Dealing with disappointment

In discussions of mental health and getting by in ‘unprecedented times’, we often find ourselves talking about the ‘big’ feelings: grief, depression, anxiety, despair, and so on. But one less salient feeling has been prevalent and ongoing, wearing down our resilience with the proverbial ‘death by a thousand cuts’. Every time another event is cancelled, another lockdown is announced, another person in your circles tests positive, that disappointment can feel like it’s compounding on top of every other letdown you’ve encountered in the past few years.

And that can feel crushing.

Disappointment is the experience of sadness we have when reality does not live up to our hopes and expectations. And that’s a lot of us right now, a lot of the time.

Hope is important for our mental health and resilience, so it’s important not to give that up and allow apathy to take hold. Instead, let’s look at ways of dealing with disappointment when it happens. These steps are not prescriptive, not in their sequence or even the inclusion of each step, so use what works for you in a way that works for you.

1. Acknowledge it

Don’t deny your disappointment, squish it down, or invalidate your own experience. It’s important to acknowledge your feelings of disappointment so you can move through them. You wanted something and it was denied to you, and it’s normal to have feelings about that. Process this feeling however you need to: talk to a friend, journal about it, cry if you need to.

2. Practice acceptance

It’s important to accept what we can’t change so we can channel our energy to what we can. When we’ve been focused on a particular outcome, it can be difficult to let go and adjust to the new trajectory of reality. I find this Zen story helpful for letting go of attachment. A mindfulness practice might help you, or a mantra like ‘It is what it is’. Find a method of shifting into acceptance that works for you and practice as needed.

3. Get perspective

In the experience of any ‘negative’ emotion, we tend to become consumed by that aspect of our reality. When we are afraid, angry, or distraught, we contract onto the experience. When someone makes you furious, for example, you don’t notice the birds singing at that moment, or remember how good you look in that new dress. Rather than denying or avoiding disappointment, see if you can breathe into it and zoom out a bit. You are disappointed, and also you look great today and also the birds are singing, the weather is good, and there are a number of other feelings, circumstances, and personal victories happening that might soften this blow.

4. Identify your needs

If a disappointment feels crushing, it’s likely that one of your core needs feels unfulfilled. What need were you hoping to meet with the outcome you were denied? Was it connection, love, touch? Do you need a break, to have fun, or relax? Once you understand which core need has been frustrated, examine whether there are other ways you can attend to it that are within reach.

5. Let go

Whatever it is, don’t dwell on it. Feelings are messengers and visitors, so let them knock and say their piece, use the information in a constructive way, then let them leave. Don’t let disappointment take up residence in the spare room of your psyche. He’ll steal your joy while you sleep and he won’t contribute to the bills.

6. Get out of your own head

After you’ve processed, a ‘pattern interrupt’ can help, somewhere new to refocus your energy and put your thoughts and feelings. Helping a friend or doing something nice for someone in need is a great go-to here, as it takes the focus off you for a bit, and may even help with perspective. Since we tend to become quite self-focused in times of crisis, it tells your subconscious that your crisis is over, and you have wellbeing enough even to share with others. Doing some exercise, cooking a good meal, or engaging in a creative activity are all great ways of shifting your energy to more positive things. An upbeat playlist and a good dance helps me with a myriad of things.

7. Find the positives

Don’t push yourself into this before you’re ready, and never push it on anyone else! But once you’ve processed and released your disappointment a little, you may find it helpful to look for the positives in your new situation. Party cancelled? You’ll wake up early and without a hangover tomorrow which might free you up to work on that project you’ve been putting off. If you can find something to be grateful for in your new situation, it will help you shift your disappointment substantially.

8. Diversify your hope portfolio

When we put all our happiness eggs in one basket and disappointment kicks that basket out of our hands, we may find ourselves with broken eggs and an unbearably broken heart. If we can spread our hope and happiness among a number of things, and find a variety of ways to be happy or outcomes to look forward to, it’s easier to dilute the disappointment if one of those things doesn’t work out. When leaving home hasn’t been easy to do, I’ve found joy in my ever-growing garden, a virtual-reality fitness habit, and getting on my sewing machine to give my wardrobe a new lease on life.   

Your house is prepared to weather storms, your car is designed for resilience against the sun and rain, and disappointment is as inevitable as the changing weather conditions. Hope for the best, prepare for the worst, roll with the punches, and be ready for whatever happens. And if it does get too hard, don’t hesitate to reach out for support.

If you’d like to talk to us about finding a supporter to help you work through your disappointments, get in touch for a free consultation call today.