The Emotional Side of Unmet Expectations

The Emotional Side of Unmet Expectations

How to deal with disappointment, frustration and expectations hangover of our new reality.

No one could predict the reality we are living in right now. Life as we knew it has been put on hold and in some ways probably will never be the same again. With all the respect, I acknowledge the grief of loosing the loved ones and financial hardships, but this article is about the disappointments of every day living in uncertain reality, where no solid plans can be made.   

Expectation is what Buddha said is a source of suffering. But it also gives a sense of predictability, control and direction central to any living being in order to feel safe. So what do we actually feel as a result of expectations hangover? What are the symptoms, distraction strategies and finally solutions?

Expectation by a definition is a strong belief that something will happen. We get so attached to it that our psych starts to see it almost as a reality. Inevitably, we experience disappointment if we don’t get desirable outcome.

 As an emotion, researchers describe disappointment as a form of sadness—a feeling of loss, an uncomfortable space (or a painful gap) between our expectations and reality. It is a profound way in which sadness is experienced.

Traditionally, loss is viewed in the past tense, we grief someone or something we had but no longer have in our life. Unmet expectations, however, is the loss of something we haven’t even experienced yet. Unfortunately, because of our attachment and perception, the mind and body does not know the difference. It registers expectation hangover as a real loss.

The degree of disappointment and sadness will depend on the meaning we attach to it’s role in our happiness and whether it is a definite loss or ‘a change’. 

As an example, a cancelled holiday is a change because it might be rescheduled to a different time. But not being able to have your mum around for the birth of your first child is a definite loss because you can not recreate that experience again. And yes, you will have a degree of grief about it, quite literally, if it was meaningful to you. Therefore, the way we get over that disappointment is similar to how we deal with grief.

Other examples of expectations hangovers could be cancelled weddings and celebrations, lost business and career opportunities, missing out on shared experiences, new relationships, roles, connections, shut dreams etc – all positive experiences we haven’t lost, we just haven’t had them. 

Symptoms of unmet expectations

Anticipating tomorrow and gaining predictability are crucial components to feeling secure; lack of which can make you feel frustrated, hopeless and stuck. Joined with repetitive disappointment it might produce physical and emotional symptoms like depression, lack of motivation, confusion, denial, anger, poor work performance, diminished creativity, strained relationships, social withdrawal, low self-esteem, regret, disconnection, anxiety, poor sleep and digestion.

Watch out for coping strategies 

When expectations aren’t met, instead of feeling the discomfort of disappointment, we often reserve to the coping strategies. Using some of the below coping behaviours allow you to temporarily escape the strong feelings without ever working them through.

The most common ones are:

ï Distraction: putting more on your to-do list, filling your life with busyness, drowning yourself in work or being obsessive about a hobby or working out, spending long hours on social media or internet surfing etc.

ï Numbing the pain: drinking or eating in unhealthy ways, working long hours, spending money on things you don’t need, watching TV, escaping with drugs or over-exercising.

ï Being strong: don’t feel the feelings caused by the issue, put on a mask to look strong, push through it.

ï The “next big thing”: a new job, city, house, relationship, car that you think will make everything better.

ï Spiritual bypass: repressing your negative thoughts, immediately looking for positive affirmations, lesson, blessings or gratitude. Yes, this is also a powerful solution that I mention further down BUT it should come come after validating the real emotiona and then ‘feeling the feeling’ (see next).


1. FEEL THE  FEELINGS – the most important and the most difficult one. 

No one wants to sit in the discomfort of disappointment, sadness, grief and frustration. It is intensely unpleasant. We fear that we get stuck in it if we allow ourselves to dive deep into emotion. However, E-MOTION is an energy in motion. It needs to move through you (in and out), not over you. It is the physical sensation in the body that comes with the emotion that we are trying to avoid and distract from, not the actual consequences of failed expectation.

Think of that discomfort as a messenger. The more you ignore the message, the stronger it becomes. The message might come in a form of tightness, nausea, pain, heaviness, emptiness, anxiety etc.  As you give your full attention to that unpleasant physical sensation, breath through it, feel it, explore it, the sensation will dissolve because the message was received. 

