When You are Disappointed by Life


Do you feel disappointed by life?

It is a question that as a therapist, I often find myself asking my clients, at some point in our sessions. The answer to this question gives me a peek into the inner workings of their emotional life, their expectations, and their overall life perspective.

Unfortunately, more often than I like to hear, people will share with me that YES, they are indeed disappointed by life.

As a clinician, I take the reveal of being disappointed with life as a possibility this person may be experiencing some form of depression (or has the potentiality to develop depression).

Disappointment is often the final step before depression. Thus how you answer the question of “Are you disappointed by life?” can be very telling of your mental state.

As a mental health professional, I have found that disappointment reveals a lot about the person who expresses said emotion because disappointment is largely a subjective emotion.  What I may be disappointed by may not even register on your radar. Disappointment reveals one’s values, expectations, and goals based on what they are disappointed by. Therefore, when a client tells me they are disappointed by life I follow-up with what specifically disappoints you about life. The answer is telling.

High expectations lead to frequent disappointment.

You cannot be disappointed by a situation you have no vested interest in. You cannot be disappointed by someone you expect nothing of (which should be most people because I feel we should not hold expectations of the vast majority of people we encounter unless we want to be constantly disappointed). We can only be disappointed by something we hold an expectation of. Disappointment manifests itself through the failure of expectations being met.

The thing about disappointment is it says a lot more about the person who experiences it than the target of the disappointment.  If you are frequently experiencing disappointment, then likely you need to reevaluate the expectations you hold of yourself, others, and life in general.

Now do not take this as me saying you should not have standards. You should. We should all have standards of being treated with civility and human decency. However, often I find clients will share with me their expectations of others are out of touch with what we can realistically expect of other people.

Disappointment is in many ways a narcissistic emotion. We experience it when life isn’t going according to “our” plan. If someone tells you they are disappointed in you, they are basically say you are not living up to THEIR expectations.

When you are experiencing disappointment, you likely are viewing life as unfair. Your glass is “half empty.” This is not a healthy place to be living life from.

When you think about what might have been, in contrast to what actually IS, you may experience disappointment. The further our ideal life is from our actual life, the more disappointed we will feel.

You likely have been disappointed many times before—by yourself, other people, and situations. It is extremely human to experience this emotion.

However, in trying to provide ourself with the ability to best cope with life’s inevitable “disappointments” we need to shift what we expect out of ourself, others, and life in general.


Life is never the problem. Our expectations are. Often if an outcome is worse than expected, we experience extreme disappointment.

This is all simple stuff to understand but we are often not cognizant that our own expectations are what cause us to feel disappointed. We often shift the blame to “out there.” We blame the other person, the situation, anything but ourself.

When things go right, you feel happy.

When things go wrong, we feel sad, angry, frustrated, and YES disappointed.

I find in counseling session, many of the people I work with do WHATEVER they can to avoid experiencing disappointment. They play it too safe. They live cautiously. They avoid “putting themself out there” out of fear—fear of rejection, fear of looking foolish, or fear of being disappointed by how things turn out. This is no way to live.

The problem with disappointment is it feels so hard to manage and overcome.

In disappointment comes a certain finality–the fact that you don’t have, didn’t get, or will never achieve whatever it is that you wanted. This is a bitter pill to swallow. Thus people avoid experiencing the emotion at all cost.

In disappointment, a goal we are trying to achieve is not achievable. It can be not getting our “crush” to agree to a date, not getting into our first choice college, not getting a job we wanted, not getting a house we put an offer on. Throughout life many opportunities present to experience disappointment.

In dealing with the people we love, disappointment can be soul crushing.  When we expect our loved one to give us what we want or treat us with respect and they do not–it is quite painful. Constant disappointment by a loved one leads to blame, resentment, and eventual detachment as we no longer are able to see them as a person we can trust with our feelings and emotions. Being repeatedly disappointed in the actions and behaviors of another lead to friendships ending, marriages dissolving, and family estrangement. 

It is often in feeling disappointment that we turn to anger. It is easier to feel anger towards whatever it is that is causing of us to feel disappointment then to face the sadness about the course of events. It is also easier to not look at ourselves and the role we played in our disappointment. We stay angry to avoid the sadness experienced in disappointment.

