We all encounter disappointment in our lives in some way or another, whether it’s coping with the end of a relationship, a work project that didn’t go to plan, or feelings of regret in our personal lives.
Learning how to handle disappointment and overcome the feelings it can bring is so important in helping us live positive, fulfilled lives.
In this article, we’re going to explore the causes of disappointment so that we can understand where it comes from. Then we’ll run through our top tips when it comes to coping with disappointment and moving on. And finally, we’ll look at some ways to minimize the disappointment you feel next time.
Why Do We Get Disappointed?
There is no singular root cause of feelings of disappointment. They can stem from a variety of different sources. These include:
A disparity between our expectations and our reality.
Expectations are the result of predictions we make about what a particular event, person, action, or feeling ought to be like. You predict something will happen, which then leads you to expect that thing.
But we’re pretty lousy at making predictions. We get things wrong. A lot. And when our predictions are wrong, our expectations are shattered, and we feel disappointed.
The further away our predictions are from the reality of the situation or outcome, the more disappointed we feel.
Take a sports fan, for example. If her team is an underdog going into a game, she may predict a loss. That gives her low expectations. Should her team lose, she will be disappointed, sure, because every fan always has a little hope in the back of their mind even when the odds are against their desired result. But, her disappointment will not affect her too much because her prediction was correct.
If, however, her team are big favorites, she may believe a win is in the bag. That gives her high expectations. Should her team lose, her disappointment will impact her a great deal because the reality of the outcome was so much worse than her expectations.
But our predictions don’t have to revolve around very precise outcomes like a sports game. They can be about how we might feel about something, the experience we might have, or the relationships we share with others. Here, predictions are far more unreliable, and so our expectations are more likely to be wrong.
Perhaps a person goes on a few dates with someone else, and they enjoy themselves and the company of this other person each time. They feel a spark. They sense compatibility. They start imagining a potential future with this person. But then they get a text or a call from the other person, saying it was nice to get to know them but they don’t feel a strong romantic connection. This disparity between the person’s hopes and the outcome of the relationship is so great that the disappointment will be huge.
If, however, this person was on the same wavelength as their date, and didn’t really see the relationship going anywhere, they wouldn’t have felt much disappointment at all.
A disparity between our desired behavior and our actual behavior.
This is similar to the previous cause, only this time the outcome is not a particular thing nor a feeling, but a behavior. And the result is not disappointment about how something went, but about how we acted.
It happens when we fall below the standards we have set ourselves. When we believe we should have done ‘better.’
We feel disappointed in ourselves because we have not acted how our ideal self would have acted in a given scenario.
Let’s take a parent whose patience runs out after dealing with a challenging child all day long. That child may only be a toddler or baby, but it’s draining to be around that constant noise and need for attention for prolonged periods without a break. And so, come bedtime, when the child is still playing up or crying out, the parent raises their voice at the child in exasperation.
Soon after, they may feel a profound sense of disappointment in themselves for losing their composure. They regret what they did. This is not the type of parent that wished to be. They thought they’d always be able to remain calm and deal with whatever their child threw at them (figuratively and literally). But they couldn’t. Their actual behavior was not the same as their desired behavior.
Or how about a person who kisses someone other than their partner and then feels immediate and immense shame about their actions. They will be disappointed in themselves because they never believed that they were capable of betraying someone’s trust in that way.
A pursued outcome that doesn’t yield the desired feeling.
Have you ever chased after a dream or goal with huge amounts of energy and determination, only to achieve it and feel utterly flat or deflated by its completion?
Perhaps you worked really hard to hit a sales target in your job. You put the hours in and learned better ways of closing deals, all so you could reach a particular figure that your boss had given you.
That’s great! Why would you feel anything but elated at that achievement?
Well, perhaps it’s because you believed that reaching that target would make you happy. That you’d feel accomplished and like you have arrived at a point where you deserve to feel happy (this is called the ‘arrival fallacy’).
But you know your boss is going to set you an even higher target next month. And if you hit that, they’ll push it up again. Whatever you do, the goalposts will keep moving.
Each time, you’ll attach your future happiness to the achievement of that new goal. But whether you reach it or not, you’ll end up disappointed because the promises of happiness are not forthcoming.
It might also be the case that you are so far ahead of your target throughout the course of the month, that by the time the end of the month comes and your final total is calculated, you’ve already assimilated that reality and made it a part of your identity. You already know you’re capable of X amount of sales, so having it officially confirmed is not exciting.
