How to Deal with Disappointment: A Practical Guide

Medically reviewed by: Erica Munro, MSc
Monday, November 20 2023

It’s natural to experience disappointment from time to time. Maybe someone you admire let you down, or your new job isn’t what you hoped it would be. But while it’s common — and okay — to feel disappointed, it can take a toll on your mental well-being. 

The good news is that how you cope with disappointment can make a huge difference. You may not be able to completely avoid it, but you can learn how to handle those feelings of disappointment more successfully and productively. 

Below, we’ll help you understand disappointment and why it can sometimes be a challenge to cope with. We’ll also give you some actionable tips to help you handle disappointment. 

Why is disappointment so difficult to deal with? 

If you have a hard time handling disappointment, you’re not alone. When someone or something lets us down, we might also feel a kind of loss. We might end up comparing ourselves to others or feel like we have less control over our lives than we thought — which can be scary.

Understanding why disappointment is hard to handle can take some of the sting out of these feelings. In the sections below, we’ll examine some of these reasons in detail. 

Sense of loss

Disappointment can feel a lot like grief. You might not be mourning a death, but you could be mourning another kind of loss. For example, maybe a close friend violates an unforgivable boundary, like telling someone private details about you that they promised not to tell. This may lead to the end of a cherished friendship, which can be a significant loss that you may mourn. 

Emotional intensity 

If a celebrity you admire makes questionable comments about their social perspectives or a movie you want to see is sold out, it may be mildly frustrating. However, disappointment can also have a much stronger emotional reaction. In the example above, where a loved one betrays your trust, you might feel intense anger, sadness, or both. 

This roller coaster of strong emotions can send you spiraling and affect your mental well-being. Severe anger may cloud your judgment or lead to hostility toward others. Intense feelings of sadness may turn into feelings of hopelessness. However, adaptive coping techniques can help weather these emotional storms by shifting negative thought patterns to more helpful ones. 

Social comparison and perceived social expectations 

While external factors are a common source, disappointment can also come from within when we compare ourselves to others. 

For example, let’s say your friend posts photos of their sleek new car on social media. You might be disappointed that your own car doesn’t measure up, but this feeling can ripple outward to bigger areas of your life — like being disappointed in your job or financial situation. 

Perceived social expectations, like working in a certain job or going to a certain school, can also contribute to these feelings. For example, you might look forward to a noble, fulfilling teaching career, educating young minds. However, you might feel disappointed if the career’s challenges outweigh its rewards or if you feel like you struggle at it more than your peers. 

Perceived lack of control 

Control is comforting, but disappointment can sometimes be a harsh reminder that we don’t have total control over all parts of our lives. Let’s say you always go above and beyond at work, believing that your hard work will certainly earn you a raise and promotion — or job security at the very least. But your company eliminates your position or promotes someone else despite all your efforts. 

This kind of experience can make you question how much control you really have over your life. While these situations can be hard to face, it’s important to remember that some things are beyond your control. 

Common causes of disappointment 

We all experience disappointment in response to different events or situations; it may come from unmet expectations, betrayed trust, or a host of other unique experiences that leave us feeling let down, angry, sad, or all of the above.

In the sections below, we’ll explore some of the most common causes of disappointment to help you navigate these feelings with empathy and resilience.

Unmet expectations 

Expectations can be a great way to help us navigate and interact with the world around us: When we know what to expect, we can adapt our actions based on the situation. However, sometimes, our expectations can set us up for disappointment — whether they’re personal expectations or societal expectations. 

Personal expectations might include earning a living doing something you love or easily making friends at your new job, while societal expectations might include becoming a homeowner by a certain age or getting married and having a family. 

When these expectations aren’t met, it can be hard to accept — and that’s okay. While every situation is different, sometimes it helps to remember that everyone has a unique life experience, and what works for one person may be vastly different from what’s realistic for you and vice versa.

Rejection, abandonment, and betrayal

Feeling betrayed, rejected, or abandoned can create wounds that cause intense feelings of disappointment. Maybe it happens when someone doesn’t return your affection. Maybe you confide in someone who then betrays that trust. Maybe friends drift away when you need them most. These unexpected changes and experiences can leave you feeling deeply hurt and disappointed. 

Childhood experiences 

Our experiences during childhood can shape the way we handle disappointment as adults. Both early life events and our relationships can leave us feeling like we can’t cope with being let down. However, these experiences aren’t set in stone. With practice and support, it’s possible to build more adaptive coping skills to deal with disappointment at any age. 

