How Do You Cope With Disappointment?
Perhaps you were disappointed on Valentine’s Day. Mary was hoping that her partner Joe would organize a romantic dinner at their favorite restaurant followed by a romantic evening. But all he did was buy a small bouquet of flowers. She acted pleased, but inside, she felt let down. Bob was expecting a romantic card, but only received a peck on the cheek. He was definitely disappointed. I wasn’t disappointed on February 14th—and I didn’t receive anything! I had just returned from a trip to Florida helping my 91-year-old mom during her recovery from a heart attack, and I was dog-tired. I wasn’t really geared up for a romantic Valentine’s Day. Diane could see that this was a good day to keep things simple.
Disappointment is a universal human experience that starts on day one. Everyone knows, like the Rolling Stones song says—“You can’t always get what you want!” Yet, this common experience can be the cause of sadness, anger, hurt, and even intense suffering. Mary was disappointed with her new boyfriend John. They had dinner together the other night and while she was talking to him about her day he was sneaking peeks at his smart phone. She was annoyed, made a few negative remarks, and spent the evening sulking. She was hurt and angry. He didn’t understand why she was so distant. Kids have no trouble letting their parents know when they’re disappointed. Cancel a trip to the swimming pool and a 4 year old might kick and scream. Announce the end of video games for the night, and Sarah will storm out of the room. Send Billy’s buddy home early and there will be a cloudburst of tears. Most of the time, children just let their emotions flow, sometimes to the consternation of their parents! Some kids quickly move onto the next moment while other children hold onto their unhappiness and pout. While emotional and behavioral responses to the environment have a complex bio-psycho-social basis, it is difficult to exactly understand what parents can do that will make for better handling of disappointment as adults. And, it may be challenging for adults to change how they respond to let downs too. Here are some tips for helping kids (and adults) cope with everyday setbacks:
- Help children understand what they are experiencing. Developing a vocabulary for experience helps kids (and adults) manage emotions more effectively. Tell Billy—“I know that you are feeling disappointed that Joey went home and you’re angry with me.” These messages help Billy understand his experience and acknowledge his feelings. This is the starting gate of emotional self-management.
- Don’t try to make your kid feel better. Hmm. This seems counterintuitive. Giving your daughter a treat, another goodie, or substituting something else she wants as a way of making her feel better, sets up a potentially negative way of coping with let downs. Better to learn how to tolerate and live through negative feelings than to make them disappear with a balm.
What about tips for adults? Actually, they are pretty similar!
- Label what you’re feeling. Before that angry, pouty feeling settles in for the night, notice your emotions. Tell yourself—“I’m feeling disappointed about not having that romantic dinner!”
- Ask yourself how you want to handle your disappointment. This simple question is huge. It forces you to make a conscious choice about how you want to manage your feelings. Do you want to pout? Do you want to talk to your partner about your disappointment? Do you want to go for a walk? What do you want to do?
- Remind yourself that not getting what you want is not the end of the world. Well, that is obvious, but it’s easy to forget in the moment when you have that sinking feeling.
- Let go of expectations. Every moment of your life is unique and fresh. Live the moment, and stop comparing this moment with the moment you wish for.
How do you cope with disappointment?