Disappointment: A state of dismay or dissatisfaction; feeling let down
Disappointment comes in many packages, mostly misread by ourselves as well as others. Most of us were not taught the emotion, disappointment. If we were disappointed, we more than likely not allowed to say it.
Christmas. It is early one Christmas morning and all of the presents have been opened. You patiently wait for the one present you asked Santa for…The Peaches and Cream Barbie. You are positive this Barbie you have your heart set on is there. It probably was misplaced or Santa had hidden it in a special location, only for you to find when the other presents had been opened.
You are fighting back the tears until you can’t stand it. Your mom asked you, “What is the matter”? You respond with, “I did not get the Peaches and Cream Barbie I asked Santa for” as tears are flowing down your face.
Mom responds with, “Don’t be ungrateful! There are so many kids out there that got nothing. Look around at the things you did get”. In other words, “You can’t be disappointed so shut up and suck it up!” Footnote: You don’t deserve to have feelings, much less state them.
Adults may choose not to show disappointment for various reasons, which could be influenced by personal, cultural, experiences, or situational factors.
Here are some common reasons why adults may refrain from expressing their disappointment openly:
- Social norms: Yep, the way you look. In some cultures, and families, expressing negative emotions like disappointment is considered impolite or inappropriate. There might be an expectation to maintain a stoic (hard ass) or composed demeanor, particularly in public settings. It’s all about the way you come across to society.
- Fear of vulnerability: Yep, weakness. In many situations, being weak is not an attribute. Expressing disappointment can make individuals feel vulnerable and exposed. Some adults may avoid showing disappointment to protect themselves from potential judgment or criticism from others.
- Avoiding conflict: Yep, turn the other cheek. Openly expressing disappointment can lead to conflicts or uncomfortable conversations, and some adults may prefer to avoid such situations to maintain harmony in relationships.
- Coping mechanism: Yep, shove it under the rug, that always works. Some adults may have learned to suppress their emotions, including disappointment, as a way of coping with challenging situations or past experiences.
- Fear of being judged: Yep, God forbid someone might not like you. There might be a fear that expressing disappointment will be seen as a sign of weakness or failure, leading to negative judgments from others.
- Learned behavior: Yep, our families are the best teachers. Some adults might have grown up in environments where emotional expression was discouraged, leading them to carry this learned behavior into adulthood.
- Perception of burdening others: Yep, keep your crap to yourself. Play the victim role. Adults may not want to burden others with their disappointments, especially if they feel that their concerns are relatively minor compared to others’ struggles.
- Self-reliance: Yep, only the strong survive. Certain individuals may have developed a strong sense of self-reliance and believe they should handle their emotions independently without relying on others for support.
Masking Disappointment with Anger
In my experience, disappointment is many times wrongly identified as anger. Individuals are more than comfortable showing anger, even identifying a feeling as anger when the feeling is actually disappointment. Body language can be a powerful indicator of disappointment. Here are some common body language cues that may show someone is feeling disappointed. Many times, in session, I have to read body language to determine how one is actually feeling.
- Slumped shoulders: When someone is disappointed, they may exhibit slumped or rounded shoulders, conveying a sense of deflation or dejection.
- Frowning or downturned mouth: A furrowed brow and a downward curve of the mouth are classic signs of disappointment.
- Avoiding eye contact: People may avoid making eye contact when they feel disappointed, as it can be a sign of discomfort or sadness.
- Crossing arms: Crossing the arms can be a defensive body language gesture and may indicate that a person is feeling disappointed or guarded.
- Heavy sighs: Audible sighs, especially deep or heavy ones, can be a manifestation of disappointment and frustration.
- Lack of engagement: Someone who is disappointed may appear disinterested or less engaged in the situation or conversation.
- Slow movements: Slowing down movements can be a subconscious way of conveying a lack of enthusiasm or energy when disappointed.
- Restless movements: On the other hand, some individuals may display restlessness, such as tapping fingers or feet, when feeling disappointed.
- Nodding without enthusiasm: When someone nods without enthusiasm or genuine agreement, it may indicate that they are trying to show support but are internally disappointed.
- Closed body postures: Crossing legs or standing with feet together can be an indication of closed-off body language associated with disappointment.
- Reduced hand gestures: Typically, expressive individuals may limit their hand gestures when experiencing disappointment.
It’s important to interpret body language cues within the context of the situation and the person’s overall demeanor. Nonverbal cues should be considered in conjunction with verbal cues and the individual’s personality and communication style.
Many times, just asking a person if they are disappointed to describe the disappointment can re-start a conversation that is much more meaningful. Delivery is the name of the game here. When approaching someone who seems angry, it’s essential to be sensitive and empathetic in your communication. Anger can often be a secondary emotion that masks underlying feelings of disappointment, hurt, or frustration.
Questions to ask someone who is angry to explore if they are also feeling disappointed:
- “I can see that you’re upset. Is there something specific that’s bothering you?”
- “Is there more to this situation that’s making you angry? Are you also feeling disappointed about something?”
- “I understand you’re angry, but is there something deeper that you’re upset about?”
- “Could it be that there’s a sense of disappointment underneath the anger you’re feeling?”
- “How do you think this situation has affected you? Are there any feelings of disappointment?”
- “What were your expectations for this situation? Did something happen that didn’t meet those expectations?”
- “Are there any unmet needs or hopes that could be contributing to your anger?”
- “Has something happened recently that may have left you feeling let down or disappointed?”
- “Do you think your anger could be a reaction to feeling disappointed about this?”
- “I’ve noticed that you seem really frustrated. Is there something you were hoping for that didn’t happen?”
Only a seemingly brave confident individual is comfortable with walking into a conversation that appears to be driven by anger. Generally, we shy (or run like hell) away from people demonstrating anger. This is a learned reactional behavior and many times we use the excuse, “I hate confrontation”. What tends to be true is to allow yourself to be vulnerable in having the confidence to invite conversation that you might not have tried before, can strengthen a relationship to a much deeper level than before.
If you are one of these brave individuals who will willingly walk into what seems like anger, remember to ask these questions with a calm and non-judgmental demeanor. Give the person space to express their emotions and validate their feelings. Keep in mind that they might not immediately connect their anger to disappointment, so it’s important to be patient and allow them to process their emotions and thoughts. Additionally, if the person doesn’t feel comfortable discussing their feelings at the moment, respect their boundaries and let them know that you’re available to talk whenever they are ready. This creates a safe platform for growth and bonding that might not have been present before.
In my next article, Art Therapy & Disappointment: A Journey to Self-Discovery, I teach a powerful and effective way to explore and express feelings of disappointment. It is a brilliant concept I use daily in my therapy sessions. Click here to dive into this article.
Dealing with disappointment can be difficult and overwhelming but you are not alone! If you are struggling right now, let’s talk. You can book an in-person or virtual visit.
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CRT, CCDC, CACC | Counselor & Life Coach
Empowering individuals, families and communities to grow and heal through advanced approaches in Creative Arts Therapy, setting the standard for treatment, practice and training within the field.