Mind Matters – How do you deal with disappointment?

As we get used to the fact that we are not yet free of COVID-19’s restrictions it may be worth taking a moment to think about the feeling of disappointment.

Disappointment is a feeling that becomes more and more familiar to us as we get older, we learn that disappointment is a natural part of living but that familiarity can also mean we fail to pay attention to its impacts on us.

In Buddhist teachings students are encouraged to work towards a life with an absence of desire – although paradoxically that sets up the desiring for an absence of desire – but anyway our western societies are not a comfortable fit for a life without striving and expectations.

Left unaddressed, disappointments can sit unresolved resulting in a mounting sense of disillusionment with feelings of bitterness, frustration and anger and of course we know that when negative feelings mount our behaviours tend to change in a negative way!

Conflict in relationships is always caused by disappointment and in longer term relationships disappointments that seem trivial at the time can actually be raising an alarm that something important is going wrong. This is the same in our relationships with ourselves.

One of the things we tend to do is judge disappointments not on the feeling itself but what it is in relation to and the problem with that is it assumes we can fully know what the cause of the disappointment means to either ourselves or someone else.

A key indicator as to whether you need to stop and pause is whether you have empathy and think you can understand the disappointment. If someone or yourself is feeling disappointed but it doesn’t make sense to you then you are missing something – most likely missing the underlying meaning of the disappointment.

As we experience disappointment about this latest COVID-19 news it is worth remembering that it has the potential to escalate if there are other things going on in our lives that are a source of disappointment – maybe in our relationships, work, health and our interests?

So what to do? Let’s take an example.

You have a friend who says they are feeling disappointed and goes on to speak angrily about people who have not been wearing face coverings, listening to them you notice in yourself feelings other than empathy and sympathy.

So don’t focus on the subject of face coverings but return to their feeling of disappointment, say to them you have heard they are disappointed and then see whether their thoughts lead them to speak about things differently. If they repeat their thoughts then say that you don’t understand.

By doing this, showing interest, spending a little extra time it is likely that more fundamental concerns will be expressed. Their difficult feelings probably won’t be about people not wearing face masks but how they have had to cope themselves with some difficult changes themselves, how hard it has been and how they have struggled as a result.

This is important because when we are able to be clear about why things matter to us we are able to find ways forward rather than being stuck – in this example the friend being stuck with obsessing about face coverings.

Of course it may well be that having a good rant is a good way to let off steam but you might want to consider whether that is going to make you popular with those who have to listen?

Nicholas Rose
Psychotherapist, Counsellor, Couples Counsellor and Coach

UKCP registrant, MBACP (accred), UKRCP
PGDip, MA, Adv Dip Ex Psych

Nicholas Rose & Associates
Counselling, psychotherapy and coaching for children, adults, couples and families.


Featured image of child with dropped ice cream cone by GJ Charlet III

Read more blogs by Nicholas Rose

Read the next in the series – Mind Matters – Recognise your vulnerability to stress

Read the previous one – Mind Matters – Can we change our lives in just a second?

See all Nicholas’s Mind Matters blogs here

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