Arrival fallacy 

When you believe that achieving a certain goal will bring lasting happiness to your life, you might end up feeling disappointed and disillusioned when that doesn’t happen. This is known as the “arrival fallacy.” 

For example, you might think earning a high salary will allow you to live a carefree life. But then you still feel unhappy or unsatisfied after reaching this goal, and the goalposts move again. Unfortunately, this mindset often leaves us feeling perpetually unfulfilled. 

Recognizing that you’ve fallen into this pattern is an excellent first step toward shifting your mindset to focus more on the present and savor the journey — rather than chasing an unreachable destination.

Tips to skillfully cope with disappointment 

Difficult times are a normal part of life, and we’re bound to feel disappointed every now and then. But while we might not be able to completely avoid feelings of disappointment, we can adjust our response to those feelings. 

Let’s review some tips to help you build more adaptive skills for coping with disappointment in your everyday life.

1. Acknowledge and process your feelings 

Trying to ignore disappointment won’t work. Acknowledging these feelings is a great first step toward processing them. This involves working through anger, fear, or any other emotions you’re having due to a disappointing experience. 

Processing these emotions helps you come out on the other side with a healthier outlook and perspective. So, let it out instead of bottling the emotions up — which may make them worse over time. Consider talking to your family or a trusted friend about your feelings or writing what you’re experiencing in a journal. 

2. Take time to reflect 

Sitting with feelings of disappointment can be uncomfortable, but it can also be a learning experience. Take time to think about what happened and why you’re feeling let down. 

This kind of reflection can be helpful when it’s done constructively. Do your best to avoid ruminating on a disappointing situation that’s out of your control. Instead, think about what you might learn from it. 

3. Be kind to yourself 

No one is perfect. This can be tough to remember when things go wrong and you feel disappointed, but it’s important for healing. Self-compassion can help you forgive yourself if you’ve fallen for the “arrival fallacy” or made other mistakes that have led to disappointment. Being kind to yourself can also make it easier to have compassion for other people who let you down. 

4. Engage with your support network 

Disappointment can be a challenge to handle on your own. Support from friends and family or a therapist can give you the encouragement needed to tackle these feelings. Spending time talking about a disappointing experience with others can help you look at it in a new light. Your support network can also help you find ways to deal with these feelings so you don’t wallow in them, which can prevent you from moving forward.

5. Broaden your perspective 

The way you view a disappointing experience can keep you feeling stuck in a negative mindset. But looking at the situation from different angles can broaden your perspective and help you see the bigger picture.

You might ask yourself what you can learn from this experience. You might think about how it might help you make beneficial changes in your life. For example, disappointment over your job might inspire you to pursue something better or even change career paths. 

6. Challenge negative thought patterns 

Disappointment and unhelpful thought patterns often go hand in hand. The first step toward challenging these thoughts is identifying them. Take a step back and be aware of the kinds of thoughts going through your mind when you’re disappointed. You may notice unhelpful thought patterns emerge. For example, overgeneralizing, catastrophizing, or using all-or-nothing thinking.

When these happen, don’t let them go unchallenged. Try to look at these thought patterns from an objective perspective. 

For example, rather than catastrophizing that your friend doesn’t like you anymore because they haven’t returned your call after an hour, take a step back and look at the situation objectively to reframe the thought pattern. If you called in the middle of the day on a Tuesday, they might simply be busy at work or in class — not ignoring you.  

7. Avoid dwelling on your disappointment for too long 

Dwelling on disappointment won’t help you heal. While it’s common to think about disappointing experiences, be careful not to dwell on what might have been or be hard on yourself for what happened. 

In order to move forward and overcome disappointment, you’ll need to work on accepting it and letting it go. If this sounds easier said than done, that’s understandable. 

When you feel yourself edging toward rumination, you may find that it helps to redirect your thoughts to something more pleasant. You might also think about the valuable lessons you’ve learned from this experience and focus on your next steps rather than spending too much time replaying the event in your head. For example, you might set more realistic expectations from now on instead of high expectations that are unrealistic. 

8. Meet with a therapist to build coping skills 

Finding the courage to challenge negative thought patterns or reflect on disappointing feelings (without ruminating) might not come easily. Thankfully, a therapist can provide you with the support needed to build more adaptive coping skills for dealing with disappointment.

With SonderMind, it’s easy to connect with a therapist who can help you meet your therapeutic goals. Simply answer a few questions about yourself so that we know how to help. From there, you can meet with a therapist online or in person who can help you build lifelong adaptive coping strategies and skills. 

Learn more about SonderMind’s personalized therapy and get started on your journey today. 

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