Disappointment can be a tough beast to battle. I personally tend to be a planner, a bit of a perfectionist. I like to have a clear idea of how events will transpire, and have known well the rigidity that can come with this sort of tunnel vision. With this can come feelings of frustration and disappointment when things inevitably veer off course; it is easy to get wrapped up in ideas of what should have been, and then to cope with this disappointment in ways that are, actually, not that helpful. Here are a few things to keep in mind when disappointment sneaks up on you.
1. What was under your control?
It is easy for black and white thinking to pop up during a time of disappointment. You might find that you blame yourself completely for something that didn’t go according to plan. On the flip side, maybe you find that you often blame others around you without accepting any personal responsibility. By pausing and asking what was under your control, you give yourself the opportunity to assess the situation in a realistic way. Do not take on the actions or feelings or thoughts of others around you, and do not push your own actions, thoughts, and feelings onto others.
2. What could you have done differently?
Now that you know what was under your control, you can assess what can be done differently next time. Here’s the great thing about life- we can get second, third, fourth chances on many things! This is not meant to be an opportunity to shame yourself for what you did this time around. You can learn and grow from disappointment, if you allow yourself.
3. What would you tell a friend?
It isn’t uncommon to hold yourself to a different (sometimes unrealistic) standard that you would never dream of holding a loved one to. Imagine that it is a trusted friend confessing their disappointment or mistake- how would you respond? How would you encourage this person, while still holding them accountable? Now, can you turn that response back on yourself? This type of self-compassion can be really difficult; if you find that this is a tough spot for you, this might be something you would enjoy exploring further.
4. What’s the long-term impact?
In the midst of disappointment, it is easy to overestimate the long-term impact. You might tell yourself that you’ll never recover from this mistake; that others will only see you for this setback; that this will define you from here on out. Ask yourself: How is this likely going to impact you in a week, a month, a year? How will you likely feel emotionally in a week, a month, a year? This doesn’t lessen the feels that you’re feeling now, but can bring a welcome dose of perspective.
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Brenna Burke, LMFT is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in Santa Clarita, CA. She provides individual psychotherapy and couples counseling. Information provided through this website is for informational purposes only. It does not create a therapist-client relationship and does not replace clinical assessment or professional consultation.