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Dealing with Disappointment

It might be personal (you felt like you could have done better.) It might be that you feel let down by the people you love, or by people you don’t know nearly as well (colleagues, or near-strangers on social media.) It might be disappointment in the world you’re seeing around you.

Disappointment is a kissing cousin to sadness, the precursor to anger, perhaps. Often, disappointment isn’t recognized as such, until it becomes of the others, perhaps even depression or inertia.

Are you feeling disappointed? And if so, what can you do about it?1) Call emotions by their right names.

Ideally, this is a skill we learned in childhood, with the help of our parents who would ask questions and then help us name what we were feeling. But for a lot of people, that didn’t happen. So emotional identification comes with difficulty.

Naming emotions has been shown to have numerous benefits, including simply defusing the emotion itself. There’s a lot of power in a name.

Disappointment is generally a response to an external event, so it can be easier to spot than some others. But sometimes we don’t want to admit that’s what we’re feeling because it can lead to shame. (“It’s my fault I failed.”)

So we push it down, and sublimate it into something else. But that makes it much harder to mount an effective response.

2) Once you’re aware that it is disappointment, look more deeply at the catalyst.

Are you disappointed in  yourself? Others? Society? The government? The world in general?

If you can articulate the cause, and who (and what) is involved, then you can start to consider why you are responding to it in the way you are. Why is it touching you so personally? Does it connect to your sense of inadequacy? Your fear of failure? Your beliefs about fairness, justice, and injustice?

3) Consider the information that you’ve gleaned above.

When we feel deeply, we’re gaining information about ourselves as well as others. Disappointment is a cue. But what is it cuing us to do?

If we’re disappointed now, we can feel differently in the future. Disappointment, in its way, is a hopeful emotion. That’s as long as we don’t submit to hopelessness–to the false presumption that we have no power to effect change.

It’s all in how we define change. I think of it as a ripple effect. You behave in a way that contributes to the life you want, to the world that you want to live in.

If you’re disappointed in yourself for not doing enough, then make sure you do more. If you’re disappointed because you didn’t have the skills to succeed the first time around, gain them. If you’re disappointed because life is unfair, then you find ways to balance the playing field, whether it’s in that precise area or another. If you’re disappointed by the way you’re being treated by people who are close to you, work on your assertiveness skills so that you can speak up for your needs and desires. And if you’re disappointed by a lack of kindness and civility around you, redouble your own efforts to model that for others (especially your children.)

But I understand if you can’t go to action immediately. Sometimes we just need to feel our feelings. A good, time-limited wallow can be important. If we just allow the feeling to wash over us, to ride it like a wave, then it will eventually pass. If we fight against the feeling, if we push it down or suppress or deny it, if we subvert it, if we judge it, then it’ll linger, uncomfortably, for a long time and can morph into something more debilitating, like depression.

So welcome your feeling. It’s telling you something you need to know. Then you can act on that information in a way that improves not only your life but the wider world.



Photo by woodleywonderworks

Dealing with Disappointment

Holly Brown, LMFT

Holly Brown is a marriage and family therapist in the San Francisco Bay area. She has a private practice in Alameda ( ). She is also a novelist ( Her latest is HOW FAR SHE'S COME, a workplace thriller which received a starred review from Publisher's Weekly: "This provocative tale will resonate with many in the era of the #MeToo movement."

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APA Reference
Brown, H. (2017). Dealing with Disappointment. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 7, 2020, from


Last updated: 6 Feb 2017
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