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Dealing with disappointment

Expectation vs reality: how to navigate disappointment

Hope or expectation dashed.

How has life treated you so far this year? For most people life is a mix of uneventful days, days of great joy, but then also some days of frustration, disappointment, sadness and other negative experiences.

One of the most difficult consequences of life is disappointment. Disappointments generally occur because an expected outcome or expectation did not realise. A huge amount of resilience is required to bounce back from these setbacks.

If you’re human, other people will inevitably disappoint you or let you down sometimes. Whether it’s a friend cancelling arrangements at the last minute, family members not showing up for an important occasion, a co-worker throwing you under the bus, or a partner not doing what was promised, disappointment is a fact of life.

Time has become increasingly scarce, stress is high, and this puts a strain on relationships. You can’t stop people from acting badly or letting you down, but you don’t allow it derail you from living a happy and successful life.

These strategies may help you recover from your hurt and anger and move forward with confidence:

1. Acknowledge your feeling of disappointment – Being rejected, let down, or betrayed can trigger feelings of sadness, anxiety, or anger. It’s important to acknowledge these feelings, rather than trying to shove them down.

2. Acknowledge your unmet needs – Think about what needs of yours are not being met. Try to disentangle the past from the present. Feel the disappointment of the unmet need, and then ask yourself whether you can accept that need not being met in this situation, or whether you want to do something about it.

3. Selfcare is not selfish – Are there ways you can meet the unmet need for yourself? It is vital not to give up and stew in passive resentment. Ensure your own emotional tank is filled and take responsibility to do so yourself.

4. Would it be productive to speak up about the disappointment? – Knowing that it’s important to pick your battles, think about what the long-term effect will be to speak up or not.

5. Examine your expectations – Think about whether your expectations are reasonable in this situation, and whether the person is capable of doing what you expect. I must confess, my expectations are often higher than what is perhaps reasonable to expect….

6. Open communication: Discuss expectations with others. Clear communication prevents misunderstandings.

7. Journaling: Write down your expectations and compare them to reality. Reflect on the gaps and learn from them.

8. Reaffirm boundaries – If this person has a pattern of disappointing or betraying you, think about what you need to do to protect yourself. Boundaries can help you feel emotionally safe, and they help restore your self-worth and self-respect.

Expectations vs. reality—a familiar dichotomy that often leaves us grappling with feelings of disappointment. Whether it’s a dream job, a budding relationship, or a personal goal, the gap between what we expect and what actually unfolds can be vast. So, how do we handle this emotional rollercoaster? Let’s explore the concept and practical ways to bridge that gap.

Some healthy scepticism when it comes to promises helps to view the world realistically.  We also need to learn to not hang on or hang around while we wait for our expectations to be fulfilled by people, time or even events, but to accept that waiting is a natural consequence of life.

Tips to bounce back from a setback

  1. Be kind to yourself. It’s important to address your disappointments, but first you need to take care of you – learn to focus on your internal locus of control (be your own cheerleader)
  2. Learn to see the glass half full, not half empty
  3. Try again, but perhaps somewhat different
  4. Talk to someone you trust – allowing yourself to be vulnerable helps others too.
  5. Take this as a learning experience. Plan your come back
  6. Change your narrative – talk differently about this attempt which didn’t pan out the way you wanted
  7. Get back in the game.
  8. Work on forgiving – others, the world, or yourself.
  9. Don’t feed the problem story
  10. Remember, you are not alone – surround yourself with good people.

You have a choice about how to react, even if you didn’t choose the situation.

  1. Expectation vs. Reality: The Psychology Behind Our Disappointments by Leo, Psychologily
  2. How to manage the expectations vs reality trap in 6 steps by Dr. Chris Mosunic, Calm Blog
  3. Expectations vs. Reality: A Guide to Managing Disappointment, Occo London

More reading

Remember, life’s beauty lies not in perfect alignment but in embracing the unexpected twists and turns. 🌟

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