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Choosing Your Response to the Worst Disappointment in Your Life

2011 May 7
tags: Development, Disappointment, Metacognition, Productivity, Self-Care, Series, Setbacks
by Andrew   
disappointment response


This is Part 2 of a multi-part series on moving forward from a potentially disastrous disappointment.

Part 1:  The Great Benefits of the Worst Disappointment in Your Life
Part 3: Examining Your Expectations After The Worst Disappointment In Your Life


When was the last time things went really bad, compared to your desires? I mean really bad.  Chances are, you don’t have to think too hard to remember when that was, where you were, or a great many other details normally too small to notice.  But now you find yourself in the midst of the crisis, confronted with a choice:  how do I respond?

Disappointment, similar to physical pain, is a warning that something is amiss.  It has benefits, and I discuss these in Part 1 of this series. It’s not at all uncommon to react to disappointment with mild irritability, short withdrawals from social relationships, and “blue” feelings or feeling low and de-energized.  However, such reactions must be short-lived or they begin to impact our lives in self-perpetuating, damaging ways, particularly when used to numb the pain of disappointment.

We all have within us the ability to choose positive, enriching responses to disappointment and to grow from it.  Unfortunately, we also have the ability (and the propensity in many cases) to choose negative responses.


Self-Defeating Responses

Among the more damaging self-defeating responses often chosen to contend with feelings that stem from disappointment are the following:

  • overindulgence in alcohol
  • overeating
  • consumption of high-sugar drinks and snacks,
  • excessive sleep
  • overindulgence in sex
  • pursuing risky behaviors that result in temporary feelings of excitement (driving excessively fast, shoplifting, experimentation with recreational drugs, pursuing adrenaline rushes from extreme sports without proper training, and engaging in illicit behaviors in order to elude capture)

All of these are attempts to combat the negative feelings stemming from disappointment by replacing the negative feelings with endorphin-based and hormone-based euphoria.  Unfortunately, the brain only produces so much of these neurotransmitters in a given amount of time, and the resultant crash is often more dangerous than the original feelings of disappointment and depressed mood because the inability to sustain the euphoria can lead to depression or other euphoria-seeking behavior.  All of these choices are self-defeating for this reason, and because many are inherently dangerous.  Further, none of them address the cause of the disappointment, rendering it likely to recur in the same or similar circumstances and yielding no personal growth in the process.


Growth-Promoting Responses

There are literally countless positive responses to disappointment that can result in personal growth, identification of new opportunities, and remedy the pain of severe disappointment at the same time.  Several, grouped in large buckets, are:

  1. Prayer and meditation.  Numerous studies have validated what humans have known for millennia.  Prayer and meditation focus the mind, promote relaxation and calm, lower blood pressure, and generate mood-elevating brain chemistry.  If you’re a person of religious faith, you know the power of prayer; if you aren’t, I welcome inquiries about mine if you’re curious.  Regardless, meditation will yield the positive results mentioned above.  A sense of spiritual loss or emptiness is often a negative response to a major disappointment, but it needn’t be; it can just as easily – and more effectively – be an opportunity for spiritual growth.  Having trouble meditating?  Try focusing on a pleasant place filled with a benign, soothing environment, such as a mental sanctuary.
  2. Light exercise in a natural environment.  Light- to semi-strenuous exercise has been proven to yield mood-elevating results:  it helps clarify the mind, promote feelings of calmness and well-being, lowers blood pressure and respiration after a period of rest, and often will distract the mind from the painful feelings long enough for the subconscious to begin effectively processing.  Too often, conscious intervention in the mind’s housekeeping processes prolongs negative feelings rather than alleviating them.
  3. Therapeutic massage.  Massage has many of the benefits of meditation and light exercise, and it combines these with tension-alleviating muscle and connective tissue therapy.
  4. Time with friends and family.  Time spent with friends and family often forms the greatest memories, and generates the greatest sense of well-being when those memories are recalled.  The key is to spend the time in non-stressful, calming ways.  Coordinating the family summer amusement park trip or winter ski trip is not the way to do this; rather, try spending quiet time with a small group of friends or family doing something relaxing.


Choosing the Positive Responses

In the midst of what seems (and may be) a disastrous disappointment, it can often be difficult to get out of bed, go to work, or do the simplest of household chores.  Even formerly rewarding activities can suddenly seem overwhelmingly like chores.  The key is to take action as quickly as possible to begin changing your mood, even if you don’t feel like it.  Action breeds motivation, even if the motivation is lacking in the beginning.  Often, it simply takes a little “stick with it” to get things going; at other times, simply getting yourself moving is enough.  However, there are several steps worth taking when facing the greatest disappointment in your life:

  1. Choose a positive response.  Above, I’ve discussed positive and negative responses, and some of the results to be expected from each.  Choose one of the positive responses, even one of the smaller ones.  And keep doing it.  You may not feel like choosing a positive response, but do it anyway.  You’ll start to feel better.
  2. Choose a second positive response.  People who choose a negative response rarely limit themselves to just one; why should you?!  Choose a second positive response in case the first one doesn’t yield as much as you’d like, or in case you feel better and want something else to do.
  3. Get some accountability.  It’s far too easy to become mired in self-pity, self-recrimination, or self-loathing if things end up really not going your way if the consequences are bad, or even if you feel you must face the proverbial music alone.  We’re rarely alone, even if we don’t feel like being around others.  Find those among your friends, family, or church members whose trust you have or are willing to start trusting, and tell at least two of them what’s going on.  I say two because it’s rare that one person can effectively be the sounding board for the very large problems of another person.  If you’re fortunate enough to know someone who can, you’re truly blessed, but be a blessing to them and find someone extra to share with, too.
  4. Examine what you expected.  If you’re disappointed, it’s because something you expected to happen didn’t happen.  Now isn’t the time to begin figuring out whether your expectations were realistic.  Identify, and list out if you want, what your expectations were that didn’t get met.  You will need to know what those expectations were (are) in order to begin moving ahead.  This doesn’t mean prepare to discard your expectations; on the contrary, it means prepare to examine them critically.  Be sure you undertake this examination with a clear understanding of what’s important to you, not what’s important to others.
  5. Ask yourself, “What’s the worst that could happen?” I’m serious.  What’s the worst that could happen?  You aren’t dead if you’re reading this, so the disappointment is unlikely to forestall your opportunity to move past it.  You get fired or go bankrupt? That would be terrible (in some cases), but you can survive it.  Most people have friends or family who can help to varying degrees (even if you have to play musical houses for a place to live for a while).  Some people don’t like you anymore? Were they really worth having around if they only liked you before the disappointment, whatever it is?  If you’re truthful and honest with the people you’re closest to, the people deserving of your trust and love will not abandon you in difficult circumstances.  You can move past seemingly disastrous disappointments by taking one small positive step at a time.


Disappointments are to the soul what the thunder-storm is to the air.  ~Friedrich von Schiller


Take care, and enjoy life,



2 Responses Post a comment
  1. Andrew permalink
    May 9, 2011

    Hey, Tina! Thanks for stopping by! I'm glad you enjoyed the article. I've certainly been blessed by applying the practices I discuss above, but I've also learned the hard way a fair bit. And, sometimes, I still learn the hard way. I think the greatest blessings, though, are in seeing others blessed by personal and spiritual growth.

  2. May 9, 2011

    Great article! The power of prayer, meditation, and exercise are often underestimated. I think the world would be better place if people practiced at least one of these things.

    People who choose a negative response rarely limit themselves to just one; why should you?! – Great point!!

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