How to Cope with Disappointment

Disappointment is an emotion that many of us have a difficult time understanding and managing. I suggest that there are five steps to follow:

1. Manage emotion

2. Don’t take it personally

3. Review expectations

4. Take a big picture perspective

5. Try again — or try another tack

Let’s explore these five steps on how to cope with disappointment below.

1. Manage emotion

This step would be No. 1 when dealing with any difficult and perhaps unexpected life circumstances. You need to experience your emotional reaction to the event. It’s important to let yourself feel so that you can figure out what the event means to you. Don’t be tempted to make any important decisions at this point or even to take action on your feelings. It may be a few hours or a few days before you reach a calmer state of mind; when you do, only then should you act.

2. Don’t take it personally

So may of us are all too ready to attribute negative life events to our own personal failings. We say that we deserved it, or attracted it to ourselves or were not “good enough” to have a different outcome. The reality is, life will simply do what it does, whether you are there or not. In this instance, you happened to be present during the event, which actually had nothing to do with you.

When you take something personally, it unnecessarily narrows your point of view and prevents the acquiring of wisdom, which is an ability to see life from a deeper, broader, more meaningful perspective. Instead of making it “all about me,” allow yourself to “not know” by reminding yourself: “I don’t know, I don’t know.”

That way you can be available to a real understanding of an event when it arises and not one you just made up for the sake of expedience. You may eventually discover more about yourself and life but not within the time limits you set. Remember just to wait. When it comes to insight, impatience is not your friend.

3. Review expectations

When you take a good look at your expectations, you will be getting closer to a true understanding of the event. Perhaps your expectations were unrealistic. Perhaps they could be adjusted a little to cope with this new reality. Either way, now is the time to question whether these expectations actually serve you.

4. Take a big picture perspective

The ability to self-reflect is the essence of good mental health. Take some time to explore what is happening for you around this event – what it means to you and what it has taught you about life. Talking to a therapist, someone who really listens and has your best interests at heart, is useful. It can help you recover, reevaluate, gain insight and clarity that will surprise you and make you feel better.

5. Try again or try another tack

Having followed these steps, it’s now time to make an important decision about what to do next and how to take action. If you genuinely think it’s possible to succeed by trying again, then by all means have a go. Alternatively, the wisest course of action might be to try another tack. With greater powers of self-reflection, a deeper understanding and newfound resources in dealing effectively with disappointment, you are now more likely to experience success.

By Sophie Henshaw, DPsych 

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