With anger you can continue to fight against what is and denigrate the person, situation, or event that is causing you to feel this way. However, disappointment requires an acceptance of what is and the reality of the situation.

Many people do whatever they can to avoid reality. This includes avoiding the experience of disappointment.

Much of what we experience is life is relatively neutral but our view on the experience colors whether it is good or bad.

How can we cope with our disappointment?

  1. Accept disappointment is a fact of life—it is an emotion we all will experience. Some disappointments are bigger than others but in resisting the reality of the situation, all we do is perpetuate the negative emotions that come with disappointment. Acceptance and normalizing the experience of disappointment is the first step in moving on.
  2. Reframe your perspective. Often our expectations of ourself, others, and situations are out of line with reality. Are you looking at the big picture? Take time to reflect on what mindset you are bringing to the table.
  3. Speak with a professional. If you are constantly feeling let down by life, now may be the time to speak with a professional counselor. Talking to a therapist who truly listens and has your best interest at heart can be incredibly helpful. Therapy can help you readjust your expectations to live a happier, more positive life.
  4. Shift your expectations. Are your expectations realistic? Can we expect people to do what is in the best interest of us over themselves? We forget that sometimes what is best for us is not necessarily best for another even someone we love. We all have our own lives to lead. Often our expectations of life can be unrealistic which sets us up for disappointment. Ask if what you’re expecting is reasonable.
  5. Don’t take it personally. Much of what people do is a reflection of their own reality, their own dreams. We need to work on becoming immune to the negative actions of others as to not destroy our own well-being. People largely do things because of themselves not you. It is not all about you–for most people it is all about THEM.

Life tests us all. We will all be disappointed. However, in self-reflecting you may find you are setting yourself up for much pain and disappointment by your own making. It is time for you to live a more positive, joyful existence.  Don’t let yesterday’s disappointments cast a dark shadow on today.


To schedule a counseling session with me (AND if you are a reader who lives in New Jersey):


Anew Counseling Services LLC

617 Oradell Avenue, Suite 3, Oradell, New Jersey, 07649

(551) 795-3822

Expectations: The Root of All Unhappiness

expectations 3

All of us of us have expectations.

We hold expectations of ourselves, others, circumstances, and what we want out of life in general. Managing our expectations is key to our happiness. We need to have realistic expectations, of ourselves and others, if not to be met with never-ending hurt and disappointment.

At a basic, simple level we are unhappy when our expectations of reality exceed our experience of reality (Nat Ware). 

The further away reality is from our expectations the more miserable you can expect to be.


I feel there are some common expectations held by unhappy people: that others MUST treat them well, that they should NOT have to deal with difficulty or hardship, and that they MUST do well.

This type of thinking is toxic and a recipe for misery.

Yet what about the specific expectations we hold for ourselves?

When you were a little boy or girl, did you want to grow up to be a baseball player, a super star, or a singer? At some point you probably gave up that dream for something more attainable (unless you are Derek Jeter, Leonardo DiCaprio, or Adele). When our dreams are out of reach, we feel stress, frustration, and anxiety. Many of us abandon our dreams, feeling they are impossible.

Carl Rogers, one of my favorite psychologists, referred to this gap as it relates to our self as incongruence.

Incongruence is when our desires and feelings are not aligned with our actions.

Maybe you always wanted to be a doctor but felt you can never do it and are now a med tech. You can’t bring yourself to go back to school to further your career, even though you always felt you can be more. You WANT to do more. But can’t motivate yourself to do it.

Maybe you want close relationships in your life, yet find you keep people at arm’s length. You can’t bring yourself to apologize to people you may have hurt or put yourself out there to build new relationships with people. Still–you WANT to have intimate relationships but aren’t willing to put yourself out there with people to obtain them.

Maybe you want to be healthy and in shape yet find yourself overeating and not exercising. You can’t bring yourself to change your diet or will yourself to even exercise for 15 minutes a day. You WANT to be healthy but can’t seem to muster the willpower.

Maybe you want to be financial secure yet find you are not saving enough for the future and are unwilling to live within your means. You repeatedly spend more than you should and procrastinate making a budget. You WANT to get your finances in order but can’t get your spending habits in line.

And the list goes on and on. You are in a state of incongruence when there is a gap between your ideal life and your REAL life.

