How to Get Over Disappointment: Examples and Strategies
What is disappointment? Discover what disappointment is all about and learn how to overcome the emotions that come with disappointment.
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Whether it be getting rejected in a job interview, failing a test we’ve studied all night for, or losing the lottery, disappointment is an inevitable part of our lives. We pride ourselves to be reasonable, smart creatures. So sometimes, when disappointment hits, we tell ourselves that it’s not that bad, or that we don’t care. And yet, we still feel that crushing, gut-wrenching vulnerability every time we are disappointed.
But why does disappointment hurt so much? And more importantly, how do we get over disappointment?
Why We Feel Disappointment
There's little we can do to escape disappointment. It's a real, raw emotion that hurts pretty bad, no matter how much we tell ourselves that the outcome was expected. But what is this emotion we call "disappointment", anyway?
Disappointment is an emotion that is thought to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, which is the bodily system responsible for the body's rest and digestion response. When triggered, it results in melancholy, inertia, and feelings of hopelessness. It may also involve feeling powerless and wanting to do nothing (Zeelenberg et al., 1998).
"Disappointment is a profound way in which sadness is experienced." Mary C. Lamia, Ph.D., wrote in Psychology Today. "People seem to do whatever they can to avoid recognizing that they are disappointed, and will twist their thinking every which way to not recognize a true disappointment."
Indeed, more often than not, we avoid acknowledging our disappointment because it comes with finality. It forces us to admit that we didn't get what we wished to have. In fact, it's easier to turn to anger than accepting the reality of what disappointment brings.
The psychological set-up of disappointment is as follows:
1. You're in an uncertain situation wherein you hope for a positive outcome.
2. You believe that you deserve a positive outcome.
3. You fantasize about what your life would be like alongside the outcome.
4. You're surprised that you didn't receive the outcome you hoped for.
5. You feel anger and/or resentment that you couldn't control the outcome through personal actions.
Oftentimes, the build-up to disappointment is the same for all of us. Hope is great; it's a wonderful thing that keeps us going. But it comes with a similarly great downside: disappointment. For instance, the more time we spend fantasizing about how amazing it would be to win the lottery, the greater our disappointment is when we lose.
However, even if our chances of winning the Mega Millions jackpot are 1 in 302.6 million, we can't help but feel that sliver of hope when we buy the $2 jackpot ticket. The concept of “what if?” is a powerful one indeed, even if we know that it’ll quickly turn into disappointment.
Why Disappointment Hurts So Much
Disappointment hurts both physically and mentally. No matter how much we experience it, the pain doesn't seem to hurt any less. Some of us feel tired, heavy, and numb, while others feel like the world is going too fast around them. But why does this happen? Why does it hurt?
When we're in physical pain, our body releases endorphins to relieve the hurt we're feeling. This reaction is an almost instantaneous response to the presence of physical injury. But unfortunately, when it comes to psychological wounds, our brains react differently.
Similar to depression, our brains process certain disappointing events as instances that undermine our well-being (take our well-being quiz to see how you're doing). As such, pain appears when the brain's neurotransmitters, i.e. serotonin and/or dopamine levels, decrease.
Even though our brain interprets sadness, depression, and disappointment to be equally as painful as physical injuries, it deals with it in a completely different way. Or, rather, it doesn’t deal with it at all. And, interestingly, instead of the relief we crave during such occasions, many of us end up with "stress symptoms" such as migraines, muscular tension, and even movement disorders.
10 Healthy Ways to Overcome Disappointment
Many of us fear the pain disappointment brings, so much so that we change our behavior just so we won't have to experience it. In the words of Alexander Pope, “Blessed is he who expects nothing, for he shall never be disappointed.”
When something disrupts our positive feelings and hopeful expectations, it's almost impossible not to feel unhappy. Regardless, over time and with practice, disappointment won't be such a looming problem in your life.So for the millions, if not billions, of people who force a smile while trying to get over disappointment, here are some strategies you can follow:
1. Allow Yourself to Feel Disappointed
Before anything, you'll first have to acknowledge the letdown you've just faced.
Denying the reality of a certain situation, or refusing to think about it at all, makes things a lot worse than they should be. It also keeps you stuck in one place, unable to work on getting a solution to said problem.
Like a lot of things, the first step to getting over disappointment is awareness. Yes, you failed the test. Yes, you didn't win the lottery. Yes, you didn't get promoted. It hurts, and that's okay. Give yourself time to mourn.
2. Let It Out
According to a study about mending broken hearts, those who wrote down their deepest thoughts and feelings about their experience recovered much quicker than those who hadn’t. They also had better physical and mental health in subsequent months.
In another study, executives and engineers who deliberately confronted their feelings about unemployment had a much higher rate of re-employment in the following months. It actually jumped up to 72% when called for a follow-up 4 months later.
The point here is this: sometimes, the burden of disappointment is too much to hold in. Therefore, talking to someone, or even writing it down on paper, will lessen the feelings of pain and/or hopelessness after experiencing disappointment.