You know you should celebrate your achievement, but it doesn’t even feel like an achievement anymore. This time, you move you own goalposts because you felt like you should have sold even more.
It’s a bit like an amateur runner who wants to run a sub-three hour marathon. Only, because they are so clearly capable of doing that judging by their own training runs, when they cross the line well underneath that specific mark, all they can think about is how they might have pushed even harder to run even faster. The goal is already a reality in their mind, even if it hasn’t yet become a true reality. So achieving it doesn’t result in the happiness they believed it would.
This same feeling can arise when a person tells themselves that when they own a particular thing, they will be happy because it will give them something they feel they are lacking. That might be a sense of completion, a better reputation, or a sense of security.
But the person will often find that, upon attaining this thing – a house, a car, a luxury boat, a diamond necklace – it brings them little to no satisfaction whatsoever.
An attachment to the impermanent.
Everything changes with the passing of time. That inevitability is not something we are always willing to accept. And so, when a thing that we are emotionally attached to changes or leaves us, we find ourselves disappointed.
Consider a person who was proud of their looks for a long time, only to see those looks change to something less desirable – as they see it – through the natural aging process.
Consider someone whose favorite seasons are spring and summer who gets upset as the days shorten and get colder again with the arrival of autumn and winter.
Some people even feel a deep sense of loss when their beloved television series finally comes to an end after many long seasons.
In each case, the feeling of disappointment comes about because a person has an unhealthy attachment to something which is destined to end. And with that end, the enjoyment that person got from that thing disappears too.
Trauma during childhood.
During our formative years, our minds are very impressionable. Sometimes, when a traumatic event occurs that fills us with a sense of disappointment, that emotion can linger in our minds.
Should we ever experience a similar event as adults, those past memories and the feelings of disappointment that accompanied them can come flooding back. What may not seem like a big deal to most adults can absolutely flatten a person because of a link to their past.
12 Ways To Cope With Disappointment
Some of these tips are vital for dealing with big disappointments, while others are ideal for getting over little disappointments, and some are effective in both circumstances.
While we might like the idea of jumping into a new lifestyle straight after something disappoints us, it’s important to remember that grieving is a vital part of processing events.
There doesn’t need to be a death for us to grieve, it can simply be the loss of something.
Losing your job, going through a break-up, or falling out with a friend can all be devastating.
You’re still experiencing a loss of some sort, as well as a big change in your life, and you need time to get over it before you can make a start with moving on.
Rather than rushing to feel better as soon as something negative happens, take time to process it and communicate it fully to yourself.
Disappointment can be strung out, such as in the decline of a relationship over a few weeks, or it can be sudden and shocking.
Either way, you need to give yourself some time to understand what’s happening or has happened.
Allow yourself to feel something negative and find a way to label it – “Today I feel upset that…,” “Now I’m feeling angry about…,” “I feel jealous of…”
This is totally natural, healthy behavior.
By labelling our feelings, we can slowly start to process them and distance ourselves from them. This helps us move on to the next stage of overcoming disappointment.
That being said, it doesn’t do any good to wallow for too long and dwell on bad feelings and thoughts.
Give yourself some time to get over the initial waves of feelings (anger, frustration, sadness, etc.) before you move on.
This’ll put you in a much better headspace for putting those longer-term coping mechanisms in place!
Think about what’s really going on.
When you’re in the moment, smaller things can feel like a huge deal.
Try to take a step back and be realistic with yourself. This is why embracing those intense feelings in the beginning is such a great idea.
By the time you’ve gotten those big crying sessions and fits of anger out of the way, you can begin to look at things more rationally.
Make a note of what actually happened – facts, quotes, whatever it is that will help you remember the true events.
Look back at this with a clearer head and start processing it again.
Without the feelings attached, is what happened really so bad?
It may be that you’re still upset, and we’ve got plenty of ways to overcome these feelings.
It may be that you realize that you don’t need to continue reacting with such strong emotions anymore.
Remind yourself that while your behavior may be natural, it isn’t particularly healthy to indulge yourself in it for too long.
Rationalization is also useful in identifying those expectations you might have had which were unrealistic. Were you really justified in expecting a particular thing? Was it based on pure fantasy or grounded in reality? If you can see that your expectations weren’t reasonable, you can better accept the actual outcome you experienced.
