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4 Tips for Dealing with Disappointment

By Stacey Feintuch
Reviewed by Susan Ko, Ph.D.
September 01, 2023

This article is part of a series on how to cope with common feelings that can be tough to experience. Here, experts provide simple strategies for acknowledging and managing disappointment.

Imagine this, you were expecting a major birthday celebration, but your loved ones didn’t plan anything. Or, the big promotion you'd been hoping for goes to a colleague instead. That sensation of getting your hopes up, only to be let down in the end is called disappointment, and it can hit you like a punch in the gut.

Disappointment is an unhappy feeling that is usually caused when something you hoped for didn’t happen, says Briana Severine, founder and licensed professional counselor with Sanare Psychosocial Rehabilitation in Denver. This is especially true if you were particularly attached to the idea of something happening, notes Pauline Peck, Ph.D., a licensed clinical psychologist in Santa Barbara, California.

The truth is, we all have hopes and expectations, which means we all face the potential for disappointment. It’s important to know how to move past disappointment rather than get stuck in a place of bitterness.

Here are four expert-recommended strategies for dealing with disappointment in a healthy way.

Let It Sink In

Disappointment doesn’t feel great, we know, but give yourself a moment to take in the news and even mourn what happened. Let the disappointment wash over you and feel it fully and completely.

“Allowing yourself to feel the feelings is a healthy part of being human,” Severine says. And if you don’t hold space for feeling disappointed, it may only worsen the situation. “Often when we avoid feelings that we deem ‘negative’ and suppress them, they can build or come out sideways in relationships with others or as anger.”

There’s an important distinction, however. “Allowing yourself to identify and acknowledge disappointment is healthy. Wallowing in it is not,” Peck says.

There’s no universal time limit for how long to process your disappointment. In fact, the bigger the disappointment, the longer it may take for someone to move on, says Tess Brigham, a licensed therapist who practices in San Francisco. For instance, a bad meal at a restaurant is different from the end of a serious relationship, and your disappointment may look and feel different in either situation. Experiment to learn what amount of time feels appropriate and healthy for you to “accept your feelings without letting them run the show,” Peck says.

Put Things in Perspective

Do a reality check, Brigham suggests—is what happened (or didn’t happen) really that bad?

Ask yourself how you’ll feel about the disappointment in a week, month, or year. Through this lens, you may find that what happened maybe wasn’t as disappointing as you may feel it is now.

Talk About It and Adjust

“Our negative feelings often are a compass that something in the situation was important to us,” Severine says. As Peck notes, we might not always realize we have a certain expectation until we find ourselves disappointed. And in relationships, we may assume that others know and share those expectations. Rather than assuming, it can help to talk it out.

Talking things through with trusted friends, family members, a mental health professional, or even the person who disappointed you allows you to make sense of what and how reasonable your expectations are and avoid future disappointment.

Don’t Take It Personally

“We may often make ourselves the ‘cause’ of the failure: I’m a loser, I’m worthless, I can’t do anything right,” Severine says. This is when disappointment can turn into shame. Try, instead, to accept feelings as they are—just feelings. “They don’t tell a story about your inherent worth as a human being,” she says.

Rather than using disappointment as evidence of your shortcomings—as a less-than friend, or as someone who gets forgotten or left, for example—it might be more productive to use your feelings to get curious about what is happening and treat yourself with self-compassion, says Peck. Try to meet your disappointment with understanding and kindness, the way you might talk to a friend or a young child.

When to Get Help

Talking with a mental health professional anytime you think you want or need to is a good idea any time but can be particularly helpful if disappointment becomes a frequent and overwhelming feeling. You should also consider professional help if you notice that you’re unwilling to accept that the outcome didn’t match your original expectations, Brigham says, which can lead to unpleasant resentment, anger, and rumination.

Simply put: “Talking things through can help illuminate what is contributing to your feelings and what you can do about it,” Peck says.

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