When things don’t turn out the way we’d hoped, it can feel like the rug’s been pulled out from under our feet. Whether it’s getting this close to landing a dream job — only to lose out in the end — or realizing that our forever relationship actually has an expiration date, there’s no doubt about it: Disappointment stings.
“In my practice, I’ve found that people avoid disappointment far more than other negative emotions,” reveals psychotherapist Mary Lamia, PhD, author of Emotions! Making Sense of Your Feelings. “It’s easier to be angry, for example, because disappointment comes with finality: the recognition that we won’t get what we wanted.”
The good news? Simply admitting that we’ve been let down opens the door to recovery. “Adopting an adaptive response — where we try to learn from the experience rather than deny our feelings — allows us to move forward,” promises Dr. Lamia. “In fact, studies show that unmet expectations, which can feel so painful in the moment, make us much more resilient in the long run.”
The key is to ask yourself questions designed to broaden your perspective, advises Christine Padesky, PhD, coauthor of Mind Over Mood. For instance: What might this situation look like three years from now after things have settled down? and Have I recovered from similarly stressful experiences? This new internal dialogue will quiet your inner critic and open your heart to healing.
Read on for more strategies that will help you tackle setbacks and come out the other side wiser and stronger.
1. The Disappointment: You Didn’t Get the Job
You were the perfect candidate for a new position, and the interview went great, but the call you were expecting never came, and now you’re back to rewriting your résumé. Struggling with self-doubt, you’re not sure which step to take next. “Career disappointments are a double whammy,” says Dr. Padesky. “Not only do they deal a blow to our confidence, they threaten our financial well-being and the ability to take care of our family.”
The Fix: Focus On Your Strengths
Take an inventory of your internal and external resources, urges Dr. Padesky. First, think about your unique skills and talents: Are you an ace problem solver? Do you have a great sense of humor? “It’s these attributes — your innate superpowers — that will help you survive this.” Next, focus on outside resources. For example, maybe a friend has a useful connection. “Your network is bigger than you think, and people want to help you succeed.”
2. The Disappointment: You Had a Breakup
When a relationship ends — be it a significant other or a friendship — it takes with it years of memories, dreams, and plans. “Whether the split is recent or happened years ago, the disappointment can be crushing, and we tend to compound it by blaming ourselves,” says Alison Cook, PhD, author of Boundaries for Your Soul. “We’ll berate ourselves for not trying harder or not seeing signs sooner.”
The Fix: Treat Yourself Tenderly
“You can’t heal in a context of criticism, so you must treat yourself tenderly,” advises Dr. Cook. How? Replace self-recriminations with kinder words, such as, I know that I am loved, worthwhile, and whole. Adopting a self-compassionate perspective can decrease rates of depression and reduce the harmful effects of stress — something we can all use when going through a heartache.
3. The Disappointment: You Were Betrayed
She could always be counted on to make you laugh and lend an ear, but when your pipes froze and burst, and you needed a place to stay, the cousin you thought you were close to wasn’t there for you, making you feel left out in the cold — literally. “No-show family or friends can break your heart,” says Shasta Nelson, author of Frientimacy. “I’ve counseled many clients through this — at first, we often don’t even realize how angry we are.”
The Fix: Set an Intention To Forgive
Forgiveness can be difficult, especially if the person who let you down doesn’t try to make amends. To free yourself from anger and move forward, start by simply intending to forgive, says Nelson. “Journaling is a great way to do this — I suggest making a list of what’s hurt you and writing down your intention to forgive in clear, simple language,” she advises. Even if you can’t forgive 100 percent, this helps open your heart and move you in the right direction.
4. The Disappointment: You Feel Like You’ve Missed Out
You thought that by now your life would be something more — more travel, more friends, more sparkle. “Disappointments don’t have to be specific to be painful,” shares Dr. Padesky. “Many of us struggle with a dull, aching sense that our lives haven’t turned out to be as exciting or fulfilling as we envisioned.” Don’t be embarrassed to feel this way or chastise yourself for being ungrateful. Instead, take it as a sign that you can and should make the necessary changes that’ll lead to greater happiness — and allow you to put regret and disappointment behind you.
The Fix: Think Like a Director
Rebounding from dashed expectations may be as simple as harnessing your inner Steven Spielberg, promises Dr. Padesky. “Imagine your life is a movie, and you’re the director: What tweaks can you make to improve your story line?” If you want it to be a comedy but it’s more like a soap opera, ask yourself how you might inject some levity into your day. For example, could you listen to the music you loved as a teen on your commute? “Life isn’t something that happens to us,” says Dr. Padesky. “It’s a participation occupation, and we can all rewrite our stories to shift from disappointment to determination and usher in happiness.”
A version of this article originally appeared in our print magazine, First For Women.
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