3. Practice forgiveness.
When your disappointment stems from the behavior displayed by you or someone else, it pays to show forgiveness.
You and everyone else on this planet are fallible human beings who can never be totems of perfection. If you expected more of yourself or of another person, and you or they did not deliver, it’s not a stain upon your or their character or moral standing.
Whilst forgiveness for major wrongs is not easy, it is something to put time and effort into. Forgiveness is a process that requires your sustained focus and attention, but it can alleviate the feelings of disappointment by looking beyond the act to the person behind it.
Little wrongs or times where you or someone else did not quite live up to expectations can also be handled via forgiveness. Accept that you or they may have acted based on circumstance and emotion – not every action we take is a conscious choice. When we do something in the spur of the moment without great thought or care, it can lead to pain and suffering. The choice is to condemn ourselves for our flaws or to accept that we cannot go through life without causing some hurt to ourselves and others.
4. Talk it out.
Talking about what you’re feeling is one of the best ways to deal with most things in life, and coping with disappointment is no different.
Make sure you trust whoever you’re talking to – we’d suggest avoiding confiding in colleagues about your deeper feelings unless you know them really well, especially if it concerns any aspect of work.
If you’re struggling to get over being let down by something you’ve been working hard on, it can be really easy to lash out and blame other people.
Rather than doing this, talk to others about how you’re feeling as this will really help you process it.
Going through a break-up or experiencing the decline of a friendship can be so upsetting. The disappointment that comes from it can be very raw, which is why talking it out can help you move on.
5. Separate yourself from the event.
If the thing that has left you disappointed is something external – by which we mean it wasn’t your direct action that led to it – it’s important that you maintain a clear separation between it and you.
What does that mean? It means you should avoid internalizing the cause of the disappointment. In other words, don’t make yourself the reason why something didn’t work out the way you wanted it to.
If one of your colleagues got a promotion ahead of you, don’t assume that this had everything to do with you and nothing to do with them. The truth is quite likely to be the other way around. It wasn’t so much your faults or shortcomings that prevented you from getting the promotion; it was the other person simply being better suited to the new role because of qualities or experience they possess.
If you simply can’t save up enough money to take your family away on that dream holiday you’ve had your eye on and have to settle for something more budget-friendly, don’t put that all on you and your failure as a provider. Perhaps there was no overtime available at your place of work. Maybe an unexpected expense ate into your savings pot. It might have even been that the price of your dream holiday went up from the previous year which simply pushed it beyond reach. It’s disappointing, sure, but it’s not your fault, and your family will enjoy the holiday you have provided for them.
The moment you take responsibility for things that were outside of your control, you prolong and extend your disappointment. Life happens. You won’t always get the rub of the green. Plans will sometimes go belly up through no fault of your own. Accept that and your disappointment will ease.
Just because an event in your life was a disappointment, it doesn’t make you a disappointment.
6. Use it as motivation.
Disappointment is normally a drain on our emotional energy, but it is possible to switch some disappointments around and turn them into sources of energy.
How? You channel your feelings into actions that can improve your situation and potentially address or overcome the source of your disappointment.
For example, if you wrote a book thinking that it’s going to sell thousands of copies and it only sells in the tens or low hundreds, you’re bound to be bitterly disappointed. You can dwell in that frustration or you can try again with a new book. Or you might learn how to market your book in a way that leads to the sales numbers you were initially hoping for.
Failure isn’t the end if you don’t want it to be. You can get up, dust yourself off, and try again to achieve whatever it is you have set your sights on.
Use your disappointment as a motivator to find a way of doing what needs to be done, whatever that may be.
Learn from it. Dissect it and see it from all different angles. Let it guide you to a new and better path.
7. Practice gratitude and mindfulness.
Look into meditation – this can help calm your mind when you’re feeling stressed.
Disappointment can trigger lots of different emotions, including stress, so it’s important to deal with these secondary feelings, too.
Take some time out to practice mindfulness. It can make a huge difference to how you process situations that leave you feeling put out or let down.
This time helps you to ground yourself and be present, pausing to reflect on what you do still have in your life, even if you’re feeling upset by the absence of something or someone else.
Gratitude is something that many of us are quick to dismiss – we know that we’re lucky to have a roof over our heads and food to eat.
But what about everything else?
