How to Deal with Disappointment

Disappointed – we’ve all felt this way at times.  And it can be difficult to move on.  Disappointment can grab hold of your mood and make it tough to concentrate on other issues that you have to handle.

Everything in life can seem hopeless if your disappointment is intense.  But no one wants to stay in that state.  So how do we go about dealing with disappointment so we can put it aside and return to our regular selves?

That’s what I’m going to tackle in this post:  how you can succeed in dealing with disappointment.

What is disappointment, exactly?

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Disappointment is a feeling “of sadness or displeasure caused by the nonfulfillment of one’s hopes or expectations,” says Google.  Merriam-Webster Dictionary suggests “ unhappiness from the failure of something hoped for or expected to happen”.   The Cambridge and Oxford dictionaries seem to agree.

The feeling of sadness can be strong.  You may find yourself crying over the issue that led to your disappointment.  You may feel frustrated, hopeless, defeated.  It may be hard to fall asleep because you are obsessing over what happened, or didn’t happen.

  • You didn’t get the job you applied for.
  • Your auto mechanic told you that the flat tire can’t be fixed and a new tire will cost $250.
  • Your spouse/partner can’t make it to a special event you had planned on attending together.
  • The outfit you bought for a special occasion no longer fits and you don’t have the money for a new one.
  • You didn’t get chosen for the team you wanted to join. Or for the Olympics, after you spent your whole life training for it.
  • You didn’t receive the gift you were hoping for. Or any gift. There was nothing under the Christmas tree.
  • Your friends or relatives cancelled their visit to see you.
  • Your children don’t want to spend time with you.

You can feel disappointment in many different situations.  It washes over you when what you hoped for and expected doesn’t happen.

So a key element of disappointment is the expectations that we have for something.  When our expectations don’t turn into reality, we respond with a feeling of sadness, displeasure, or unhappiness.

Where do our expectations come from?

I like what Dr Brene Brown said about expectations:

 It’s been said that “expectations are resentments under construction….” I might even go so far as to say that expectations are sometimes “shame under construction”. (Quotation marks added.)


Yes, shame.  It’s a part of disappointment!

Brown explains:

Well-meaning but unchecked expectations are loaded with potential shame and resentment bombs….  When we develop expectations and base our opinions of ourselves on meeting them, we can invite feelings of shame. When we allow our happiness to be contingent upon others, we set ourselves up for resentment. 

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In other words, we feel shame because reality didn’t live up to our expectations.  In the eyes of important other people, our failure to achieve what we expected is a cause for shame.  It’s our fault.

How do we develop our expectations?

Generally, our expectations come from these sources:

(1) Our beliefs about how things ought to be: brides should wear a certain color and style of dress, cars should cost a certain amount, a friend should treat you in a certain way, your adult children should choose to spend a certain amount of time with you, and so on.

These ideas come from our cultural backgrounds.  They are taught to us by parents, other family, school, TV and movies, our religious or spiritual tradition (if any), work experiences, and our previous relationships,  says Scott Kedersha.

(2) Our beliefs about how things WILL be:  we will finish school, graduate from college, have lots of friends, be successful in a career, never be fired or laid off from a job, have a long happy marriage, have children who respect us, retire with plenty of money.

Our parents and TV shows are great sources for these beliefs about how the course of a person’s life will unfold.  And unfortunately, most of those beliefs will turn out to be wrong.

  • We often don’t finish school on time or at all.
  • We often don’t get admitted to the college of our choice.
  • If we do get married, we find that half of all marriages end in divorce, including ours.
  • Most people face job loss at some point during their lives.
  • Our children can die, get a serious disease, become addicted to drugs, make bad choices and end up in jail, or refuse to speak to us when they are adults.
  • Our homes can be destroyed by fire, tornado, flood, earthquake, or other natural disaster.
  • When we retire from full-time work (or lose a job and are not able to get another one in our later years), we find that we can no longer live in the style to which we were accustomed.
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Life is FULL of evidence that our beliefs about how things SHOULD be and how things WILL be are actually mistaken.  So because we have relied on these beliefs as though they were true, we feel DISAPPOINTMENT.