Incongruence is going to cause psychological pain.

We all want our ideal self and actual experience to be consistent and overlap as much as possible. If you recognize yourself in one of the examples above, you are probably unhappy with the current state of your life.


Many psychological problems may arise when we are in a state of incongruence.

Expectations are the enemy of happiness.

We can see how our expectations of ourselves can lead to unhappiness, but what about our expectations of others?

Often our expectations of others leads to disappointment and hurt.

We all heard that the secret to happiness is LOWER expectations. Some even would probably say NO expectations is the real key to happiness in your relationships.

This is not to say you shouldn’t have standards. Standards are different from expectations. The two are not interchangeable.

A standard is a principle of how you will conduct yourself and behavior you will accept from others. It is a norm. For instance, a common standard people have is they would not scream or curse in public NOR would they find it acceptable to witness someone else engaging in such a manner. This isn’t an expectation-it is a standard of what is acceptable. Our standards are our values.

An expectation is how we would like people to behave or a situation to turn out. For example, an expectation would be if you expect your boyfriend to text you every day, regardless of how busy he is. Sure, it would be nice, but it is not a standard. It is an expectation of how you are expecting someone to ideally behave. They are more like unspoken rules. Expectations are in large part our ideals.

The reality is no one cares about our expectations except us. 

The simplest example of this truism is the golden rule. We think if we treat others well we will be treated in kind. I think we all have experienced otherwise.

The problem with expectations is they are often unspoken. You just expect people in your life to meet your expectations. But people have their own expectations that they live by which may be in conflict with yours.

Often we he hold expectations of others that we ourselves don’t even fulfill. We all have encountered someone with high expectations of others and little to no expectations of themselves.  These are the do as I say, not as I do types. Perhaps from time to time this has been you. Human nature can be hypocritical.

Nevertheless, there are going to be a few people in life whose expectations we are driven to fulfill. We try to anticipate expectations for important relationships in our lives. Most of us try to be cognizant of the expectations of our spouse, partner, boss, clients, kids.

But even in the these important relationships expectations are unmet and expectations can gradually slid into a sense of entitlement.

The problem with expectations is it can sour relationships if not managed.

As a society, we are living in a time where many who walk amongst us are profoundly unhappy.

And many of these people are unhappy by their own making: their expectations.

If you want to be happy, you are going to need to keep your expectations in check. Both of yourself and others.

Start to be mindful of the vicious expectation conflict cycle. Be mindful of how you interpret situations and other people. This is where lots of problems start since they are entirely subjective. If you identify a problem, you need to carefully consider your response. Pay mind to what you expectations are of the person AND the situation to determine if they are realistic.

If you hold an expectation of someone and they do not meet it you have a few options. You can end the relationship. You can address it. You can act passive aggressive. Or you can decide it isn’t a big deal and let it go.

All our interactions with people have the opportunity to weaken, strengthen, or remain neutral in our relationship with them.  This is why it is so important to examine your underlying expectations. You need to ask yourself  if you are being reasonable. It is reasonable to expect to be treated with civility and basic human respect. It is unreasonable to expect people to do as you expect them to do according to your rulebook. We need to be able to catch ourselves when we begin to drift into unrealistic expectations.

If it is an issue with respect or some other type of basic standard, that really isn’t a relationship you should be too concerned about, if a lack of basic respect exists. If it is a more superficial issue, remember people rarely behave exactly the way we want them to.

Remember the magnitude of unhappiness you experience will be proportionate to your thoughts and how you choose to interpret things.

As a therapist, I find many people come to counseling because their expectations of others are not being met. This is causing pain and problems for them. I work with them using CBT (cognitive behavior therapy) which focuses on changing THEIR thoughts and behaviors including their expectations. I gently remind them we can’t change others, we can ONLY change ourselves.

I find it is helpful to work with clients to improve their coping skills, tweak their expectations, and look at what role they are playing in creating unhappiness in their life.

Try taking some time to reflect on your expectations. Of yourself and others. It can be the beginning of a happier, more satisfying life.

expectations 2

If you enjoyed this article and are interested in seeking counseling with me:


Erin Doyle Theodorou, M.Ed, LPC, NCC


590 Franklin Ave.

Suite 2

Nutley, NJ 07110