3. Don't Dwell on What Might Have Been
It's likely that you've imagined how great it would be if you were to get that promotion, to rank at the top of your class, or win the lottery. So when things didn't work out as you had imagined them to be, it's inevitable that you’d ask yourself what could have been if things were a little different. If you answered more promptly, if you studied a little harder, or if you were a little luckier. But the truth is, the more you dwell on your disappointment, the harder it is to let go. Not only will it disrupt your ability to focus, but it'll also prevent you from moving forward.
4. Be Kind to Yourself
Most of the time, when things go wrong, it's not your fault. Perhaps the company that turned you down required someone with a completely different set of skills. Maybe the person you fell in love with is in love with someone else; someone who they've known way before you came into the picture. Or maybe, it just wasn’t meant to be.
Regardless of the situation, it's important to adopt a self-compassionate attitude. Be kind to yourself. Don't judge yourself too harshly for not being perfect. Don't hold yourself to impossibly high standards. Most importantly, don't compare yourself to others. Doing so will only hurt your confidence and damage your self-worth. Your path is yours, and theirs is their own.
Video: What happens when you expect disappointment
5. Give Yourself Some Credit
There will always be days where you just can’t finish everything you want to, or achieve everything you hope to achieve. Such is the way of life; it throws tasks and obstacles at you at random. Oftentimes, it derails your focus from your goal. Mistakes happen, and you're allowed to make them. You did what you could. Forgive yourself for the mistakes you've made and learn from them instead of holding them over your own head.
Video: Why disappointment can be a good thing
6. Put Things Into Perspective
A lot of us find ourselves looking back at events that now seem trivial. We might even ask ourselves why we were so worried or upset about something that, in hindsight, wasn’t as awful as we initially made it out to be.
Ask yourself this: how will you feel about your situation in a week, a month, or a year's time? If you believe that your feelings of disappointment will eventually disappear—that this too will pass—then you’re already on your way to getting over it. It would be nice if the world was constructed with the odds being in our favor. Unfortunately, reality isn’t so kind. So rather than judging the event you’ve just experienced an utter disaster that'll ruin your life forever, think of it as a mere inconvenience. After all, it's not the end of the world.
7. Look for the Silver Lining
Always try to find a sign of hope or a positive aspect in your otherwise negative situation. The world is not painted in black-and-white, so don't let yourself be defined by it. While you may feel unhappy right now, try to look at the situation as a critique, or as a part of growing up.
AsChet Baker sang in his 1956 Pacific Jazz album, "Remember, somewhere the sun is shining, and so the right thing to do is make it shine for you." Take your disappointment as a chance to stop, evaluate, and restructure your thoughts. It's not a bad life; simply a bad moment. Therefore, try to use it.
8. Always Look Forward
The beauty of life is that there's always tomorrow to look forward to. If an event brings you disappointment, it doesn't mean that you should shy from it forever. If you can, try again. Identify your next opportunity and work your way to reach it.
In the words of former professional footballer Jamie Redknapp, "There's no point in looking back and saying I was unlucky." Indeed, one of the best ways to get over disappointment is to always look forward.
9. Try a Different Approach
"When we feel stagnant and unconfident, it’s a lot easier to see the bad parts of life." entrepreneur Melyssa Griffin wrote. "Start small. Remind yourself of all the great things you can accomplish."
In other words, if what you're doing isn't working and failure seems to be a constant in your life, perhaps it's time to create a different game plan. Take it as a chance to bring back control and positivity in your life.
For instance, if your partner isn't changing or meeting your needs, it may be best to focus on your own happiness instead. If your qualifications don’t meet the majority of the companies you tried applying in, you may have to reinvent yourself. Sometimes, getting what you want requires jumping out of your comfort zone. Yes, it can be a terrifying prospect, but taking the risk means tolerating loss, uncertainty, and even more disappointment. This is how you change.
10. Use Humor as a Coping Mechanism
Finding humor in a situation allows you to step back and see things more clearly. Laughing is like taking a deep breath and bringing everything back down to earth. This isn't to suggest that you should laugh at yourself with contempt and fierce anger, as it can be emotionally self-harming. I'm also not suggesting you make light of your emotional vulnerability.
Instead, surround yourself with people who make you smile. Watch funny shows and movies, read funny books, and partake in merry engagement. Doing so will keep your mind off of the disappointment you're feeling, and make it easier to handle.
More activities to help you get over disapointment
Want some more ways to get over disappointment? Here are a few activities to help you:
Disappointment comes with complex emotions. It could be sadness, regret, despondency, and, more commonly, anger. Learning how to get over disappointment is a key skill in life, and will make things much easier to accept and move on.
But remember, disappointment isn't all that bad. In fact, it provides information about the way you view yourself, the world, and the people around you. It also helps you better understand what's important to you. In the words of Sir Boyle Roche, “Disappointment is the nurse of wisdom.”
Indeed, when we face failures and disappointment, we must not sit down and despair forever. Instead, we must find the reason for our disappointment and learn and grow from it.
About Dr. Tchiki Davis
Dr. Davis is founder of The Berkeley Well-Being Institute. After getting her PhD in psychology at Berkeley, she started creating online content & programs to boost well-being—some of these have reached more than a million people. As author of Outsmart Your Smartphone, and contributor to Psychology Today, The Greater Good Science Center, and Shine Text, Dr. Davis aims to share her insights on happiness & health with people all across the world. Learn more about Dr. Davis.