How to deal with disappointment

“Life is not a many splendored thing, more a series of small disappointments.” - A Schopenhauer (1788 -1860). Quite a sweeping statement from the German philosopher but, for me, it contains grains of truth. I am also confident that we have all had disappointments in our daily lives.


Be it that there is no hot water in the morning, our longed-for work giving us stress, a loved one not responding to us as we had hoped they would, the family issues that seem intractable, a birthday going unnoticed, not succeeding at something we have worked for, a missed goal, a feeling of low self-worth or crippling social anxiety, an expected friend not showing up when we had agreed to meet. The list goes on ad infinitum.

Given that disappointment appears to be a fact of all our lives, this raises the question of how we (and others) deal with the disappointments. For some of us, it is not so easy as shrugging our shoulders and carrying on. For some people, the disappointments can lead us down a path where we expect to be disappointed and our whole outlook becomes bleak and negative. Perhaps engendering a felt sense of low self-esteem e.g. it is always disappointing, and I should not expect any different.

This is a truly dark place to be, and one not uncommon in therapy sessions. It's a sense of being that is a key indicator in some mental health issues as well.

Coping with disappointment

Being an issue common to all, how is it dealt with? Again, as the disappointment is individual, so can be the ways of coping with disappointment. However, there are general approaches to dealing with disappointment that are available to us all and the principles are overarching. Therefore, we have the choice of whether to utilise them. 

If we are able to consider that there are not good days and bad days, but good days and 'learning days', then we have choices. These choices can offer real and tangible ways of coping with the disappointments we are sure to encounter in our lives. Perhaps it is a case of life not being about the falling down (something common to us all I would suggest) but more about the getting up again.

Here I am thinking of positive mental attitude (PMA) and, for me, it is a way of being that I have come to embrace and which has become an integral part of my persona. For example, during my divorce, I was able to see that I had a choice between being a victim or a survivor. At the time, the events were emotionally and physically overwhelming. The process was protracted and I felt every nuance to be diminishing. By dealing with each issue in small and manageable pieces, I was able to survive. It took a lot of effort and will. I am able to acknowledge the support I was given. Subsequently, I took a long time to heal and recover but I recovered.

The PMA has enabled me to overcome disappointment - in this example, a quite large disappointment. A disappointment that has not only endorsed the PMA but also strengthened it in my daily life.

Undoubtedly, there are going to be disappointments that we will not be able to overcome - my point is that, when those disappointments occur, we have enough resilience to be able to face them. To not run from them. To accept them and to not become unbalanced by them.

So, for the client in session who is overwhelmed with one or many disappointments, I can be authentic. It is possible for me to hold a space for the client to express all the distress, uncertainty and disappointment. This space offers the chance to recognise and process the disappointment. It offers validation for the client's experiences as no judgement is offered. Although it may be a long process of venting and feeling the hurt, it is a process.

I am of the belief (indeed, I have witnessed this with clients), that when the client is done with the self-flagellation, the excoriation of the protagonists, the wanting to curl up and ignore the disappointment, a process is taking place and, with processes, one stage is followed by the next. In the next phase, I see clients tentatively consider and then try different ways of facing whatever the disappointment may be. There is no time scale for this - it occurs at the client's pace. That pace is the one that is right for the client.

A brief aside on the pace. In counselling for a charity that offers time-limited sessions, I have witnessed incredible therapeutic change take place in the allocated 12 sessions. As good as this is, I still feel shoddy and as if I have not had time to allow the client to do all that they want to do or all that is necessary for them in order to achieve the full processing of the disappointment. Better than no counselling but not the best that each client deserves.

To sum up, disappointment is something each and every one of us experiences. We all have the means of dealing with disappointments but sometimes we need support in finding ways in which to do so. The counsellor is privileged to be a part of clients' journey towards resolution of disappointments.

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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Chelmsford CM1
Written by Steve Fayers, Counsellor / Therapist | Certified Trauma Therapist
Chelmsford CM1

I am a person, a counsellor, a parent, a flawed human being who has struggled with life. Struggled with addiction.
I would rather struggle than give in and accept a life that does not meet my needs and wants.
I am trying to be the best person I can be.
"I will not go quietly into that goodnight " (paraphrased Dylan Thomas)

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