It is a sad but obvious truth that not everything you want will happen as planned. Also, you might only meet some of your expectations because only some things are within your control, which is disappointing. Disappointment is something we should expect and make room for as we chart our course in life. It can be painful, heartbreaking, and discouraging. Since no human can avoid disappointment, it is good to understand the psychology of disappointment and learn how to deal with it whenever you face it. Thankfully, though various causes can spark disappointment and take a toll on your emotions and feelings, there are healthy ways of dealing with disappointment, and you can learn them. But let us first dive into its meaning and examine how we get disappointed.

Disappointed meaning

From the Macquarie dictionary, disappointment means feeling “regretful due to one’s expectations or wishes not being fulfilled.” The same source also refers to the term as experiencing regret arising from the failure of something.

Note that the two key words from the disappointment meaning are “regret” and “expectation.” These words mean that for there to be regret, there had to be some form of expectation. You can be satisfied if there is nothing you were expecting. It’s a person who did an exam and did not expect to pass. If the person eventually fails, there won’t be a disappointment because there wasn’t an expectation to pass.

There are other words, however, that capture the feelings and emotions that come with disappointment. You might need specific words to express the exact way you feel. Let’s identify some other words for disappointed.

Words for disappointed

  • Disenchanted
  • Frustrated
  • Let down
  • Gutted
  • Betrayed
  • Chagrined
  • Abashed
  • Baffled
  • Perplexed
  • Stuffed

These are just a few that capture the feelings and emotions of disappointment. Now let us take a look at why one experiences disappointment.

Psychology of disappointment

As we just learned, feeling disappointed is born out of putting high hopes in something, and then it turns out not to be as expected. Expectations not met cause regret. But there’s more to how this happens.

For instance, a project manager named John knows the skills and requirements he needs to land a job at his dream company. He spent months learning and honing his project management skills.

While acquiring hard skills, he volunteers for non-governmental agencies to gain hands-on experience and develop soft skills. He makes sure to put in his best effort to stand out in all his volunteer positions.

Months later, he sees a job opening at one of the companies he has dreamed of working for. So he sends his application confidently because he meets all the requirements. In the following weeks, a series of interviews are conducted, and John scales right through them all until the final interview. John arrives at the venue on the last interview day and exchanges pleasantries with others who made it that far.

Throughout the interview, he answers the questions confidently, and the interviewer’s reassuring face assures him. But the following day, John finds a message in his mail that says, “You possess what we seek, but other candidates are a closer match.” John’s heart sinks, and as he replays the earlier weeks in his mind, he begins to feel disappointed. John remembers that on the day of the final interview, he was 11 minutes behind the stated time. He begins to assume the reasons, blame himself, and have other negative thoughts.

Here’s a breakdown of what John went through:

High expectations

While it is okay to be expectant, John’s expectations didn’t give room for the reality that others could have more years of experience, which increases the possible feeling of disappointment if things don’t go as planned.

Infallible confidence

Self-confidence is good. We should all be confident, like John. However, you should cut yourself some slack and make room for errors. It is an excellent way to prevent a disappointed emotion. In psychology, there is a cognitive bias called the Dunning-Kruger effect. It happens when people with a certain level of skill or ability rate themselves higher than they are. When you have a higher, unrealistic rating of yourself or someone, you are more likely to experience disappointment. If this happens regularly, you can develop trust issues with others, even yourself.

Sinking heart

Like John, disappointment brings a roller coaster of emotions. However, though sadness is a normal response to disappointment, it should not last too long and cripple you from doing other happy things. It does not make it appropriate to do harmful things to yourself.

How to deal with disappointment?

As we saw in John’s story earlier, he begins to talk negatively to himself and beat himself up – which is wrong. However, a friend encourages him and makes him see things more objectively. So he applies to other places.

This time he uses it with confidence, but not an infallible one. He also hopes for the best. He gets called back after an interview with one of the companies. They see his work, and he is qualified. John is employed. Work goes on well, and John progresses and stands out as the professional that he is until one day.

A significant project that his company was embarking on was John’s to plan and supervise. However, something could have gone better. The management called him to the board room and scolded him for his mistakes. He was issued a query and told to “do better.” John’s heart sank, and anger rose as he strolled out of the boardroom. But knowing fully well that some things were beyond his control, he does not engage in negative self-talk or self-harm to cope. Instead, he handled it differently than the first time, and it helped him bounce back quickly.

But what about you? If your case differs from John’s, you may wonder how to overcome disappointment. You need not look too far; the healthy steps John took will also be helpful for you when dealing with disappointment. So if you feel disappointed in life or in yourself, here are the things you should do:

Don’t bottle it

Disappointment comes with a range of emotions. Some of them are anger, regret, and many others. Bottling these emotions will make things worse and will often come out in ugly ways. It could also make you depressed. It is always better to unbottle it. Feel your feelings. There are different outlets through which you could do this. One is through journaling. Writing out how you feel has proven an excellent way to express your emotions. It is freeing and cathartic. Another way is to tell someone. This person could be a trusted, listening friend or, better yet, a counsellor or therapist. It is an excellent way to get rid of the negative emotions that come with being disappointed in life.

Adjust your expectations.

When you set your expectations high, you increase your chances of being disappointed. One thing that will help, however, is to develop more realistic expectations. Ask yourself if what you are aiming for is real. You can learn to set SMART goals if it is a career thing. You could ask trusted people if your expectations are realistic if they involve relationships. However, please refrain from doing mediocre stuff because you want to lower expectations. When you set expectations, make room for the possibility of falling short because only some things are within your control.

Seek objectivity

Sometimes, your judgement can be clouded by emotions, so you cannot see situations as you should. It is good in this scenario to speak to others to help you. Conversing with someone could help clear this fog. They will bring other perspectives that you might have yet to think about. As said earlier, speaking with someone about your disappointed emotion can provide you with clarity and understanding of the situation.


Remember, where you are is between the past and the future. It is good in the present. While you may feel regret, do not be disappointed. Allow yourself to experience the other beautiful things life offers. Some things you can do to ensure progress include:

  1. Look towards the positive always and never at the negative side of things.
  2. Practice looking in the mirror to encourage yourself every morning.
  3. Remember that it is better to make progress than to be perfect.
  4. Surround yourself with those that make you happy.
  5. Lose people that do not make you feel good on the inside.
  6. Refrain from comparing yourself to others.
  7. Change your perspective on disappointment and see it as a lesson to learn from.

Feeling disappointed with life?

You now understand the psychology of disappointment and the healthy ways of dealing with these feelings. However, if the weight of disappointment stays too long, it will affect your mental health. If you struggle with disappointment, it might be a pointer to an underlying mental health issue. You should seek help from a professional. They are better equipped to help you get through it.