A woman sitting on the floor as she pushes her hair behind her ears

You know the feeling. The drop in your stomach. The feeling of the bottom falling out. It is like riding on a rollercoaster down the big downhill—except there is no fun involved, just fear and dread. It is not supposed to be this way. It wasn’t supposed to happen like this, at least not in the storyline you wrote.

It can feel like the bottom has dropped out when we are counting on an expectation to be met. When we have oriented our lives—and ourselves—around something going a certain way, it can feel personally catastrophic when it doesn’t go that way.

Maybe you’ve found yourself there before with a relationship ending, a job rejection, a hope dashed or a dream turned down. Maybe you are facing a looming, unmet expectation. You see it coming in the distance, and you want to close your eyes, hold your breath and hope it just passes you by. 

However, this is the hard guarantee of life—we can’t close our eyes and not experience disappointment. We can’t get off the ride. We are buckled in, and, for better or worse, we will experience the lows of unmet expectations—the fear, sadness and hopes dashed. 

However, this is the hard guarantee of life—we can’t close our eyes and not experience disappointment.

How do we lessen the impact? How do we more than tolerate the ride—perhaps weathering it, even growing through disappointment?

1. Don’t cancel hard emotions.

One of the first and most important steps is to understand that your emotions cannot be selectively chosen and shut off. If you try to shut off the parts of you that are sad, disappointed or heartbroken, you will inadvertently mute all the good ones like hope, joy and happiness.

You can think of your emotions like a circuit board. You can’t shut off just one switch on the circuit board without shutting down the entire board. We often want to limit the negative emotions, but unfortunately, this causes us to then live in what is akin to a two-dimensional world. In order to not shut down the good and live in a full, colorful, three-dimensional world, we have to feel all the bad stuff, too.

In order to not shut down the good and live in a full, colorful, three-dimensional world, we have to feel all the bad stuff, too.

Take a deep breath and allow yourself to ride through the feelings. Be present to the ups and the downs.

2. Separate your pain from your interpretation.

The next step to lessening the threat of an unmet expectation is to separate your pain from your interpretation. Whether you realize it or not, you are always interpreting everything you experience.

I like to think of this like wearing goggles or glasses. Imagine if they were tinted green. Well, everything you saw through those glasses would be what color? You guessed it—green. It is very much the same way with how we position ourselves or interpret the meaning of something when we are disappointed.

Is it a loss or are you not good enough? Is it disappointing or another indicator that you’ll never be enough? Are you sad and hurt or are you not worthy?

When we add one of these false, shaming narratives, to our already valid pain we double our problems. Now we are hurting and believing the worst about ourselves.

The pain and disappointment are hard enough without us layering on top of it our shameful narratives about why we experienced this let down, rejection or heartbreak. Sift the pain from the lies about who you are. Invite a loving friend or therapist into that process if helpful. You may be hurting, but that doesn’t change the inherent worth of who you are.

You may be hurting, but that doesn’t change the inherent worth of who you are.

3. Don’t get stuck in the disappointment.

Finally, as we head into, are in the middle of or recovering slowly from an unmet expectation, remember you are on a ride that doesn’t end here. Our brains often get stuck in the hardest part of the story, but that is just one chapter, just one drop down on the ride. Hold on to who you are, name your pain as what it is—disappointment and loss—and feel the wind on your face as you ride down. Allowing yourself to feel life’s pain will allow you to also feel life’s joys.

On the other side of unmet expectation, how do you feel? Is it possible to lessen the feelings of disappointment by changing our mentality about expectations?

Image via Frank Terry, Darling Issue No. 15

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