How to Deal With Disappointment

We’ve all felt the sting of disappointment. A not-so-stellar review at work, a setback in your recovery, bad news about a family member’s health, a grad school rejection letter. There are also smaller disappointments: a friend cancels plans, you wear a cute outfit and no one notices, you try a new recipe and it doesn’t turn out as you’d hoped. While these letdowns may differ in severity, they all provide your eating disorder, and your self-critical voice, with a fertile ground to grow.

Fortunately, you don’t have to succumb to these disappointments. You can cultivate your healthy voice and thoughts before, during and after disappointments, so that the bad moments don’t cut you to your core and set you back in your recovery.

With each new challenge and experience you face, it can be helpful to set expectations. What outcome do you want? What is the likely outcome? How will you feel, and what will you do, if you don’t get the result you want? What can you learn from the experience, regardless of the outcome?

Let’s say your challenge is a festive meal with family. The outcome you want may be a laughter-filled dinner with your cousins, and minimal comments about food or dieting behaviors. The likely outcome will depend on your specific circumstances. Does your family often talk about food and weight? If so, diet talk may come up. You can plan for that. You can soften the blow of the shift in conversation by anticipating it and making an action plan. You can excuse yourself and head to the restroom, or find a younger cousin to play with, or see if the host needs any help in the kitchen. By considering possible outcomes, and planning ahead, you can bounce back from disappointments in a healthy way.

Beyond the planning stage, there are other tools you can use, in place of your eating disorder thoughts and behaviors, to deal with the down times.

Imagine this: You interviewed for your dream job, and you thought it went great. You sent all the recommended “thank you” emails and started to imagine what your life would be like with a new job. A week later, you get the call: “We’ve decided to move forward with another candidate.”

Gut. punch.

You have every right to feel disappointed, sad and maybe a bit angry. You may wonder why you didn’t get the role, but do remember you can’t really know (without asking, that is), so questioning what you “lack” is a futile exercise.

You can feel the sting of rejection without using food, behaviors or self-punishing thoughts as a way to cope. You can cry, you can write about it, talk about it, sing about it. Or, my personal favorite: You can plug in self-care. Flop on the couch in fleece pants and give yourself a mini manicure. Go to a yoga class, or take a winter walk, or paint, or buy a new book to send your mind somewhere else for a while. The pain will abate with every passing minute.

Once you get through the sadness, anger and frustration, there is still more you can do to shield yourself from the seduction of your eating disorder and your self-abusive voice. Assuming you dealt with your disappointment in a healthy way, you can celebrate! You proved to yourself that you don’t NEED your eating disorder to cope. In fact, a large part of you doesn’t want to use it to cope, and that’s exactly why you didn’t. You can now reflect on who/what did and did not help, what you learned from the experience, and how you can manage similar situations in the future.

And if you did use some unhealthy thoughts and behaviors, you can look back to the planning stage and see if you can prepare better for next time. Even THIS setback is an opportunity to fight ED and pursue health.

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