Managing disappointment is a key to success in life and love.

Posted Apr 22, 2020

Disappointment is part of daily life. The only way to avoid it is to have no expectations, desires, or values.

The most common disappointment is about expectations. Whenever expectations go unmet, we experience disappointment. The higher the expectations, the greater the disappointment. Many people attempt to manage disappointment by lowering expectations. While expectations should be realistic, lowering them too far sacrifices enthusiasm and capacity for enjoyment.

Disappointment is so unpleasant that when it happens, we’re often unaware of anything other than sadness, irritability, resentment, anger, or aggressive impulse.

Types of Disappointment

  • Preferences
  • Ego
  • Values

Disappointed preferences:

My ice cream got freezer-burned.

The house is messy.

My team lost.

I failed at a task.

Disappointed ego:




Falsely accused

Disappointed values (loss of):







Emotional support



Meaning and purpose

How Disappointment Triggers Anger and Contempt

Disappointed preferences are perceived as an ego threat, sparking retaliation, which violate values. Emotions begin a no-win civil war, with ego defense pitted against values.

The more we violate our deeper values in defense of the ego, the more guilt, shame, and anxiety we try to avoid, usually by blaming them on someone else. The result is self-contempt and a tendency to act against our long-term best interests.

Regulation of Disappointment

There’s a secret to overcoming serious disappointments of any type: improve the minor ones. Disappointments accumulate, each new one stimulating more cortisol or adrenaline. We react not to one disappointment, but to the accumulation of them. This turns normal reactions into overreaction.

Regulation of disappointment takes the form of:

Validate, Improve.

“I’m disappointed, but I’m OK. This is what I’ll do to improve the situation, or my experience of it.”


My ice cream got freezer-burned:

I didn’t need the calories. I feel healthier without it.

The house is messy:

My goal is harmony in the household, which is more important than strict order.

My team lost:

Wait till next year. I’ll root for this team instead.

I failed at a task:

I’ll learn what I need to do to succeed.


I’m not “right” if I’m disrespectful. Agreement isn’t what makes me valuable. (Fidelity to my deeper values makes me feel valuable.) Only fools suffer fools unkindly.


I’ll focus on what’s true, not what’s false, and put my energy into improvement. (Most criticism has an element of truth, even if it’s 98% false. If we focus on the 2% that’s true, we can improve. Focus on the false breeds frustration.)

I’m insulted:

I’ll recognize that what makes me valuable is fidelity to my most humane values.

If a loved one insults me…

I’ll sympathize with the hurt motivating the insult.

I’m disrespected:

I’ll be true to my deeper values (strengthens self-respect).

I’m unappreciated:

Open my heart to be enhanced by my experience of other people’s courage and fortitude. I’ll appreciate beauty in nature and creativity.

I’ve lost affection, trust, kindness, compassion, emotional support:

I’ll be affectionate, compassionate, kind, supportive, trustworthy.

I’ve lost protection:

I’ll make myself safe. I’ll be protective.

I’ve lost love:

I’ll grieve, so I can love again. I’ll be loving and worthy of love.

Loss of meaning:

I’ll commit to my deeper values and act consistently on them.

A helpful exercise: Make a list of your serious and trivial disappointments. Identify which items are about preferences, which are about ego, and which are about values. Write what you will do to improve each disappointment.