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6 Ways to Take Care of Yourself When People Disappoint You

2. Acknowledge your unmet needs.

Key points

  • Being rejected, let down, or betrayed can trigger feelings of sadness, anxiety, or anger. It’s important to acknowledge these feelings.
  • Someone may react with disappointment in the present due to past experiences that make them sensitive to a particular need not being met.
  • Instead of stewing in passive resentment after a disappointment, it helps to think about what a “healthy adult” would do in such a situation.
Aleksandr Markin/Shutterstock
Source: Aleksandr Markin/Shutterstock

If you’re human, other people will inevitably disappoint you or let you down sometimes. Whether it’s a friend canceling arrangements at the last minute, a neighbor acting mean, family members not showing up for an important occasion, a co-worker throwing you under the bus, or a partner cheating, disappointment is a fact of life. Time has become increasingly scarce, stress is high, and this puts a strain on relationships. You can’t stop people from acting badly or letting you down, but you don’t have to let it derail you from living a happy and successful life.

These strategies can help you recover from your hurt and anger and move forward with confidence:

1. Allow your feelings.

Being rejected, let down, or betrayed can trigger feelings of sadness, anxiety, or anger. It’s important to acknowledge these feelings, rather than trying to shove them down. Humans are wired to form trusting, stable relationships with others, and to turn to the people we love for support in difficult times. Our ancestors lived in tribes, and having strong social bonds within the tribe enhanced everybody’s chances of surviving an enemy or predator attack, hunger, or inclement weather. Therefore, it’s natural to feel disappointed and let down when the people you trust don’t come through for you. Putting the feelings into words and locating them in your body can help ground you. You also may want to ask yourself if your feelings are appropriate to the situation, or whether they might be fed by past disappointments. Try to focus only on the present situation, unless there’s a strong pattern that you need to confront.

2. Acknowledge your unmet needs.

The next step is to figure out why you feel so let down or betrayed. Think about what needs of yours are not being met by this person’s response. Do you need understanding, empathy, support, companionship, commitment, or consideration? Let yourself feel the unmet need, perhaps relating it to childhood experiences with caregivers. Is your need from just this situation, or are your past experiences making you more reactive to this need not being met? For example, if you were always expected to be the responsible one while your siblings got away with slacking off, this may be fueling your current experience of lacking support from your spouse. Try to disentangle the past from the present. Feel the disappointment of the unmet need, and then ask yourself whether you can accept that need not being met in this situation, or whether you want to do something about it.

3. Take care of yourself.

Are there ways you can meet the unmet need for yourself? For example, if you have a plan to see a movie, and your friend cancels at the last minute, consider going by yourself. What other friends could you ask to come with you? If your need is for support and soothing, find ways to soothe yourself by having a warm bath or going on a nature walk. If you need practical help, consider asking other people or purchasing services. The important thing is not to give up and stew in passive resentment. Think about what a “healthy adult” would do in this situation. It may help to write down your feelings and try to give yourself compassion, rather than exacerbating the hurt by being self-critical when others behave badly.

4. Decide if you need to speak up.

Think about whether it would be productive to speak up about your feelings of disappointment or betrayal. Is this person capable of hearing the message, or will they just get defensive and counterattack? Knowing that it’s important to pick your battles, think about how big a deal this is to you. What do you want from the conversation (e.g., an apology, an attempt to make amends, a promise to not do this again, etc.)? If you decide to speak up, think about how you could do so mindfully, rather than with an angry reactivity that can make things worse. If it’s a difficult conversation, you may want to practice what you’re going to say beforehand.

5. Examine your expectations.

Think about whether your expectations are reasonable in this situation, and whether the person is capable of doing what you expect. For example, your sister might be very busy with a new baby or a work deadline, and so she’s not calling you as often. Try not to take this personally. You may want to adjust your expectations and behavior accordingly. Also, think about whether you are communicating your expectations clearly and kindly. If it’s a good friend or loved one, try to assume goodwill unless there is clear evidence otherwise.

6. Set boundaries if you need to.

If this person has a pattern of disappointing or betraying you, think about what you need to do to protect yourself. If you’ve spoken up clearly, and the person still doesn’t take responsibility or alter their behavior, how can you best take care of yourself? Does it make sense to see this person less often or to keep the relationship more casual? Decide if this is someone you still want in your life, or whether your energy is better spent elsewhere. You may want to let the person know that you won’t tolerate repeated broken promises, lies, or disrespectful treatment. Let them know what the consequence will be if they continue to mistreat you. Boundaries can help you feel emotionally safe, and they help restore your self-worth and self-respect.

Take-home message: When people let you down, learn to be your own cheerleader and best friend. Accept and process your feelings, be kind to yourself, figure out how to get your needs met, speak up, or set boundaries if you need to. Most important, try to learn from the experience, and don’t let other people’s issues get you down. You have a choice about how to react, even if you didn’t choose the situation.


The Mindful Self-Compassion Workbook: A Proven Way to Accept Yourself, Build Inner Strength, and Thrive Paperback – August 15, 2018 by Kristin Neff and Christopher Germer

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