Are either of the following thoughts crossing your mind right now?
“I am disappointed in myself.”
“I am a disappointment to others.”
If so, that’s okay.
These thoughts and feelings are quite common. In fact, everyone experiences them at some point in their lives.
The key is to identify and understand where they have come from so that you can challenge and eventually overcome them.
To help you do this, here are some questions to ask yourself.
1. Whose standards are you trying to live up to?
In order to feel like a disappointment, you have to believe yourself to be in some way less than what you or others think you should be.
But who is telling you what you should be?
Who is setting a particular standard for you to reach?
Chances are it is not your standards that you are trying to live up to.
It is somebody else’s. Or society’s as a whole.
You may have taken these upon yourself and integrated them into your mindset, but they did not begin life there.
This is important because if you try to live your life how other people want you to live it, you will deny yourself the chance to live it how YOU want to live it.
And the chances of you feeling disappointed in yourself increase substantially when you force yourself down a particular path that doesn’t feel right to you.
If you feel like you are disappointing your parents or family, you ought to stop and ask why their vision of your life is more important than your own.
The people who claim to love and care for us have every right to wish the best for us, but they do not have the right to decide for us what that best should be.
2. Are your expectations realistic?
When the reality of your situation does not match the vision you had of it in your mind, you get disappointed.
This is perfectly natural.
If you book into a hotel because it looked great in the pictures and had good reviews, but were shown to a dirty and dated room, you are bound to feel let down.
Similarly, if you expect to have a well paid job and own a home by the time you are 25, you’re going to feel disappointed if that doesn’t happen.
Or if you think you’re going to get straight As in your exams, but end up with a mixture of As, Bs, and Cs, you might feel like you’ve let yourself and others down.
But in these situations, and others like them, were you being realistic about the likely outcomes?
Are you comparing your goals unfavorably to those of other people and changing them to match?
It’s important to recognize where you are at right now in terms of your abilities and your headspace and to set honest, achievable goals.
Perhaps your goal for today shouldn’t be to hit the gym, take the kids to the park after school, and prepare a home cooked meal.
Perhaps your goal should just be to get out of bed and take a shower.
If you are not in a great place right now, these aims are more than enough.
The gym can wait. The kids will manage just fine playing with their toys. A pre-made meal from a grocery store will do nicely.
If you’re at school, set goals based around improvement rather than any particular grade.
Try to do a little better than last term. Ask your teachers more questions to get things clear in your mind. See if there is any extra help you can get.
In all things, don’t set your bar too high too soon. Lofty goals are fine, so long as you break them down into lots of smaller goals.
You can’t jump straight from the ground to the top of a building, but you can take one step at a time on the stairs.
Focus on those steps. Focus on the process. Don’t keep looking up at that big goal you desire so much.
3. Are you tying self-worth to success?
It’s easy to associate the value we bring to the world and to the lives of other people with the things we achieve and the success we have.
Society, the media, and even your own friends and family can convince you that to be praised and accepted, you must do well in certain things.
Of course, this means that your entire self-worth is dependent on external things.
Do you earn a high salary? Do you own a nice car? Do you go on lots of holidays? Are you in a relationship? Did you do well in school?
The issue of disappointment arises the moment you do not attain the level of success you believe you should.
And so you beat yourself up and you allow the passing comments or criticisms of other people to deeply affect you.
But what is success, really?
It comes back to the standards and expectations talked about above.
Most people have come to believe that a successful life is one that looks a certain way on the surface.
Yet, who’s to say that your success can’t look completely different?
If you can train your mind to see your life as a success in its own right, you’ll recognize that you do have worth and you are worthy of the acceptance of others.
You won’t look at your life and only see what’s missing from the stereotypical picture of success and happiness.
4. Are you ignoring all of the things you do well?
The mind can easily become blind to things that disprove a certain belief it holds.
If you feel like a disappointment to yourself or to other people, you might be overlooking those things you are doing well at.
Perhaps you are so preoccupied with climbing the career ladder that you often feel disheartened by your slow rate of progress.
And this taints the view you have of the rest of your life.
Even if you have a loving partner, good friends, you manage to enjoy some hobbies, and you keep yourself fit and healthy, your mindset is always negative because of your job.
Take a critical look at your own life by imagining it’s actually your friend’s life.
Would you look at it and think they are a failure? That they are a disappointment to others?
No, you wouldn’t.
Believe it or not, you’d probably be quite envious of it.
You might think they’ve done pretty well for themselves.
But, for some reason, you don’t currently see this when you consider yourself.
You only see the negatives and none of the positives.
If you can shift your mindset to one that rejoices in all of the things you have to be grateful for, you’ll disrupt and dislodge those feelings of disappointment.
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5. What is your mindset when you fail?
It’s natural to feel disappointed when you fail at something.
It can be all too easy, however, to take the failure of a task or goal and relate that to yourself as a person.
You begin to think that you are a failure in life. A failure in all things.
This ties in with the previous points about self-worth and overlooking the things you do well.
Ask yourself what language you use when you fail and how that might feed into how you feel.
Are you overly critical of something you didn’t get quite right?
Do you attack yourself for being stupid, weak, or useless?
