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5 Ways to Manage Disappointment

Disappointment can lead to a downward spiral.

Key points

  • Dealing with disappointment effectively requires a particular skill set.
  • Frequent evaluation of expectations is necessary and helpful.
  • Relationships should be evaluated and re-evaluated regularly to ensure everyone's needs are being met.

Disappointment is something we all dread. Think of that sinking feeling that you get when your good friend doesn't return your message. Or perhaps you were with a group of friends who dismissed what you thought was a really good suggestion. Or how about when you thought you were about to get a job offer—and instead the would-be employer ghosted you?

Ouch. Disappointment can range from minor to major and can happen on a daily basis or less frequently. One thing is certain: Disappointment leads to feeling deflated because our needs and expectations are unmet. And if disappointment builds up, it can certainly lead to feelings of sadness and anxiety.

Let's review some healthy ways to deal with disappointment so that you feel better equipped to deal with it in the future.

  1. Evaluate your expectations. It is possible that you have a role in setting yourself up to be disappointed. (I'm not trying to make you feel worse—please hear me out!) Maybe you are expecting too much from others. Everyone has their limits and does things at a rate and pace that works for them. Expecting someone to return your message immediately may set you up for disappointment if that person is extremely busy or doesn't prioritize interpersonal relationships in the same way. Similarly, your partner may not have the skills to know what you need emotionally. The list of possible scenarios is endless. Lowering your expectations may prevent frequent disappointment.
  2. Try not to internalize negative feelings. Of course, we all get upset after being let down. This does not mean that we must start to devalue ourselves and engage in negative self-talk and self-blame. Remind yourself to have compassion for yourself. Things don't always work out ideally. This does not mean that you are an undeserving and awful person; it means that something about the interaction did not go exactly as expected.
  3. Engage in self-soothing activities. Yes, you may have been left out and dismissed. No, you may not have been treated in a way that pleased you. The day should and must still go on. Think about what helps you comfort yourself. Consider calling a friend who is good at making you feel better and who may help you put things in perspective. Or make plans to do something that consistently makes you happy. We all benefit from having things to look forward to, right?
  4. Try to find the lesson in the disappointment. Think about the situation and why it may have gone wrong. Does your partner know what you need? Should you be clearer about what your needs are? Are you calling the wrong person? We learn not only about ourselves but about others from how we react to each other.
  5. Are there certain relationships that are no longer serving you? If a relationship is more disappointing than anything else, you may want to re-evaluate the role and status of this relationship in your life. After a time, a relationship may become more frustrating than anything else. You may or may not be able to talk this through with your friend, colleague, partner, or even a neighbor. If not, perhaps less contact is the way to go.