How to deal with disappointment: The Cauldron of Expectation

How do you deal with disappointment? Liggy Webb has a few tips.

‘Disappointment is a sort of bankruptcy – the bankruptcy of a soul that expends too much in hope and expectation’. – Eric Hoffer


Hope on the horizon is a great personal motivator; it is also one of the key guiding principles for promoting personal resilience. When we hope for something we invariably attach a certain amount of expectation to the outcome. So when the outcome doesn’t live up to the expectation we had anticipated, we become disappointed.

Disappointment is one of life’s most uncomfortable feelings and it can be a complex emotion triggering a whole subset of other emotions like sadness, hurt and even anger. Disappointment can bring with it a grey perspective of life and niggle our minds and cast a shadow.

When we are optimistic and plan and look forward to something that we envisage being a positive experience in our lives, we brew up a cauldron of expectation. We can end up pinning our hopes and dreams on everything being just as we anticipated.

This could be the perfect holiday or long-awaited celebration or perhaps how you imagine someone will respond to a generous gesture that you have made. Life, however, as well as people, are unpredictable and very often it can be our inner control freak that doesn’t allow us to accept that some things will not always go the way that you want them to.

Getting to the point of accepting that not everything will always go the way you want it to is a very helpful place to be.

In a way the emotion of disappointment is akin to grief because it comes with finality and a sense of loss. It forces you to admit that you don’t have, didn’t get, or will never achieve what you wanted to. 

Whilst you may vacillate between feelings of sadness and regret, it can potentially make you feel angry, because, in an obstinate way, anger will allow you to continue idealising about what could have been. Getting to the point of accepting that not everything will always go the way you want it to is a very helpful place to be. It is also important not to become negative about having hopes and aspirations.

A few years ago I was delivering a presentation on resilience and the potency of being positive in a challenging and changing world. One of the participants told me in no uncertain terms that he did not like setting personal goals or thinking optimistically because that way he would never be disappointed.

Whilst I understood the logic and appreciated the conundrum, it struck me as a rather depressing approach to life.

It also begged the question, Why do we avoid disappointment? I wonder sometimes why we shy away and avoid some of the so-called negative emotions. Aren’t they all part of the rich palette of experiences that humans need to be exposed to from time to time?

Living a life wrapped in cotton wool and hoping to avoid anything that will disappoint us seems to be a bit unrealistic, especially as we cannot control certain circumstances. Appreciating that sometimes, it is the negative experiences in our lives that help us to create perspective and also fuel us to make progress and grow as individuals.

As Martin Luther King, Jnr so succinctly put it, “We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.” So an acceptance that sometimes there will be situations in our life that will disappoint us, and learning to deal with that disappointment, is helpful.

So how do we deal with disappointment? Here are five suggestions:

  • Experience the emotion. In a world where everything is about trying to speed up the process, sometimes we don’t always allow ourselves the time to just experience the emotion. Feelings of guilt attached to being self-indulgent create a sense of obligation to ‘just get over it’.

Allowing yourself to be present with the emotion you are feeling will allow you to come to terms with it. Fighting and suppressing negative emotion is unhelpful, no matter how painful, it is better to be present with the emotion so that you can process it in the most construct way and then move on to more positive way of thinking.

  • Put it into perspective. Perspective is a wonderful thing and very often we don’t allow ourselves the time and space to step away from our situation to get some balanced perspective. Writing down exactly what you expected and what you feel disappointed about can help you to do a bit of a head dump and untangle some of the niggles in your mind.

Talking to someone you trust and can be totally honest with can help, or getting some objective perspective by seeking a professional counsellor can be useful too.

  • Avoid judging people by your own standards. On occasions people will disappoint us. You may have an expectation of how someone is going to respond and behave in a certain situation, and then they don’t quite match up to your expectation. The important thing to bear in mind is that we are all different and we all have a different set of values and beliefs.

What we value and what is important to us may not be so high on another person’s agenda. When we attach expectations to how others will behave we will most certainly set ourselves up for disappointment and frustration.

We simply cannot control another person’s response. Do your best to let go of expectation and understand and accept that people will not always respond in the same way that you would and learn to accept and be ok with that.

  • Be grateful. Gratitude is one of the most powerful and healing emotions that we can experience. By focusing our minds on all the things we have and that we are grateful for can help us to stop dwelling on all the things we don’t have or are disappointed about.

When you start to become consumed with feelings of disappointment, train your thoughts to think about three things in your life right know that you are truly grateful for.

  • Be open minded and open hearted. Essentially you can choose how you respond to disappointment.  You can allow those feelings of negativity and bitterness to bubble away and ultimately make yourself feel bad by wallowing in a pool of regret. Keeping an open heart and an open mind will help you to respond more positively.

The verses below reportedly were written on the wall of Mother Teresa’s home for children in Calcutta and are widely attributed to her. I believe these sentiments make very useful guiding principles in terms of navigating disappointment.


People are often unreasonable, illogical and self-centred;
Forgive them anyway.

If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives;
Be kind anyway.

If you are successful, you will win some false friends and some true enemies;
Succeed anyway.

If you are honest and frank, people may cheat you;
Be honest and frank anyway.

What you spend years building, someone could destroy overnight;
Build anyway.

If you find serenity and happiness, they may be jealous;
Be happy anyway.

The good you do today, people will often forget tomorrow;
Do good anyway.

Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough;
Give the world the best you’ve got anyway.

Mother Theresa


About the author 

Liggy Webb is an author, presenter and managing director at The Learning Architect. Follow Liggy @liggyw, email or visit


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