So you’re disappointed.  Now what?

You can process your disappointment using five steps. Here they are:

The first step in dealing with your disappointment is to acknowledge it.  Say it out loud:  “I’m disappointed because….”  and finish the sentence with your individual situation.  Some examples:

  • I’m disappointed because I didn’t get that job that I expected to get.
  • I’m disappointed because I didn’t make the team I expected to be chosen for.
  • I’m disappointed because I no longer look 35.
  • I’m disappointed because my car needs an expensive repair and I expected that I would never have to spend any money on the car.
  • I’m disappointed because my spouse or partner chose someone else and now I’m alone.
  • I’m disappointed because I don’t have the money to spend on things that I want to buy.
  • And so on.

Once you acknowledge your disappointment, it’s time to move to the second stepfigure out where your expectations came from. Some examples:

  • I expected to get that job because my qualifications fit what the job description said.  In the past, I have been successful at getting jobs.  So I thought that this time, I would also get the job.  In other words, I expected the future to be like the recent past.
  • I expected to make the team because I have good skills.  People have told me that I’m good at the skills that are needed for that team.  I thought that the people who choose team members would recognize my skills and choose me.  But they didn’t.
  • I expected to look younger than my age because my mother did, and because people have always told me that I have beautiful skin and lovely, thick hair.  But now that I am over 70, I no longer look like I’m 35.  Imagine that!  When I look in the mirror, I see an older woman. This is shocking to me.
  • I expected my car to last forever, or at least until I paid off the car loan.  I thought I would never get a flat tire or have to replace the timing belt or the brakes or the fuel pump (and on and on), even though I know intellectually that these maintenance costs would occur for most cars more than 4 years old.

And so on.  Identify the source of your expectations/beliefs.

The third stepdetermine whether your beliefs were realistic

  • I expected the future to be like the past.  This is not realistic,
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    because conditions change and I change.

  • I expected others to recognize and reward my skills, which would lead to my being chosen for the team.  But I failed to take into account that other applicants might have better skills than I have, and that the people who choose the team members might not want me for one reason or another.
  • I was unrealistic in thinking that my physical body would not show the physical signs of aging.
  • I was mistaken about my car being different from all other cars.  I should have saved money for necessary repairs that are normal and those that are statistically likely.

The fourth stepadjust your beliefs to fit more closely with reality, i.e., lower your expectations.  This is difficult, but you can do it.

  • I didn’t get the job I wanted.  But I still want to work, so I will find other jobs to apply for that may be more closely aligned with my experience and skills. I may not get the perfect job, but I’ll get a job.
  • I didn’t get chosen for that team, but I can find other teams in my area that may need new members. I may have to join a less prestigious team.
  • I no longer look 35, but I can go to a salon for a haircut, and I can fix my hair and makeup so that I look as good as I can.
  • I will start a savings plan for car repairs, beginning today, with $10 from my wallet.  And I will put $10 into my savings every week so that I will be prepared for the next needed repair.

And the fifth and final step:  learn to accept what IS.

  • My new job has fewer responsibilities than my previous job, so I
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    won’t need to worry about it on nights and weekends.

  • My new team has some interesting people on it. I look forward to getting to know them.
  • I like my new hairstyle, and I look pretty good for  my age.
  • I saved for my next car repair, and when the air filter and fuel filter needed to be replace, I had the cash to pay for them.

Having accepted disappointment and processed it, you can move on.

As you go through the five steps for dealing with disappointment, you will find that your attitude will improve. Bradley Foster in Huffington Post said

When you adjust your expectations to fit reality, you are much less likely to experience disappointment. In time, it will become a rarer occurrence. You don’t have to give up hope. We can still anticipate a good outcome, just be ready to be okay with “what is” and accept it.

