Dealing with Disappointment

Kid girl heart shaped eyeglasses looks disappointed. Girl wear cute eyeglasses disappointed face. What just happened. She asks you. Child dissapointed confused what going on. Disappointment concept.

As we say goodbye to 2021, we can reflect on what we celebrated about the holidays and also what disappointed us.

For some, especially children, they had hopes and wishes to receive certain gifts that parents may not have been able to afford or felt were inappropriate or unnecessary. Knowing how some children are often swayed by provocative ads promising all kinds of long-lasting joy and fun that actually will provide only momentary pleasure caused parents or other gift-givers to decide not to purchase something a child insisted they would play with for a long time. When that toy does not appear under the tree or as a Chanukah or other holiday gift, they can be very disappointed.

We can also be disappointed when Covid prevents us from going out to celebrate or just to even shop.  We can be disappointed when others make promises they cannot or simply do not follow through with.  We can be disappointed with ourselves when we cannot maintain a much-needed New Year’s resolution.

Disappointment is a part of life. It is not one we enjoy and sometimes, when the disappointment is over, we can find ourselves grieving the loss connected with it. Disappointment grieving is much like all grieving: it typically involves a myriad of emotions and behaviors. There can be sadness, anger, denial, bargaining and other classic grief emotions. A person can feel vengeful, needing to somehow get even. Some people withdraw, avoiding whoever was the source of disappointment. For some disappointment confirms their negative beliefs about themselves, that they deserved to be treated this way, that this proves their unworthiness.

Children can be especially prone to experiencing disappointment. Children are, by nature, ego-centric. They don’t have the judgement to know how much things cost, how hard they might be to obtain, what the long-term responsibilities might be. Children are imaginative, making up stories in their own minds about how things could be if only…. 

It is important to know how to respond to another person’s disappointment, especially that of children, and to know what to avoid.  Here are a few suggestions:

family, winter holidays and people concept - disappointed mother, father and son in bed in christmas morning

• Acknowledge the person’s feelings. “You feel betrayed because he made a promise and then didn’t follow through with it.”  

• Describe the possible impact.  “It may make it hard to trust them the next time they make a promise.”

• Give the person their wishes in fantasy.  “You wish they would suddenly realize their mistake and then …”

• Avoid what might feel like the person is being criticized, blamed or shamed. “You do this all the time.  When will you learn to not be so trusting?”

• Avoid asking a lot of questions.  “When did this all start?” “What exactly was promised?”

• Avoid making suggestions.  “There are a few things that could make you feel better like….”

If you are the one experiencing disappointment it is important to allow yourself to feel your feelings, not be rushed to move on, pressured to explain yourself, talk more than you wish to.  Know you can seek out the family members or friends who can be supportive and non-judgmental, who will understand your need to grieve in your own ways.

Sometimes experiencing disappointment provides an opportunity for learning about yourself, others and life. Sometimes it strengthens you.  Sometimes it helps you be more compassionate about others’ experiences that cause them to be disappointed.

It is in the context of safe, caring and loving relationships that we can survive disappointment and can be available to nurture others experiencing it.

Invitation for Reflection

  1. Recall times when you were disappointed.  What were the circumstances? To what extent did you feel supported? Nurtured?  Pressured? Criticized?
  2. What might have made your experiences healthier? What do you wish others did to support you? If responses were healthy, what made them healthy? How did those responses make you feel?
  3. Recall times when family members or friends were disappointed. What specifically disappointed them?  How did you respond? To what extent was your response healthy and helpful? What else could you have done? 
  4. What can you commit to doing in the future to respond in healthy ways to your moments of disappointment?

Diane Wagenhals, Director, Lakeside Global Institute