Existential Psychology

Getting Over Disappointment

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It hurts when things don’t turn out the way you wanted them to, but disappointment really starts to set in when you come to realize there is nothing more you can do to influence the situation to get a different outcome. Game over, checkmate.

Disappointment aligns more with grief than it does with anxiety, because when you feel anxiety it means the outcome is still uncertain, whereas when you feel grief it means the outcome is irrevocably set in stone. What they have in common though is that you will probably find yourself turning scenarios over and over again in your head, imagining all the different ways that things could play themselves out.

In the case of disappointment this process is pretty much pointless because you can no longer influence events; your ruminations, as long as they stay stuck in the past, are a waste of time in that they are focused on a shadow instead of on what is real. The first thing to ask yourself when you are feeling disappointed is whether your precious psychic energy should be expended on a past event you can no longer influence or on your present experience where you still have the chance to grow and flourish.

Humans can be pretty egocentric when the emotions we are feeling are powerful enough to blot out everything else. In the middle of a raging storm time seems to slow down and you feel like the storm is never going to pass. But it always does, the winds die down, the clouds part, and the sun comes out again. You never want to try to force something that’s not there, and if you’re feeling disappointed, let yourself feel disappointed, but also keep in the back of your mind that your state of mind won’t last forever. The best way to make the storm of disappointment pass is to come to the present moment with your eye on the future instead of wallowing in the past, believing your present and future are just as bleak.

We can’t control everything that happens around us or to us but we can always control the way we react to our concrete situations, and our ability to do so is armor against the feelings of powerlessness that arise from knowing that we can no longer influence a past event. The healthy way to react to disappointment is to let ourselves feel what we are feeling, take whatever lessons we can from the experience, and remember that these feelings are not going to last forever. We will have many more opportunities to redeem ourselves in the future, just in different ways.