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We all face disappointments, but they need not destroy our happiness. Whether it concerns our performance, our relationships or a meal we’ve just prepared, disappointment is a possibility every time we do something. The key is knowing how to deal with it.

The power to choose

Disappointment occurs when reality falls short of our expectations. It may not feel like it at the time, but how we react to disappointment is a choice – we can choose the stories to tell ourselves about what has happened. Indeed, the idea that a pattern of unhelpful thinking may contribute to frequent disappointment underlies cognitive-behavioural therapy, a common psychological treatment.

Unhelpful thinking can lead to passive or aggressive responses to disappointment, according to the Centre for Clinical Interventions in Western Australia. A better option, it suggests, is to practice helpful thinking and, in turn, respond assertively.

Developing a pattern of more helpful thinking to deal with disappointment can take time. In an online post for Psych Central, therapist Dr Michael Ashworth suggests that this may involve learning to:

The turtle technique

So, what can we do when disappointment strikes? To modify your thoughts and control your emotions when your expectations go unmet, consider this version of Marlene Schneider and Arthur Robin’s 1976 cognitive-behavioural intervention, the ‘turtle technique’:

If you slip into unhelpful thinking when you’re in your ‘shell’, try revising your thoughts. The Centre for Clinical Interventions offers these examples:



While disappointment is, by definition, undesirable, appropriate coping mechanisms can prevent us from getting caught up in negative emotion and maintain our happiness.

If you frequently experience disappointment, consider enlisting the help of a counsellor to identify the causes and a way forward.

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