Outreach: Handling Disappointment

Ah, September—when everything promises to be new and fresh! Schools are back in session; sports are kicking into high gear. But wait; this is NOT the typical September. This year, we may find ourselves constantly disappointed by what should be or what might have been.

At the root of every disappointment is expectation, and the experience that our hopes and dreams are not in alignment with our reality. Disappointment may be either life-changing, or it can be dismissible/mildly inconvenient. While we all experience disappointment throughout our lives, how we manage it is dependent upon our own individual developmental history.

While some people manage disappointment by setting a low bar, thus minimizing the chance of being disappointed, others set an unachievable high bar, attempting to avoid disappointment by overachieving. Both scenarios set us up for disappointment. Those who manage disappointment in a healthy way are most often those who had a secure attachment in childhood and feel free to explore, understanding setbacks and disappointments are a natural process for growth and learning.

There is no way to avoid disappointment, as we do not have the ability to control all the influences that surround us. We have all experienced a variation of this over these past few months. We need to understand that there are situations in which we can avoid disappointment, and others in which we cannot; either situation encourages us to grow and learn.

Successfully coping with disappointment depends upon a variety of actions. First, it is important to understand that not all disappointments can be attributed to our own personal failures. Part of coping with feelings of dissonance is practicing identifying which scenarios are within our control, and which are not. Feelings of disappointment can be mitigated if we actively participate in lowering our stress, engaging in such practices as meditation. While suggesting meditating or being mindful may sound redundant, these practices give us a space to clear our thoughts in order to think more rationally. Additionally, when we calm our heartbeat, and other physical symptoms of stress, we end the biofeedback loop of catastrophizing, and allow the mind to better put our situation in perspective, where we are more likely to either come up with solutions or cope.

If you’re an empath, or tend to internalize other people’s frustrations, do your best to minimize negative interactions. If you are unable to avoid these situations, (i.e. it’s your job) try to be cognizant of sources of passive negativity where people are constantly stressed or complaining, and decrease your exposure to the news and social media.

Create a space for yourself that creates calm while nurturing your efforts to differentiate between situations that are within your control, and those that are not. Like most skills, it takes practice; so remember, be patient with yourself!





Outreach Teen & Family Services is a nonprofit, confidential counseling service. We offer programs to youth age 5 to 21, parents and families, in a welcoming, supportive environment. www.outreachteen.org. 412-561-5405. This column is partially underwritten by the Mt. Lebanon Police Association.