How to Cope With Disappointment

Coping with Disappointment

I frequently sit with people in online therapy who have experienced terrible disappointments (as well as those who are celebrating victories and successes). I am hoping this article will be helpful to those of you that are hurting over a disappointment. I’ve also recorded an episode of the Love, Happiness and Success podcast on this topic. You can find the episode on this page, Apple podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen.

How to Cope With Disappointment When Things Don’t Go as Planned

Having your dream crushed can leave you sitting in emotional rubble, feeling disempowered and confused. Our disappointments have many faces: as a Denver life coach, I’ve seen them all. Causes or candidates you believe in get creamed, the most interesting first date you’ve had in a long time ghosts out, you realize that your partner is never actually going to change and your marriage might be in trouble, the pink lines of the pregnancy test fade away, and the bleeding begins: bad things happen to good people. People fail you.

If you get in the ring of life, sooner or later, you’re going to take a gut punch.

So how do you keep going? We know that grit — the ability to get back up and continue plodding forward despite adversity —  is the ultimate secret to success. But it’s hard to maintain your hope and stick to your goals when reality slams the door in your face.

If you’ve suffered with these obstacles lately, here are three ideas that can help you cope with disappointment.

3 Ways to Cope with Disappointment

Understand That The Story Doesn’t End Here 

“If you’re going through hell, keep going.”

Winston Churchill

I love Winston Churchill’s wisdom regarding grit and determination. What his “going through hell” quote means to me is this: you can’t stay here.

Look around. Is your current reality what you want? If you stop trying, this is likely where you’ll stay. Scary, yes, but if you give up now and simply accept your present circumstances, nothing will change. Allow your fear to help you stay motivated. Take some time to pause, grieve, and regroup, but never believe for a second that this is where the story ends. Just because it didn’t work out this time does not mean that it can’t be different next time. Learn from your mistakes, recalibrate your goals, and turn the page into a new chapter.

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Wring Every Drop of Knowledge and Meaning You Possibly Can Out of Adversity, and Use It to Grow

Negative life experiences are some of the greatest teachers we’ll ever meet. They give us an unparalleled opportunity to connect with our feelings, values, and untapped strength.

If you pay attention, you’ll notice that disappointment offers you two choices— a vast black hole of fear, self-pity and despair, or a spark of light and hope. Adversity has a secret escape hatch and the sign over the door reads “Growth.” When you walk through it, new possibilities emerge. Whether it’s being able to let go of resentments or expectations and find new tolerance and appreciation for your formerly impossible partner, access a previously untapped well of determination, break free from a self-limiting way of thinking, or simply entertain a brand new idea, accepting responsibility and reaching for growth is your ticket to freedom.

When you stretch toward growth, new doors open and your life can transform in ways that were impossible to imagine previously.

As improbable as this seems when you’re in a pit of despair, I know it’s true because I’ve seen people do this amazing work over and over again. I’ve also lived it. For example, after years of heartbreak and disappointment in dealing with secondary infertility, I was finally able to expand my definition of “motherhood” and accept new possibilities: my husband and I are now foster parents. That has been a very meaningful experience for us. When you stretch toward growth, new doors open and your life can transform in ways that were impossible to imagine previously.

Tell the Voice Whispering in Your Ear, “It Shouldn’t Be This Hard,” to Go Bother Someone Else

The people who have the most difficulty in coping with disappointment are the ones who don’t expect it to happen, or who imagine that other people do not experience the same kind of adversity.

If this has ever crossed your mind, it may be helpful to remind yourself that it’s not just you. Welcome to the human experience. Nobody gets to passively glide up an escalator of constant-and-never-ending wins and successes.

New idea: it is actually this hard. For everyone, sooner or later. Meditate on the beautiful line that Jane Catherine Lotter wrote to her children, in her own obituary:

“And may you always remember that obstacles in the path are not obstacles, they ARE the path.”

Climbing over, tunneling under, circumventing, or bashing through obstacles is the machine of self-actualization. How we act and what we do in challenging moments both reveals our character and helps us develop it. Understanding the harrowing nature of life emboldens you to live it fearlessly.

Empowerment comes when you nurture the idea that truly valuable things worth having in your life, like building a good life or having a healthy relationship actually require tremendous effort. Just because it’s not easy doesn’t mean it’s not worth continuing to strive for.

Getting back up is what courage actually feels like, in practice. Know that if you’re feeling trapped by disappointment, there is a way out. Allow your life experiences to strengthen you, to teach you, and to prepare you to fight another day. And in the timeless words of my muse today, Winston Churchill, “Never, ever, ever give up.” 

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

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