Train your mind to go deeper and explore the other great things in your life, like loved ones and any talents you have, as well as things like your health, intelligence, and compassion.
By gearing yourself up to be grateful and self-aware, you’ll feel more comfortable, stable, and confident in your life and choices.
That means that if something doesn’t go to plan again in the future, you already know that you’re in a fantastic situation and won’t feel so distraught.
Just because one aspect of your life isn’t quite how you wanted it to be, doesn’t mean you can’t still focus on how good everything else is.
By setting yourself up in this way, you’re more likely to deal with any future disappointments quickly and healthily, helping you move on in a positive way.
8. Get active.
Some aspects of this list are really focused on mental well-being and mindfulness. We’d suggest these coping mechanisms for everyone, of course, but we know that people react to things differently.
If you haven’t found anything from this list that really resonates with you yet, maybe your mind just works in a slightly different way.
Getting active is such a great form of mindfulness, especially for those who tend to veer away from what they see as ‘hippie’ remedies and hate the thought of meditating in a candlelit room!
Keeping your body in good shape is key for all types of health, but moving and engaging with your body is so, so great when it comes to dealing with emotional traumas.
Your mental health will improve so much when you start incorporating exercise into your daily life.
Adding exercise to your lifestyle is so beneficial when it comes to dealing with disappointment. You rediscover your own strength, which can be so easily forgotten when you lose a job or end a relationship.
We lose ourselves to so much during our lives – jobs, relationship, friendships – many of which can be horribly toxic.
By exercising, we get in touch with our bodies again and remember that we are capable.
We might not be power lifters (yet!) but we can do things.
We might not be sprinters, but our bodies can move and carry us.
We might not be gymnasts, but we can engage with our bodies through yoga and Pilates.
The more that we discover our physical potential, the better our mental health becomes, and that includes being able to cope much better with disappointment, sadness, and grief.
What’s more, exercise gives us a boost of our natural feel-good hormones dopamine and serotonin. This hit helps to alleviate the immediate emotional depressant of disappointment.
9. Make a physical change.
Again, we can talk all we like about mindfulness in the ‘spiritual’ sense, but some people need something more physical to feel like things are actually changing.
If you want something more solid, make a physical change. By doing something that you can see happening, you’ll start to feel in control again.
If meditation doesn’t work for you, change something that you can witness; something tactile.
Rearrange your living space, get a haircut, get a new piercing, or buy new shoes.
These might not seem like great coping mechanisms at first, but there’s some science behind it all!
By changing something that you can physically touch and see, you’re reminded that you have some control over some things.
By reminding yourself over this power you have, you’ll start to shift your mindset.
10. Take control.
Remember that, despite how things may feel, you are in control of how you react. It might take you a while to get there, but you can choose how you deal with each day.
We know that it’s unrealistic of us to suggest that you start every day feeling super positive and ready to move on, so be true to yourself and honor whatever you’re feeling in the moment.
‘Moment’ is the key word there – it’s okay to feel low when you’re reminded of something that upsets you, but don’t turn five minutes of sadness into an entire day of devastation!
Remind yourself that you have the power to shift your mindset. The less time you give yourself to feel down each day, the less time the overall healing process will take.
Find ways to distract yourself, whether it’s spending time with friends, watching old movies, or hitting the gym.
Try out different ways of empowering yourself and you’ll quickly start to overcome the difficulties you’re facing.
11. Practice self-care.
Be tough but gentle! Like we say, remember that you have some control of your emotions, but be kind to yourself, too.
Getting your mind and body worked up by reliving whatever happened to make you feel so bad is only going to make things worse.
The more stressed you get, the worse this situation is going to become, and the longer it’s going to take you to get over it.
Try to keep your stress levels as low as possible. While it’s good to distract yourself and stay busy, don’t overdo it.
In-between practicing yoga and joining new community classes, take some time out to just relax.
Have more baths, read before bed, treat yourself to herbal teas and morning pastries!
You deserve to feel good about yourself, and this whole process will take a big toll on your self-esteem.
By rewarding yourself in small ways each day, be it a movie night or buying yourself some flowers, you’ll really start to get back to looking after yourself and showing yourself some love.
Not only will this make you feel better right now, it’ll also help you deal with anything in the future as you’ll be boosting your self-confidence and learning how to love yourself again.