2. GIVE YOURSELF A TIME LIMIT. When you’re experiencing a disappointment, while it’s important to feel it, it’s also important not to wallow. Dwelling on emotions will put you into victim mentality and make you feel stuck. Tell yourself you’ve going to feel sad for a certain period of time. It might be 10 minutes or 10 days, then move on to step 3. 

3. REFRAMING THE MEANING – it is the significance of the meaning we attach to the expectation that makes us suffer. Your mind creates stories about how the world should be based on your past experiences. Those judgments and stories create a belief system that creates your expectations. All of this is the lens through which you see the world.

 Understand that you do have a choice about how to see things. You are the one attaching the meaning. Ask yourself, do I expect things to be a certain way because of the beliefs that have been passed to me by parents, society and culture? Do I hear myself using words like should, must, have to? Is that true to me? Does that expectation still serve me? Watch out for using exaggerations like never, always, forever, all the time. 

4. PREFERENCE VS EXPECTATIONS – super simple and effective. Replace the word ‘expectation’ when you believe something have to be the certain way with ‘preference’ and see how energy shifts. Exp.: I expect my kids to visit every Sunday VS I prefer to see my kids every Sunday in person. So when you don’t have an opportunity to do so your disappointment becomes manageable because it is not a rule, it is a preference. 

5. OPPORTUNITY TO LET GO of attachment or identity. The obvious thing we are missing at the moment is the freedom to travel and do certain activities. People who tend to base their identity on what they do might feel loss and sadness. However, letting go of that identity and slowing down the pace might present with an opportunity to question who am I without constant doing and the roles I used to play? 

Exp. I notice people say I am a traveller, well used to be. Why did you travel though? What qualities does the traveller have? Replace with ‘I am a curious person, who loves to explore, learn about different cultures and needs stimulation’. Do you see how with a bit of creativity those needs could be fulfilled without leave your area?

“Know that everything is in perfect order whether you understand it or not.”  ~Valery Satterwhite 

6. SPIRITUAL – opportunity to learn and grow. This has nothing to do with religion, rather the belief that everything happens for a season. You might question what could be a reason for the whole world to go through the similar experience. However, the way we respond to that similar experience would be very unique to everyone. 

I see it that way. Everything in Universe is in duality. Meaning everything has positive and negative aspects that keeps the world in homeostasis. In order to find peace and balance for yourself, write down all the possible positive aspects of you expectation to fail and all the negative aspects of your expectation to come true. It might take some practice but this method could be applied to practically anything.  

7. GRATITUDE – well known but not fully understood. It is different from being thankful for what you received in your life (although always give thanks for that). It is about appreciating life in it’s highest form even when you don’t have much to thank for. The easiest way to get there is to putt things into perspective. 

My absolutely favourite quote: ‘I was complaining about the old shows until I met a man without legs’. 

Be careful of ‘spiritual bypassing’ or having to be ‘always positive’ attitude (see solution #1). It is possible to feel the sadness of unmet expectation and feel grateful at the same time. Write down three things you appreciate despite the disappointment. It always could have been worse.

“The walls we build around us to keep sadness out also keep out the joy.” ~Jim Rohn

8. ACCEPTANCE – this is huge!!! Thera are books written about acceptance stage of grief, the last and most important one. Since disappointment has a grief component, it is important to understand that some things can’t be fixed. We so often get stuck in trying to get back to what we knew as our ‘normal’. Because normal (or whatever we expected) does not exist anymore, we keep re-hurting ourselves by wanting to get there. The bigger the loss, the more profound the sadness is. To cope we disconnect from the heart (where we feel the sadness) but also disconnect from joy and happiness because our brain is unable to be selective about it. 

Accept the finality. Create a new way, different way. Learn to be happy with it and despite it. It is not about trying to go back to normal, rather learning to continue living. 

What If You’re Still Feeling Sad?

If you feel overwhelmed and not able to cope please seek professional help as it might lead to depression and other health complications. Feel free to reach out and make an appointment or give me a call if you want to find out how Kinesiology and Experiential Counselling can help. 

Yours with gratitude, Natalia

Kinesiologist, Mind&Body Med, Integ.Compl.Med, Experiential Counselling  

pHClinic Team

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