A Discussion of Disappointment

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Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. was in private practice for more than thirty years. He is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in the states ...Read More

Some time ago I wrote an article about self hatred. It can be found at this URL on Mental Help Net:



This is a follow up to that discussion.

Here is one young woman’s response: 

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“I never felt like I fit in and standing back and watching other beautiful people was easier than trying to interact with someone who is so much better than me.  I thought that I had accepted my limited looks and personality but I don’t think that I have or should even think so lowly of myself.  I look in the mirror, at my body, my clothes and I am consumed with disgust.  This I can handle; it’s my destructive anger that I cannot live with anymore.  I don’t feel like I deserve love and I lash out at the people who say they love me…they’ obviously lying.  I have noticed lately though I get mad about EVERYTHING!! People driving too slow or standing too close to me in a check out line, you name it, pisses me off.  Despite all my problems I am usually a happy person but every day I hate life more and more and that scares me.  I have good people in my life and they don’t deserve what I am putting them through.”

This is a good example of disappointment.

The gap between what we hoped for and what we get can be the source of endless amounts of despair. For some of us, as reflected in the comment above, disappointment results in depression, self blame and anger at the outside world.

What are some of the explanations for disappointment? Here are a few:

1. Unrealistic expectations:

Growing up in the United States offers the promise of wealth and material possessions. It also offers the promise of success as portrayed on television and Hollywood movies. For example, very few can become an NBA, NFL or Professional baseball player in the American or National League. We also yearn for beauty and handsomeness.

2. Family dynamics:

Family dynamics set up expectations for school achievement, professional career and athletic success. These expectations can be intensified if parents represent examples of success and medical doctors, lawyers, etc. The some hold true if one or more siblings achieve major success.

3. Entitlement:

Remember the old rebuke, “You act as if the world owes you a living?” For some of us that old saying carries a lot of truth. There are some people who grow up believing that life will inevitably lead to fulfillment of all their dreams.

4. External Reality:

Everyone wants good health, good looks, a great marriage and financial security. However, very few people actually get all these things.

5. Random nature of Life:

In examining the first four sources of disappointment, it is important to recognize the fifth, the fact that life is random. For instance, no one can control the fact that wars interfere with life, as do such things as economic depression, recession, natural disasters, crime, sickness, accidents and acts of terrorism. There are also the facts that we are born with certain limitations.

That wonderful old Christmas movie, “It’s A Wonderful Life,” with Jimmy Stewart, portrays many aspects of disappointment. The main character, the oldest son played by Jimmy Stewart, is constantly faced with disappointment. His dreams included such things as leaving his small town  for life in the big city, a college education and world travel. One thing after another gets in his way and takes him further and further away from what he wanted. He becomes bitter, angry and self pitying because his old friends are able to do all the things he hoped for. Its only at the end that he comes to realize that, even though he didn’t get what he wanted he still did very well.

Are there ways to handle disappointment?” Yes, as evidenced by the fact that some people are able to recover. In addition, most of us feel better when we can take action rather than feeling helpless. Here is a six step plan suggested by some mental health experts:

1. Review your expectations and ask yourself is they are realistic. You can begin with paper and pencil to do this exercise.

2. Examine your disappointment and ask yourself if it was caused by something beyond your control.

3. Meditate and imagine letting go of the emotional or physical tension associated with the problem.

4. Look at the problem when you feel relaxed. Then, review the tools can use to help yourself get through the problem. Ask yourself if you need someone’s help. In addition, examine if you need to learn new skills.

5. The ways in which we think about our lives is important. For example, think of setbacks as opportunities for learning instead of failures.

6. Examine alternative ways to either reach or get near to your goals. If someone aspires to be an MD but does not have the  necessary grades or cannot do well enough on the Medcats, there is the opporunity to become a nurse or a Physcians Assistant (PA). Flexibility is important in these things.

In doing this exercise, remember to examine all of the things you do have.It is too easy to dwell on the negative and overlook what is positive.

Do you recognize yourself in any of this? Your comments are strongly encouraged.

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD


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