As you face the future, you are less likely to experience intense disappointment.  You’ve weathered your most recent disappointment using these five steps. So now it’s clear that you can handle disappointment in the future, when it occurs.  You’ll expect less from other people and random events, and be more capable at confronting reality.

When you acknowledge what happened, figure out why you expected what you believed would happen, determine whether your belief was realistic, adjust your belief to be closer to reality, and choose to accept what is, your life will be less stressful.

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You will find that you are happier and more relaxed as you face the future without unrealistic hopes and expectations.



Remember:  everything will be all right in the end.  If things are not all right now, then this is not the end.


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14 thoughts on “How to Deal with Disappointment”

  1. Powerful ending sentence to a post packed with scientific and psychology-based suggestions! I so enjoyed reading about the fifth step—that’s the hardest thing to do in this process! The theme is topical, and so appropriate for this reflective time of year! Thank you, Dr. Rin. I will be re-posting this article on FB and Twitter.

    1. Diane,
      I just found your comment in the spam file. I don’t know why – it certainly is NOT spam! Anyway, thank you for commenting. I’m glad you enjoyed the new post. Appreciate your reposts!


  2. Trudie and I were just talking about expectations and disappointment THIS MORNiNG!! The shame part of this is very deep and really hard to get at for me. I know it is there. The other thing that came up was curiosity- expectations pin things down while curiosity opens up possibilities. When I remind myself to ask questions rather than asserting conclusions, disappointment disappears! Thanks for this post, Rin! May 2018 be enlightening!

    1. Hey Jude,
      I’m so glad my post came at a good time for you. Disappointment connects to shame and makes the emotions hard to process. I like your idea about using curiosity instead of expectation. Hmmm.


  3. Dealing with disappointment is always a challenge. After learning to live with what IS (step 5), it’s helpful to re-frame the whole experience as a personal victory. Dealing with the mixed emotions involved with life’s disappointments should be a celebrated. Tough stuff makes us stronger!

    1. Hi Jeanette,
      Living with what is challenges me every day. I like your idea of reframing a disappointment experience. Overcoming and coping with disappointments do make us stronger. I agree!


  4. Thank you for mentioning shame. I am ashamed that I was forced to retire. I’d seen it happen to co-workers but I thought it couldn’t happen to me because – what – I’m special or different or better? And I cut ties to those former co-workers because I couldn’t face them after it happened. Silly.

    1. Hi Joan,
      I can only imagine how you must have felt when you were forced to retire. It must have been very difficult. Embarrassment and shame would be overwhelming. It should not happen to anyone. But it does. It would take a long time to recover and process such a situation to the point where you could deal with it. In HRC’s book “What Happened”, she describes how she dealt with losing the 2016 election. Her journey might be useful to you. I care!


  5. Happy New Year – excellent post Dr Rin!

    You have covered some key points; why we are disappointed, accepting our disappointment and identifying a way forward. There must be a way forward.

    I have always struggled with disappointment, even as a child. I was good at pretending I was not affected. We all face disappointment and some are better at dealing with it than others. We have different temperaments and ways of handling the good and the bad. I have toughened up over the years and tried to accept that life will not always go as planned and I must push through anyway. There is hope though we may not see it at the time.
    Phoenicia recently posted…Do not allow fear to hinder you from moving forward!My Profile

    1. Phoenicia,
      Thank you for commenting. You always have important points to make and I appreciate your careful reading of my new post. Yes, there is hope. We can recover from disappointment.


  6. Great article! I don’t struggle with disappointment too much, but I think it’s mostly because I’m a realist and fairly analytical. That’s not to say that I haven’t felt disappointment (I certainly did after the last presidential election) but my feelings are usually short-lived in favor of action.

    In the spirit of the New Year, I would add to the quote by Dr. Brene Brown; “New Years resolutions are shame under construction” 🙂

  7. Dealing with disappointment is always a challenge. After learning to live with what IS (step 5), it’s helpful to re-frame the whole experience as a personal victory. Dealing with the mixed emotions involved with life’s disappointments should be a celebrated. What not killing us will make us stronger!

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