Coping with Disappointment and Frustration

By Fran LaMattina, MCC, PhD. How well do you deal with disappointment and frustration? Over the years, I’ve learned that my response to disappointment and frustration is an indicator of my state of mind and my emotional intelligence. The quicker I escalate in my thoughts and emotions from 0 (emotionally neutral) to 10 (hot and bothered), the less capable I am of solving problems, acting with kindness and respect, and avoiding regrets. The folks who write about and measure emotional intelligence would say this is a big indicator of progress in self-awareness and self-monitoring.

Unfortunately, being human is a platform for experiencing disappointments. We have all felt misunderstood from time to time. Many of us have felt disappointed when a friend forgets our birthday, or we don’t get a bonus we were hoping for, or someone else might have secured a promotion we felt we deserved. During times like the pandemic when we are all experiencing losses day by day, we may find ourselves frustrated that our lives have been negatively impacted for so long, or we aren’t earning the incomes we did pre-Covid, or we aren’t equipped to be homeschool parents. The list goes on and on.

When we do experience disappointments and frustration, it is important to press PAUSE, so we can transition our brain function from our amygdala — where we are imprisoned in the stress mode of fear, fright, flight — to our prefrontal cortex where we can decompress, do creative problem solving and think about how our circumstances are impacting our choices. We can respond with our desired behavior rather than react with our (less than perfect) natural behavior. Everyone wins and true solutions, as well as mature perspectives, can be employed.

For most of us, maturity affords us the opportunity to gain more perspective about the inevitability of disappointments and frustrations in our daily lives. Hopefully, we make wiser decisions and manage our emotions better over time. But, the reality is that we can’t avoid them no matter how well we plan, how purposely we surround ourselves with safe people, or how carefully we navigate our risks.

For me, one of the most helpful questions I ask of myself when someone disappoints me is this: “How often do I disappoint myself…really?” If I’m honest with myself, it’s many more times than others disappoint me. That truth helps me be more emotionally neutral, more empathetic, and more understanding of the world around me. We’re all on a long trajectory of growth called life, and good and bad travel on parallel tracks. The more we can accept that, the more we can maintain a sense of peace and optimism in the midst of life’s disappointments and frustrations.

For more about emotional intelligence, self-awareness, and developing your leadership skills, schedule a consultation with Fran.