In light of the recent US Presidential election, there is inevitably a mood of despair and disappointment across that nation which will linger for some time. But then there are disappointments across humanity every single moment of every single day. It’s one of the hardest things to deal with in life, and it can feel like it is around every corner. Everyone wants to hope but sometimes this makes us afraid to. Disappointment can strike without warning, or just smolder away in the background no matter how hard you try to ignore it. No one is immune. We all go through this emotion.
So what do you do when life doesn’t go the way you planned, or hoped? Disappointment will at some stage touch your life, but how you handle it can have a massive impact on your emotional well-being. What do you do when you end up somewhere you never thought you’d be? What do you do when your dreams are dashed and it feels like all hope is gone?
We can all learn to cope with disappointment better. So here are 5 top tips...
1. Beware of negative thinking!
One thing we know about the way the human brain works is that sometimes our thinking can be our worst enemy. It can warp our view of the world, make us feel that things are worse than they actually are and even trigger more painful or difficult emotions. Disappointment is a common trigger for some of the classic ‘unhelpful’ thinking styles. Watch out for things like ‘generalization’ (Everything I do always turns to disaster), predicting future gloom (I’m never going to get this right! or I’m never going to be happy) or making assumptions about what people think of you (Everyone must think I’m an idiot for failing). Beware of giving your emotions too much power – if you feel something, that doesn’t necessarily mean it is right. So, if you know your thinking is making you feel worse, try to ask some other people for their perspective. Don’t just assume that because you are thinking it, it has to be right!
2. Give yourself space to grieve
Disappointments are hard, and they invariably trigger a lot of emotion. Sometimes we can tie ourselves in knots trying desperately hard not to feel – but that doesn’t do any good! It is your emotions’ job to get your attention so that an answer can truly be sought. They are there for a purpose! Make sure you give yourself space to express them – whether that is a cup of coffee with a friend who will listen, time with a counsellor or therapist, a long hard run to pound out the frustration or even just a good old fashioned cry. You might find it helpful to place a limit on your expression of that emotion though – maybe setting aside an evening to allow yourself to react, but then planning the next day to focus on moving on and looking to the future. Don’t get caught up in wallowing and watch out for those negative thinking patterns.
The thing with disappointment is that often it is tinged with other emotions. You might feel silly for ever having hoped, guilty of feeling so gutted or just struggle to explain how hard it has hit you. Sometimes life can feel that you are surrounded by people who have better reasons to be feeling low – and that can stop you admitting how hard things have been for you. Don’t let your disappointment push you away from those who care about you. Remember humans have difficulty in functioning best in isolation. You are designed to need to interact with other people. Talk to someone.
4. Check your expectations
If you find that dealing with disappointment is a regular occurrence in your life, perhaps it is worth examining your expectations. Many of us are closet perfectionists, and push ourselves very hard. Expectations can be high – and alongside that often goes a black and white approach to life – if it doesn’t meet those expectations 100% then it has totally failed. Some people’s perfectionism is directed mainly at themselves, and they struggle with repeated disappointment about what they have not been able to achieve. Check out whether your expectations are realistic. And what about the world around you? Are you just one of those people who happens not to be very lucky? You know the kind – never wins at anything, good stuff just doesn’t tend to come your way? Studies have shown that actually ‘luck’ is a lot to do with how you see the world, and the things you remember and pay attention to. Our brains has a natural bias to remember negative things as well as positive ones, but don’t let it fool you into thinking nothing positive ever happens to you.
5. Change perspective
One thing that can really help with a disappointment is to take a moment to think about the bigger picture. Sometimes when we are in the midst of things, we can be consumed by that event, but with a bit of perspective we realise that actually there is more to life than them.
So, it is entirely up to you what to do when things get tough and you are facing disappointment. Elicit help of course, work hard to overcome your disappointment naturally, but keep going yourself is the key. Shifting perspective is sometimes more powerful than being smart, so a different perspective on the feeling that disappointment holds for you can bring unexpected results.