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.
- Passive responses tend to involve giving up, becoming overly self-critical, feeling sorry for ourselves or sulking, and can reduce our self-esteem and contribute to depression.
- Aggressive responses typically involve anger at what caused our disappointment, and can make us resentful or vengeful.
- Assertive responses are about taking responsibility and considering how to move forward. We may still be disappointed, but are less likely to blame ourselves or others, or get trapped in negative emotions. Even if there’s nothing we could have done differently, we accept the situation.
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:
- identify your expectations and ensure they are reasonable
- recognise negative thoughts and redirect them towards positive solutions
- communicate more skilfully so that you correctly understand others and are clear on what you want
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’:
- Recognise that you’re disappointed.
- Think, ‘stop’.
- Go into your ‘shell’, take three deep breaths and develop calming, coping thoughts.
- Leave your shell when you’re calm and devise positive solutions.
If you slip into unhelpful thinking when you’re in your ‘shell’, try revising your thoughts. The Centre for Clinical Interventions offers these examples:
- They should know I hate it when they do that.
- The world is horrible; I can’t handle it.
- He or she is a bad person.
- I can’t accept someone for acting like that.
- I can’t stand this.
- Being treated unfairly is undesirable but not awful.
- I can handle this hurt and do something about the situation.
- I accept him or her. He or she may have been rejecting one part of my behaviour, not me as an entire person.
- It is okay to express my feelings – the outcomes may not be as bad as I imagine.
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.
Resource: Australian Corporate Wellness online portal Healthlogix. Contact Us: www.australiancorporatewellness.com.au