Do you believe that because you have failed, you are unworthy of love, either from yourself or from others?
If so, you should try to separate the single event from your life as a whole.
No failure is final if you are prepared to try again.
There are always new opportunities to do something different.
When a young child falls down, you don’t scold them for being a failure – you encourage them to get back to their feet and try again.
Speak to yourself like you would a child.
And if you decide that you need to change course at some point during your life, don’t see the time and effort you’ve already spent as a waste.
See it as a turning point. See it as something positive. See it as a revelation that allows you to grow and thrive.
Perhaps you spend years training to become a doctor, only to discover later on that you don’t enjoy the work you do.
Deciding to stay in the profession simply because that’s what you’ve trained for is an example of a sunk cost fallacy.
You become mentally immobile because you believe you have invested too much to give it all up and it would be a massive failure to do so.
But what if changing careers makes you happier and less stressed? Surely you should see that as a good thing and not something to be disappointed by.
6. Are you imagining other people’s disappointment?
If a loved one has openly expressed their disappointment in you, just skip this question.
But if they haven’t, how can you be sure they really are disappointed?
It’s easy to get so wrapped up in your own thoughts and feelings that you transfer them into other people in your imagination.
You may think you know what others are thinking, but it’s only ever negative in your mind.
Maybe you think your parents will be disappointed or even ashamed of you for dropping out of college.
But in their minds, they just want to see you happy and will support you in your decision.
Maybe you hide your sexuality because you are sure your family won’t approve.
But they actually don’t care either way and would be happy with your choice of partner.
Unless you know for sure because they’ve told you so, try not to invent disappointment that might not otherwise exist.
It only serves to burden you further and make you less willing to speak to those who care about you.
Nine times out of ten, you’ll probably find that people are far more supportive and positive than you imagine them to be.
7. Are you afraid of being judged?
Everyone makes mistakes.
Everyone makes poor choices.
No one is perfect.
You suffer greatly from your own shortcomings because you are sure that other people are judging you for them.
A fear of being judged leaves you feeling anxious about how people view you and makes you try hard to please them.
But, of course, you can’t please everyone, and you will slip up from time to time.
Rather than believe that other people are forgiving, you believe that they will hold any transgressions against you forever more.
This only fuels your feelings of being a disappointment.
It’s worth bearing in mind that you can’t get through life without mistakes and bad choices.
You ought not to condemn yourself for making some.
Aside from any major hurt you may cause to someone, most indiscretions are soon water under the bridge.
Similarly, if you make choices that don’t fit what other people expect of you, they will most likely come round to this new reality sooner rather than later.
8. How would you feel if someone you care about felt like a disappointment?
Swap roles with a friend or family member and pretend that it is they who believe they are a disappointment to those around them.
How would you respond?
What would you feel?
Again, unless they had wronged you in some major way, you would probably feel a level of empathy and sympathy toward them.
You wouldn’t judge them. You wouldn’t be disappointed by them. You wouldn’t disown them.
You would reassure them that they were loved. You would try to make them see their situation more positively. You would encourage them to believe in themselves.
So, ask yourself: are you a better person than everyone else?
No, of course not.
In which case, doesn’t it follow that other people will look upon you with similarly caring eyes?
Won’t they want to show you that you are loved and that you are worthy of their love?
This relates back to the point about imagining others’ disappointment because, more often than not, no one has any ill feelings toward you whatsoever.
9. What makes someone else label you a disappointment?
Let’s consider the situation where someone has clearly stated that they are disappointed in you.
If that has happened to you, why was this person disappointed?
Was it some standalone error of judgement you made? If so, they’ll get over it, and so should you.
Or have they stated that you are a disappointment in general?
If they have, you have to question why.
Were they hurting at the time? Were emotions running high? Was this the culmination of a series of arguments?
During big blowouts, people find it easier to say things they don’t really mean, just to defend themselves by going on the attack.
It may take time, but these sorts of rifts can be healed.
Did they express their disappointment because you have chosen a different path, perhaps one that goes against tradition or culture?
If so, you have to do your best to explain why your choice is one that you care deeply about.
As hard as it might be, try to help them understand how you feel upon hearing that you disappoint them.
Tell them that it hurts. Tell them that you wish for them to see things from your perspective. Tell them that you want them to be happy for you.
On the other hand, some people lack the emotional intelligence or empathy to understand how their words affect other people.
They may make flippant remarks that really hurt and then not understand why you are getting so upset.
If this is the case, you ought to bear in mind that they may not always mean what they say. In fact, they don’t really think about their words before they say them.
And then there are those people whose personalities are toxic. They actively seek to inflict pain on others in order to manipulate them and make themselves feel better.
Whether that’s your parent or a so-called friend, if you can identify these sorts of people, you have to tread carefully and decided whether or not you wish to keep them in your life.
If they continually bring you down and make you feel worthless, ask whether it’s in your best interests to cut ties with this person.
10. Are you depressed?
Feeling disappointed in yourself and believing that you are a disappointment to others can accompany depression.
If you think there is even the slightest chance that you might be depressed, talk to your health professional about it, or confide in someone you trust who can then help you get the help you need.