Dealing with Disappointment

Written by: Corinne Carter, Relationship Therapist

It’s inevitable that there will be times when you feel disappointed – plans won’t work out as you’d hoped, loved ones will let you down, you’ll miss the mark for achieving a goal you’d set out for yourself, etc.  Disappointment is a natural part of the human experience.  How does the famous Rolling Stones’ lyric go?  “You can’t always get what you want”.  Indeed!

So, how can we deal with disappointment when it shows up in our lives?  Below are some tips for moving through the experience of disappointment:

1. Feel it and accept it:  Allow yourself to feel your emotions, whatever they are.  What emotions do you notice alongside disappointment?  For example, do you feel any sadness, frustration, worry, discouragement, etc.?  Notice where the emotions sit inside your body – is there a sensation of tightness in your chest/back/shoulders?  Do you feel a tingling sensation in your limbs?  Are there butterflies in your stomach?  Does your head ache?  Are your eyes welling up?  Breathe into any areas of your body where you notice physical discomfort, and cry if you need to.  You might wish to try doing a “Body Scan” exercise:  a mindfulness practice focused on increasing your awareness of the physical sensations in your body and allowing yourself, with gentle acceptance, to simply experience what you feel without trying to change or adapt it in any way.  Check out the following Body Scan exercises from mindful.org – included in the link is a 10-, 5-, and 3-minute Body Scan, to suit your needs: http://www.mindful.org/mindfulness-practice/the-body-scan-practice.

2. Address it (from a place of values):  When we feel disappointed and we don’t allow ourselves the space to experience our emotions, it’s much more likely that we’ll respond rashly to the situation – for example, we might address our disappointment by lashing out at the person who let us down, or withdrawing and acting “cold” towards the other person, or we might “beat ourselves up” for not meeting our own expectations.  However, by feeling our emotions and accepting the situation for what it is, as described in tip #1 above, it’s far more likely that we’ll be able to address the disappointment in ways that are in line with our values.  Do you strive to be someone who gives others the benefit of the doubt?  Do you value the ability to see multiple perspectives?  Do you value honesty and openness?  Are kindness and empathy important in your relationships with others?  How do you want to move through the world?  How do you want to be remembered?  When you identify what your values for living are, you can then address the feeling of disappointment from this place.  This could mean choosing to give yourself or another person the benefit of the doubt, choosing to stay open to another person even though disappointment invites you to withdraw, speaking up about how a situation impacted you in a way that is honest and non-confrontational, etc.   Once you’ve connected with your values, you can consciously choose to address the disappointment in ways that are revealing of them.

3. Make a plan to move forward:  Now that you’ve addressed the disappointment, you can create a plan for moving forward from here.  When we experience disappointment, it can actually be a perfect opportunity to re-examine our goals, priorities, and expectations.  Is there anything that you could do differently next time to result in a different outcome?  Are there any goals or priorities that need to shift?  Are there any expectations you’ve been holding onto that perhaps you could live without?   Whatever your answers are to these questions, writing them down will thicken your plan for moving forward and help it grow from a plan into action!

At times, disappointment can make you feel like wanting to throw in the towel – but don’t give up!   Try the strategies outlined above to help you move through the experience of disappointment; in doing so, you just might find yourself somewhere even greater than you had imagined – with a better opportunity, a better relationship, a better sense of self, etc.   After all, how does the rest of the lyric go?

“You can’t always get what you want…but if you try sometimes you just might find you get what you need”.