What might you do to avoid disappointment?
Expectations can breed disappointment. In fact, when experiencing the feeling of disappointment, it can be helpful to ask “what expectation was not met in this situation and why?” Consider that question when pondering the last situation that caused you to feel disappointment. Was the expectation realistic? Did you acknowledge the expectation or express it to another person? Often times, unreasonable and unspoken expectations cause disproportionate amounts of disappointment.
For example, imagine that Sean expects his girlfriend to attend a networking event put on by his employer. Before knowing of the event, his girlfriend already planned to have dinner with her sister. In disappointment, Sean grows angry until he and his girlfriend end up in an argument. He accuses her of being unappreciative, uncaring, and “always putting your family over me!” Clearly, Sean had an unspoken expectation: that his girlfriend attends the networking event.
Unreasonable expectations often result in disappointment as well. For instance, Toni expects to receive perfect scores on all exams. Often times, she does. Throughout high school, she achieved perfect scores on almost all homework assignments and tests. At graduation, her parents commend her “perfect” performance, but she seems displeased. Toni recalls the three tests in which she did not receive a perfect score and labels herself an imposter. Dismissive of their compliments, she tells her parents, “It wasn’t perfect.” Consequently, her disappointment turns to depression because Toni has set unreasonably high expectations.
The following acts can help a person better deal with disappointment: (a) communicate expectations, (b) set realistic expectations, and (c) express/acknowledge disappointment. In the first example, if Sean explicitly communicated the importance of his girlfriend attending the networking event, she likely would have attended. In the second example, Toni would have benefited from adjusting her expectations to something more realistic, such as “I hope I receive perfect scores, but nobody can always be perfect.”
Of course, disappointment is a naturally occurring emotion as it is quite difficult to live a life void of expectations. Furthermore, it is difficult for everyone and everything to meet our expectations even when they are both clearly communicated and reasonable. For instance, it may have been very important for Sean’s girlfriend to have dinner with her sister despite his expectation that she attend the networking event. Naturally, Sean may have felt disappointed. The next healthy step would be to acknowledge that disappointment to himself and possibly to his girlfriend. Similarly, even with more reasonable expectations, Toni will likely feel disappointed when she does not perform perfectly; however, her disappointment will likely not turn to self-deprecating depression if she acknowledges and validates the emotion.
Considering the last time you felt disappointment, how might one of the above techniques helped you manage the feeling? Remember, the techniques include (a) communicate expectations, (b) set realistic expectations, and (c) acknowledge/validate disappointment.
Lastly, the acknowledgement of disappointment can do more than assuage the unpleasant emotion. Disappointment provides information about the way we view ourselves, the world, and others. For instance, by acknowledging disappointment and examining the cause, you may better understand what is important to you.