12. Seek professional help.
Of course, at some point, seeking professional help is a good idea.
We can offer up lots of advice but, for some people, further support is needed.
If things feel overwhelming or you’re struggling to move on long after something has happened, it’s worth talking to a therapist.
They’ll be able to work with you to unpack the source of your disappointment and understand why you feel so upset about a particular thing.
They will also provide specific ways to handle your feelings and to work to reach a place where you can release those feelings.
How To Minimize The Disappointment You Feel In The First Place
Disappointment isn’t all bad, and you shouldn’t seek to avoid ALL situations that might lead to it. But there are things you can do to minimize the disappointment you feel when something doesn’t go how you’d like it to.
1. Expect it.
This doesn’t mean living with a pessimistic mindset, forever waiting for the next thing to go wrong. It means accepting that you will feel disappointed from time to time because no one and no thing is perfect. Life isn’t perfect.
When you realize that disappointment isn’t something you can totally avoid, it feels less intense when it does happen. This time, your expectations are realistic in the sense that you know something will go awry at some point and you’ve accepted that. And you won’t fight the reality of the situation so much when it does happen.
2. Adjust your expectations.
As mentioned toward the beginning of the article, humans are bad at predicting things. So it pays to reevaluate your expectations of future events and of other people and adjust them downwards a little bit.
Again, this doesn’t mean being negative about your future prospects. It just means erring on the side of caution – or reality – rather than letting your imagination run away with you.
You can remain optimistic that good things will come your way, but you can look on those things in terms of being possibilities rather than certainties. It’s possible the thing you want to happen will happen just how you would like, but it’s also possible that it might happen differently or not happen at all.
3. Look at life as one big lesson.
Okay, so you might not always manage to behave in the way you would like to behave. That’s called being human. But you can always try to learn a lesson from the things you do that don’t fit with the ideal picture you have of your self.
And when something doesn’t go to plan, look to see what went wrong and how you might adjust your approach the next time to improve the chances of the thing going as it should.
When you focus on what a particular outcome can teach you about who you are or how to do something, the disappointment you feel will be less intense. Yes, you’ll still experience it, but it won’t last as long before your mind begins to look for the lesson in it.
4. Focus on the journey, not the outcome.
To minimize the disappointment that comes when an outcome doesn’t produce the desired feelings, you should pursue your endeavors with an eye on each step you take, and not on the finish line.
Yes, it’s important to have that end goal in mind, but it’s just as important to relish the challenges you face at each moment along the way. Each time you overcome such a challenge, you should take a moment to appreciate that achievement. Notice the happiness or satisfaction you feel right then and there. You’ll have lots of these moments along the way to your goals.
Don’t approach something with the belief that once it is done or once you have that thing, then you’ll be happy. Don’t pin all your hopes on that singular event when there will be countless events along the way that you can get some joy from if you allow yourself to.
5. Form healthy attachments to the impermanent.
There’s nothing wrong with having an attachment to someone or something. Relationships would be less rewarding if we were always aloof and detached from the other person. And certain things will bring joy and hold good memories.
The key is to make those attachments healthy. And one of the best ways to do that is to accept the impermanence of those people and things in your life.
You can love and cherish someone and accept that they will one day be gone from your life, one way or another.
You can really enjoy something in the moment, knowing that it will either change or disappear in the future.
Don’t fight the inevitable. Be sad when that person or thing goes, but resist the temptation to fight against that reality. Accept that it had its time and place in your life, but that it was never going to last. Everything is temporary.
6. Work on your self-esteem and self-worth.
The pain of disappointment is going to hurt less if you like yourself and recognize yourself as a worthy individual.
You didn’t get the job. That sucks, but you still like who you are which is what matters. And you know that another opportunity will come around because you are worthy of it.
Your business venture wasn’t the success you had hoped. It happens – a lot. But you are proud that you tried and have the resilience to try again if that’s what you want.
You were rejected by someone you really like. That’s their loss because you sure as hell think you’d make a great partner and someone out there is going to find that out soon enough.
Situations like these are disappointing – there’s no getting around that. But if you can build your self-esteem and self-worth, the sting of disappointment will be so much less painful.
You may also like:
- How To Deal With Disappointment In A Relationship
- How To Overcome Perfectionism: 8 Ways To Accept Less Than The Best
- How To Stop Feeling Like A Failure
- How To Not Care What People Think