, as Harvard Business Review states, so many of our expectations are unconscious (1).
We’re continuously setting ourselves up for disappointment, and waning in the limbo of unrealistic expectations, if we tell ourselves that we must have some thing to be happy and fulfilled, or place our happiness and fulfillment in something outside of ourselves. And, though unpleasant, our disappointing experiences actually provide valuable information about ourselves when it comes to our inner strength, resilience, beliefs, and ultimately what will make us truly happy.
However, if it’s so natural to feel this emotion, why does it seem to affect some people more than others? What’s the secret and what can we do to better manage disappointment?
Instead of trying to avoid disappointment by setting low expectations (*or by never attempting to achieve anything), it’s a lot more helpful to accept the experience. These 3 facts about disappointment are a good place to start.
How to deal with disappointment
1. “Disappointment is inevitable; misery is optional” – Unknown
Disappointment is entirely unavoidable. It is simply not possible to go through life having every single one of your expectations met. And, frankly, even if it were possible, it would be boring as hell. If you want to be super optimistic about it, disappointment is a form of variety… and you know what they say about variety, it’s the spice of life! Understanding that disappointment is unavoidable, and part of the important group of emotions that help to shape personality and mindframe, can help us to accept and move past it when it strikes. It’s also a helpful reminder that it’s not about you – everyone experiences disappointment, it’s a natural and important emotion just like happiness and anger, so don’t put it down to you not being good enough (2).
But of course, while disappointment itself may be inevitable, there are some situations where it could have been avoided. Maybe you missed a show because you marked the wrong date in your calendar or you were left waiting in the rain because your friend fell asleep instead of picking you up. In these situations, sure, the disappointment could have been avoided. Give yourself time to be angry or upset, give your friend a piece of your mind… but then think, ‘what am I supposed to learn from this?’ – and know that if it wasn’t this, it would have been something else. Disappointment is always around, so we need to learn to live with it.
2. “Life can only be understood backwards but must be lived forwards” – Soren Kierkegaard
Disappointment is time bound. Think back over your life and see if you can recall any disappointments you experienced. Do you notice that the intensity of the disappointments has changed over time? While some disappointments will have a huge impact on the course of our lives, many will seem inconsequential after a few weeks, months or years. Some disappointments can even be seen as blessings as time goes on. Perhaps you didn’t land your dream promotion which you worked so hard for, but then 6 months later you were headhunted for an even better role at a better company. Or what about that intensely painful break up you went through 10 years ago – which made you available to meet the true love of your life a few years later.
There is no doubt that disappointments can be extremely painful, but remembering that they heal and can even start to make sense over time can help you not to dwell on them too heavily in the moment.
3. “Don’t let today’s disappointments cast a shadow on tomorrow’s dreams” – Unknown
Disappointment is an opportunity. We’ve all heard that when one door closes, another opens but it can be difficult to see these other doors when you’re still staring in shock at the one that’s just been slammed in your face. Especially if it’s something you’ve been working on or looking towards for a long period of time – it’s not always so easy to dust yourself off and move on.
One popular way of dealing with disappointment mindfully is to approach the situation like a journalist. Write down all of the facts and, trying to leave emotion out of it, explore what other options are available. We don’t always know what’s best for us, and sometimes having to go with our second or even third choice is the best thing that could have happened to us (2).
Use this method to reframe the disappointment. For example say: Okay, this friendship isn’t what I thought it was but I gained a lot, learned new things about myself and now I can focus on cultivating these other relationships. Okay, I didn’t get this job but now I can use this extra time to start my own side hustle.
Humans have a negative bias, so it’s important that we actively focus on the positives to help us deal with the disappointment better, and turn it into an opportunity.
Disappointment is not fun for anyone. But keeping these 3 facts in mind can help us to bounce back whenever it gets us down. Remember, “disappointment is not meant to destroy us. If taken in stride, it can strengthen us and make us better.” (1)