23 Jun 2023

How to deal with disappointment

Everybody experiences disappointment from time to time and when hopes and expectations are dashed we can be left feeling crushed or resentful. Dwelling on our feelings of disappointment can be destructive: other people are frequently implicated or made to feel partly responsible and may not know how to respond.

Some setbacks are the results of genuine bad luck and are beyond our control; some are very much our own responsibility; they are predictable and preventable.

Think about your expectations – it is often elevated expectations that lead to disappointment. When our hopes and expectations are not realistic or attainable, we are bound to experience disappointment. Are we aiming too high? Are we being too demanding and perfectionist? Are we trying to get away with something, thereby avoiding recrimination? Are we trying to achieve something that is essentially beyond our abilities or our grasp?

Or are we aiming too low and fulfilling our own unambitious predictions? Are we suppressing our expectations in order to avoid having to confront disappointment? This form of self-preservation can lead to an unchallenging, unfulfilled life and a general feeling of self-dissatisfaction.

Your behaviour may well be a factor in recurring disappointments: Are you unclear in your communication? Have you managed to convey what you expect from others? Do you understand what you expect from yourself? Are you listening to what other people are saying to you? Knowing yourself, are you adjusting your expectations to align with a realistic appraisal of your abilities?

Don’t castigate other people when you experience disappointment and try not to let your tendency to blame others lead to feelings of disenchantment and betrayal. Instead, examine your disappointments and see them as an opportunity to learn about yourself, your capabilities, your ambitions, your blind spots. Learn to accept disappointment with good grace and use the experience as a catalyst for change.

Dealing with Disappointment

• Don’t deny you’re disappointed

Acknowledging an emotion, as long as you don’t disappear down a rabbit hole of recrimination and regret, is a good idea. People will respect your honesty and will respond to it much more positively than denial or deflection. But keep it short and snappy; no need to rehearse the minute details of everything that has gone wrong.

• Don’t lash out

Your natural tendency may be to blame everybody but yourself for your travails, and disappointment may well turn you spiteful and vindictive. This is not a good look. It is also frequently extremely unfair; you need to take a long, hard look at the situation and accept that you may well have contributed to it or be wholly responsible for it. Once you acknowledge this, you must accept accountability for your own actions and any negative impact they may have had.

• Don’t wallow in self-discrimination

You may have an impulse to go the other way and decide that shouldering the blame for absolutely everything that has gone wrong will redeem your image in the eyes of the world. This is a simple miscalculation. There is only so much self-flagellation that onlookers can take, and they may ultimately feel resentful of the fact that your abject self-criticism is forcing them into a position where they must step in and bolster your self-confidence.

• Don’t drag other people down

It is important, especially if you’re in a leadership role, to resist whining and self-pity. If you suffer a disappointment that has had an impact on your team, employees, or allies your job is to boist everyone else’s morale, not to spread a miasma of doom and gloom. Practise adopting a bland and inscrutable poker face, make a brief statement acknowledging your disappointment and move briskly on.

• Don’t prolong the drama

We’ve all suffered serious setbacks, endured searing criticism, stayed awake at night enumerating our regrets and thinking about what might have been. But dwelling on these negative emotions will leave you stuck in a rut and, instead of minimising the disappointment, will ensure that it looms large. Put it all behind you, learn from what happened to you and keep moving forward.

• Don’t dig in and keep repeating your mistakes

Ultimately you will be judged on your ability to rise, positively and stoically, above disappointment. If you fail to do so, you will continue to make the same errors of judgment and will be seen as someone who is stuck in a rut of failure and negativity.

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