By Leslie C. Baker Kimmons, PhD

Disappointment is a feeling we have all experienced in various degrees, however, I believe that we often misunderstand what is at the root of our disappointment.  The emotional foundation of disappointment is sadness and the depth to which we experience disappointed is the difference between our expectations and reality.

I would like to address this topic by sharing a recent experience where I dealt with unexpected feelings and emotions.  Recently I embarked on an uncharted path and ran for public office. Running for public office was never something I aspired to do, but when I was asked if I would be interested I figured – why not! I’ll go for it.  It would be a brand-new experience and could also lead to new opportunities. Being a newcomer to the community I was skeptical about my chances of winning against an incumbent, but I believed that had something to contribute. I thought, win or lose didn’t matter – having the courage to step up and compete – that is where the victory lies.  Throughout the campaign, I was encouraged and supported by both friends and strangers.  I actually started to believe in the possibility of winning. I spent money on campaign postcards and yard signs. I became involved with social media at a level I’ve always said I’d avoid. I was in it to win it!  Then election night came. As each precinct began to close with their final counts the results were clear. I lost. I lost!

After the initial shock, I immediately shifted to feigning relief that I may have dodged a bullet. Telling myself that it is no big deal to lose.  However, in spite of rationalizing the loss, I still couldn’t shake this heavy uncomfortable feeling.  After all, the loss was not supposed to bother me. I began to tell myself that if I had more help I could have won. I told myself that my loss was someone else’s fault. But that pitted feeling still would not go away, and I didn’t understand these strange emotions.

Sure, I was upset that I lost because you always play to win!  But then I began to think about my campaign. Did I truly play to win? Did I do all I could do to win? Or did I do only what I was comfortable with doing, hoping that would be enough to win? And that was it.  Finally, that pit in my stomach released its hold on me and I could identify my feelings – I was sadly disappointed.

Although we often try to find ways to deflect and ignore uncomfortable feelings, no one can escape disappointment. We may get angry or blame others for our errors, but when we don’t understand or face our feelings – these feelings won’t simply go away and they often get worse. We may not be able to avoid disappointment, but we can have some control over the degree to which we experience disappointment by managing our expectations.

How to handle your feelings of disappointments?

It is important to identify and understand your feelings.  When we feel let down in our relationships, by our children, and in our everyday lives, that feeling of being “let down” or disappointment is actually, a deeply felt feeling of sadness. When we are sad we are experiencing the impact of some form of loss.  Taking the time to pinpoint the source of our emotions, not only help us to identify how we are impacted by the loss, but ultimately how to deal with the loss (Lamia, 2013).  In my case, my expectations of winning the election were unrealistic considering the reality of the minimal effort I put into my campaign to win. Thus, the disappointment I felt was the way I was experiencing sadness from the loss.

Identifying the source of your emotions and having clear objectives, will help in managing expectations, which is needed, to develop new objectives and strategies for the future (Lamia, 2013). Do I stay in a relationship? Do I force my non-athletic child into sports? Should I run for public office? The more we are grounded in the reality of the situation, the less profound our disappointment.

To conclude, it is important to align your expectations with reality to ultimately determine what you want and do not want in your life.  Therefore, by identifying the source of my feelings and realigning my expectations, what I know for sure is that I have no interest in holding public offic

Reference:  Lamia, Mary. 2013. Emotions: Making Sense of Your Feelings, Magination Press, Washington, DC