Have you ever said to yourself, “I don’t want to feel too good about this possibility, because if it doesn’t work out, I’ll be disappointed”? If so, you’re not alone. You have the mistaken belief that if you don’t feel too good or too hopeful regarding something you are anticipating, then you won’t feel too bad if it doesn’t work out. Unfortunately, this belief hinders you in two ways. First, it prevents you from enjoying the excitement and pleasure that comes from anticipating a positive outcome. For example, if you are planning a vacation, part of the joy comes from looking forward to the trip. When you cut yourself off from this positive expectation for fear the trip may not occur, you cut yourself off from positive feelings. Second, if the anticipated event does not materialize, you will still be disappointed!
Another mistaken belief that exacerbates the disappointments that inevitably arise is the notion that life is supposed to be perfect. This myth leads to suppressing the feelings that accompany disappointments. When you shovel your disappointment under the rug, it doesn’t really go away. It just lies in waiting to ambush you the next time you’re disappointed, turning small disappointments into major ones because of the accumulation of unresolved issues.
What is disappointment? It embraces a wide range of feelings, including regret, failure, sadness and defeat. The situations that lead to disappointment are equally broad, ranging from a missed party or a bad hair day to a failed relationship or a missed job opportunity. Essentially, disappointment describes the gap between what you want and what is. The gap can be tiny or big, but it’s the gap that causes the negative feelings.
So, what’s the best way to bounce back from disappointments?
- Recognize and embrace the fact that disappointment is a natural fact of life. Rather than avoiding this condition, embrace it as a part of knowing you’re alive. Yes, there is a gap between what you want and what is, but this very gap is an indicator that you are an active creator of your life, seeking fulfillment, defining your needs and wants.
- Once you have acknowledged your disappointment, it’s time to let go of the accompanying feelings. Let yourself be sad, angry, or frustrated. Now that you have released the feelings, you are in a position to move on. (Please note: when experiencing a major loss or personal tragedy, this goes beyond disappointment and requires entering a period of grieving.)
- When you have had no control over a disappointment, such as missing a couple days of your vacation due to weather conditions, two strategies can help alleviate your downward spiral. First, stop any resistance to the situation. Just accept it as it is. Say to yourself, “It is what it is.” Second, take action to do what you can to make things better. This might include reframing the situation – finding a way of looking at the event that offers you some relief.
- Avoid “woulda, coulda, shouda.” Sometimes looking back, you realize the disappointment was preventable. For example, you missed a few days of your vacation because you arrived at the airport without your passport. In these instances, it’s essential to acknowledge that as a human being you are fallible. Do not beat yourself up. Being human means making mistakes.
- Remember the old adage, “When one door closes, another opens.” The joy of life is in the mysterious unfolding. Who knows how things would have turned out if you had taken the path you had originally wanted. Instead of going through life looking in the rear view mirror and wondering, make a decision to look forward and embrace what is opening up before you.
If you find yourself on a downward spiral of disappointment, make a commitment to turn things around. Practice one of these strategies. Who knows. Maybe that disappointment is really the first step towards something even better.