“The size of your success is measured by the strength of your desire; the size of your dream; and how you handle disappointment along the way.” – Robert Kiyosaki

We all know the feeling of disappointment.  Sometimes it is experienced as an emotional blow to the stomach, taking your breath away.  Other times it might make your throat become tight with a wave of nausea passing over you.  Whatever the subjective emotional experience is like for you, disappointment can range from letting go of mild hopes to crushing your deepest life’s dream. No matter what form disappointment may take for you in any given situation, how you choose to handle that emotional experience makes all the difference between becoming more resilient and learning important lessons or deciding to give up on future happiness or success.

People who experience disappointment are at a greater risk for physical and psychological problems, such as headaches, gastrointestinal issues, and chronic stress or fatigue.  Disappointment can be truly debilitating when it takes you by surprise and you are not emotionally prepared to meet the experience of disappointment from a centered place of mindfulness.  Sometimes disappointment catches you by surprise – the slightest comment or indication that something you hoped for may not be true or may not happen can be crushing.  Other times, disappointment is the final puzzle piece in a long chain of events leading toward something that you have been working very hard to obtain.

Much of the time, disappointment is the result of your thoughts, wishes, and dreams being disconnected from reality.  Perhaps your hopes and expectations are too great for others to meet your standards.  High expectations that are unmet are swiftly followed by intense disappointment.  It is important to realize that often we believe that our own expectations are not “too high” although they are experienced as unrealistic by others.  It is helpful to regularly check in with trusted others to see if they view your expectations as realistic, reasonable, and attainable.  For example, perfectionists commonly set high standards for themselves and their loved ones.

If you find that you repeatedly experience disappointment in your life, it is possible that you tend to experience issues with distorted thinking or irrational thoughts.  We all employ cognitive distortions, but when they begin to take over your life, interfere with your functioning, and replace realistic and rational thinking, there may be a problem.  The good news is that you can change faulty patterns of thinking through Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and mindfulness-based approaches to treatment, such as Acceptance & Commitment Therapy (ACT).

Mindfulness Exercise: Dealing with Disappointment

Things you can do in this present moment to deal with disappointment:

(1) Shift Expectations

You can choose to alter your expectations of the person, the situation, or yourself to deal with disappointment.  It may feel sad in some way to alter your expectations, but realize that letting go of expectations that may not be realistic is in your best interest.  If you hold yourself, another person, or an event to an unattainable standard, then you are bound for disappointment.  It is important to hold realistically high standards in the pursuit of your goals.  The tricky part is learning how to tell the difference between the two.  Talk with your spouse, a family member, or a close friend about your expectations and mindfully notice their reactions.  Try putting your expectations into words on paper – seeing your actual expectations may be a wake-up call.

(2) Stop Ruminating

Rumination, or excessively dwelling on negative thoughts and feelings, has been shown to prolong negative emotional states and result in very little positive problem-solving.  It may feel “good” in some way to sit around and stew over what is bothering you or disappointing you, but you must realize that this is a choice.  You do not “have to” ruminate.  If you do ruminate, look within and ask yourself what real benefits it is giving you.  Perhaps, in that moment, the choice to ruminate is preventing you from saying something you will later regret, which can be positive.  Whatever the true reason is, it is your choice.

(3) Communicate Effectively

Disappointment is often unnecessarily intensified and prolonged due to poor or absent communication.  If you struggle with interpersonal communication skills, consider the possibility that your emotional state of disappointment may be unfounded.  It is quite possible that if you made the choice to clearly and directly communicate with the source of your disappointment in an open and vulnerable manner that you would feel quite differently than you do right now.  Ask yourself if you have used mindfulness and effective interpersonal skills to gather all of the information necessary to assess the situation.  Always remember that you cannot control the thoughts, feelings, or behaviors of others… only your own.

(4) Release Attachments

Disappointment is one form of human suffering.  The path out of suffering is to let go of your attachment to desired outcomes.  The more tightly that you cling to your need for things to turn out in a certain way, the greater your level of disappointment (and suffering) will be.  You can begin to identify the things that you are strongly attached to in this way… imagine the first person, event, or material object that comes to mind.  Now imagine that you cannot be with that person, have the desired outcome at that event, or have/keep that material object.  What reaction do you have to this imagined loss?

The degree of response that we have to the notion of not being able to have or do something represents our level of attachment to that person, event, or thing.  Letting go of attachments doesn’t have to mean that you “don’t care” – ambivalence would be an excuse or a way to check out (i.e., it is not being mindful).  Imagine being able to enjoy, appreciate, and love the positive people, events, and things in your life without being so fixated on them that their presence in your life creates suffering.  Recognize that all things that we are capable of experiencing with our physical senses are impermanent.  Be present in the moment with all things and let go of your need to cling tight to them in order to let go of unnecessary suffering.

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Featured image: I will survive by net_efekt / CC BY 2.0

About Laura K. Schenck, Ph.D., LPC

I am a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) with a Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology from the University of Northern Colorado. Some of my academic interests include: Dialectical Behavior Therapy, mindfulness, stress reduction, work/life balance, mood disorders, identity development, supervision & training, and self-care.

1 Comment

  1. Claudia U. on August 17, 2018 at 11:13 am

    Respectfully, I disagree with #2. Rumination, for some, is not a choice in the sense that– until they learn the techniques to turn the negativity off– the thoughts will come unbidden. Ironically, I clicked on this posting because I was anticipating a probable disappointment later today and my recent history of coping hasn’t been the best. #2 makes it sound like rumination has an on-off switch and it’s just a matter of flipping it. That’s the problem with so much advice on the Internet— people tell you what to do, but they don’t bother to help you figure out HOW to do it.

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