Understanding disappointment

School may be a disappointment because we were bullied and unable to achieve academically or form healthy relationships. Failing exams and not 'fitting in', or feeling a sense of not belonging or being accepted, can lead to a sense of shame and vulnerability. We may also have an awareness of disappointment in ourselves and the disappointment that we cause parents who have high expectations of us to perform well. This can lead to a sense of hiding and not wanting to try anything different or difficult because we fear failure and being shamed again.

Disappointment happens when something we had hoped for doesn't turn out the way we wanted it to. It may be to do with our childhood, where we hoped to be loved and cherished and instead experienced rejection and abandonment. This can lead to low self-esteem, sadness and a sense of not being good enough.

What is disappointment?

As humans, we need to belong, and when we feel different it can be an isolating and frightening place to be.

Romantic and other relationships may be difficult because we want to be loved but don't consider ourselves lovable. We may be unbounded and ambivalent about wanting to be close, and at the same time not wanting to commit for fear of being hurt and disappointed again. Perhaps we over-commit to helping others as a way of avoiding our pain and in the hope that this will make us acceptable.

Disappointment is a form of loss and brings feelings of anger, anxiety and sadness. It is important not to repress and suppress these feelings but to find a healthy way of acknowledging and processing them so that we are not destroyed by them.

We need to be self-compassionate - wounds need taking off and take time to heal. When we have a better sense of ourselves, we are able to consider all the unfulfilled potential within ourselves. 

Disappointments are an inevitable part of life, with all of its complexities and challenges. Each new day brings an opportunity to start again and to consider how we will move forward. Part of that growth can be acknowledging and being grateful for what we do have. This is not dismissing our disappointments or saying they don't matter, but it is a way of being able to go forward with greater peace in our hearts.

If relationships are not as we want them to be it can be helpful to consider our relational style. Are we waiting for others to reach out to us but not making any real effort to connect with them? Healthy relationships are respectful and include boundaries. They are a place where we can express our needs and also listen to and meet the needs of other people. It is important to be able to distinguish between what is our responsibility, and what is someone else's.

When there is a rupture in the relationship and we feel disappointment, how do we deal with this?

I would suggest that depends on the nature of the relationship. If it is a close relationship, we will have a good sense of how the other person would like to resolve the rupture and what we need ourselves to be able to self-soothe so that we can think clearly about the best way forward. Clearly, life is not always neat and tidy, and sometimes we are left with unfinished business with other people - perhaps they have hurt us or perhaps we have hurt them. If it is not possible to resolve a conflict, we still need to process our distress so that we don't become stuck.

Sometimes our disappointments can lead to us being more compassionate towards others. At other times we may become embittered and disconnected from ourselves. We may self-soothe with risk-taking behaviours.

As we enter a new year, perhaps there are disappointments from the previous year. Some may be little disappointments that we can work through fairly easily; others may be bigger and may feel insurmountable. It may be that you need to ask for some professional support.

When disappointment is not dealt with, we may become overwhelmed and feel that life isn't worth living and that we have nothing to offer. Life is a gift and is so precious. Recovery from disappointment is possible. It is hard and takes time, but can open the door to new beginnings and welcome a very real hope and vision for your future.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Godalming GU7 & Weybridge KT13
Written by Stella Goddard, BA (Hons) Registered MBACP (Accred)
Godalming GU7 & Weybridge KT13

Stella Goddard is an Accredited Counsellor who has extensive clinical experience working with disappointment and the impact of this. Disappointment is part of loss and needs to be acknowledged and processed. Working through disappointment can be a catalyst for a new and different vision for your life.

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