Dealing with Disappointment in Life
How to dust off and move on.
Posted May 08, 2017
If there is one predictable thing in this life, it’s that you will be disappointed somehow. It can start young – your parents don’t parent well, your teachers are bullies in school, your friends turn on you for no reason – or it can happen later in life; someone you care about betrays you, you lose a job you love, or you are let go after many loyal years. As Alexander Pope famously said, “Blessed is he who expects nothing for he shall never be disappointed.”
To navigate through disappointment, is it as easy as simply having no expectations? That’s pretty tough to do in a world that expects a lot from you. Parents today can be preparing their kids for college when they are just learning how to read and write! It might be expected that you will be highly successful, find the “right one” and settle down happily ever after, and be rewarded for the hard work and toil you have put into your job. Kids learn fairy tales and while there can be trauma and difficulty, most of the heroes and heroines go on to live happily ever after!
If you are wired to expect the best, and then you are let down and don’t get it, disappointment and letdown can actually trigger a physiological response in the brain if you have a tendency toward depression anyway. So, when you find it harder to get up and brush yourself off and start over, it might be because your brain is physically preventing you from doing so!
But the choice of just staying in disappointment isn’t a good one. Think about the scenario – the event has happened. It’s past. You can’t influence it. You can’t change it. You can certainly ruminate over it and replay the many, many things you should’ve, could’ve and would’ve done differently if circumstances were different. However, the reality is that if you are reading this, it’s likely that the disappointment is in your rear view mirror.
There are things you can do to relieve yourself of disappointment from a past event, and prepare yourself for any disappointments that are likely to come in the future. How can you move out of disappointment and into more peace and happiness?
- Accept that disappointment happens to everyone – and it happened to you. It can be helpful to start by normalizing the situation. No one gets through this life without disappointment; some are bigger than others, but everyone experiences it. Know that you are in good company and accept your state as perfectly normal.
- Instead of sitting in your state indefinitely, once you have allowed yourself to acknowledge that you are in good company, start the process of reframing. Reframing means taking any situation and putting a more objective “frame” around it. It can be helpful at this step to actually write your disappointment down, like journal notes. Record what happened but capture it like a journalist. Be clinical. Trying to separate the emotions from what happened is helpful to getting some personal power back.
- Change your self-talk. Instead of talking to yourself as if this was the worst thing that could happen to you, shift your language to something more powerful (yet still true) – “It happened and now I need to figure out my next steps.” Or “Disappointment happens to everyone but it doesn’t have to stop me from moving on.” Or “I’m disappointed, but who dictates that I have to wallow in it? I can do something differently right now if I choose.” Any time you hear yourself say to yourself, “It’s the end of the world” or “I can’t go on” or “I’m a terrible person with bad luck”, allow these phrases to be a trigger to shift the talk to something more positive.
- Make a plan. Having a way to move forward when you’ve been thwarted and feel stuck is important. Don’t make grand plans – “I’m going to move to Costa Rica and start another life” – unless you have the will and the means to do so. Instead, start small; set a goal of something you can accomplish and move confidently in the direction of it. Experiencing some form of accomplishment can send the message to your mind and your emotions that you can do it, so go ahead and do it!
Life is definitely going to test you and possibly even throw you more disappointment as you move away from the most recent one, so continue to hone your skills and practice these steps. Remember that this is for life’s small and big disappointments, not significant tragedy. If you are experiencing PTSD or some other more severe reaction to a life experience, seek professional attention for support.