Pretty much everyone on this planet can remember a time when they were disappointed, frustrated, or upset when something didn't work out. Or hearing someone say the dreaded, "I'm so disappointed in you.”
Landing in a place of being disappointed generally means something didn't work out the way we thought it would, and that place alone can be jarring to our sense of trust and confidence in who we are. It's all well and good to put your faith and trust in the Universe and have good self-esteem when everything is going the way you want it to.
But what happens when things don't work out?
What happens when that thing you really really really wanted doesn't come to be, or you wake up one day and realize that all that stuff you are trying so hard to make happen actually isn’t the right stuff for you?
There are several ways to deal with disappointment. Some are healthy and will move you forward, and some, well, not so much. How do you deal with disappointment and frustration?
Where does disappointment even come from, and how can we move beyond it?
The Origins of Disappointment
Don’t worry, this isn’t a history lesson about the word disappointment (15th century, middle French/English, but I digress)— in order to deal with disappointment and learn from it in a way that moves us forward, it’s important to understand why we feel it in the first place- where it comes from in our lives.
Disappointment shows up when we fail to meet or live up to expectations- either our own of ourselves, or someone else’s expectations of us. As well, if we expect other people to behave or act or think in a certain way and they don’t, or we are counting on an experience to go a certain way and it doesn’t, that can lead to disappointment.
There is no disappointment without expectation. And expectations are assumptions about the way something is going to happen- whether that be an event, a conversation, a meal, or the outcome of a goal. Expectations are usually set based on outside circumstances or viewpoints, or are based in the way we ‘know things are supposed to be’.
We live in an expectation based society; therefore, it makes sense if a lot of your understanding of life is constructed from expectations. It also makes sense if you’ve experienced your fair share of disappointment in your life.
The Function of Disappointment
While not a fun feeling to have, every feeling or emotion we have is functional- there is a reason for it existing. The function of disappointment is both to let us know when we may have hidden expectations affecting the quality of our lives, and to show us where we may be out of integrity or out of alignment with who we want be in the world.
Any time we assume something, we have an expectation, and the majority of our expectations are given to us through upbringing and social conditioning. When I am disappointed by something, it is a good time to check in and ask myself, “what expectation do I have that led me to this disappointment?”
A great example of this would be, say, I decide to make my roommate dinner one night. It tastes delicious, it’s lovely, we have a good time eating it, and then she says “okay thanks!” and goes to bed or leaves the house again. And, left with all the clean up, I have a bad taste in my mouth and wonder what I did wrong.
I could assume she’s ungrateful, I might be disappointed that she doesn’t appreciate me, etc. etc.— this would be based on an assumption I could have had from childhood- whoever cooks, the other person does the dishes. And if someone else doesn’t have that expectation, it can lead to a lot of mis-communication and thinking someone is ungrateful or doesn’t like me, whereas really we just had different expectations of what was supposed to happen.
When you can start to get to the root of disappointment and neutralize the stories around it (she is ungrateful and doesn’t appreciate me), you will have a much more solid base for creating better relationships and enjoying your life a whole lot more.
Dealing With Disappointment
That being said, it’s still going to happen! So how do you deal with disappointment when it does come up, either in a situation like the one above or maybe if you are disappointed in yourself?
Here are two questions to ask anytime you are in a situation like this: What are you willing to take responsibility for? and What will you learn from this moving forward?
I love these questions, because while miscommunication between two people can be no fun and really hurt sometimes, it is up to us to ultimately choose our experiences and the way we respond to the world. This includes when we fail to live up to our own expectations, or if we have a habit of beating ourselves up when things don’t go according to plan.
You can always ask yourself, “what am I willing to take responsibility for?"
Did you do something out of integrity? Did you make an assumption about somebody or a situation that needs to be re-evaluated? This doesn’t have to be a process of beating yourself up further- it’s an opportunity to take a step back from the situation and assess what truly happened.
And from there, “what will I learn from this moving forward?”
What assumption will I be on the lookout for in my approach, and how would I like to approach this situation instead? Are there boundaries or standards I need to put in place, or a conversation I need to have with someone to better understand where we are both coming from? What do I now know that I wasn’t aware of before that will help me be present and open when this comes up again?
The more we are able to take a step back from a circumstance and assess the underlying beliefs, expectations, and origins of disappointment and misalignment, the more quickly we can process these feelings and move on.
Moving Beyond Disappointment
Feeling disappointed sucks, and there’s no guarantee you’ll never feel it again. That being said, there are ways to drastically reduce the amount of it in your life, and the effect it has on your well-being.
Now that you have awareness around what disappointment is, where it comes from, and how to deal with it in the moment, you are well equipped to begin setting up your life in a way that doesn’t really have a whole lot of it anymore.
The more you bring awareness to your expectations, the less they are going to control you and cause you to react. As well, you can start to move from a place of expectation to a place of agreements- conscious decisions you make around how you are going to respond to various life circumstances, as well as decisions you make with others you are in relationship with- almost like a mini-contract that ensures a mutual level of connection and communication.
A lot of disappointments come from lack of communication with other people, based on these hidden expectations we’ve been carrying around. To create major change in this part of your life, it is going to require a little bit of courage to enter into conversations with the important people in your life.
Bring up some times when you’ve felt disappointed, and let them know that you understand there were differing expectations involved. Also let them know that moving forward, you’d like to set up some agreements around how to handle those situations.
You can do the same thing with yourself- I used to know when projects or partnerships weren’t really for me, but I was too scared to say no because I expected people to think I wasn’t good enough or useless, and wanted to prove my worthiness to them. (And I was too scared to confront them.) This led to so many failed projects, not meeting others’ expectations, and ultimately perpetuating my belief that I wasn’t good enough.
Now, I have an agreement with myself that if something is out of alignment, I will address it immediately. It might be uncomfortable, I might hate it, but I no longer put myself in those situations where I feel less than. I’m not disappointed in myself anymore, and it has completely changed the way I live, do business, and relate to other people.
You have this capacity within you. One of the best ways to start to shed light on our own expectations is to have someone be your mirror. Sound your assumptions and expectations off of them (once you've done some digging yourself), and begin to create conscious decisions instead.