There are moments in our lives when people let us down, whether it’s a friend that is cancelling a meeting at the last minute, a partner that doesn’t show up for an important event, a family member that acts mean or a co-worker that makes us feel bad about one of our tasks. We can’t stop people from disappointing us but this doesn’t mean we have to let these situations hurt us or derail us from living a happy life.
The following strategies will show you how to take care of yourself when people let you down, moving forward with confidence, without feeling angry or hurt.
- Allow your feelings.
Any of the described situations can make us feel rejected, betrayed or trigger feelings of anger, sadness or anxiety. Try not to shove these feelings down! Acknowledge them; it’s only natural to feel like this when people you trust let you down. Our social bonds and stable relationships are made to enhance our well-being, therefore it’s natural to need the support of the people we love, especially in difficult times. Just put your feelings into words and try locating them into your body. By mapping these emotions you’re inviting your body to speak and support healing. Focus on the present situation and ask yourself whether the feelings you have now are fed by past disappointments or they’re appropriate to this context. If you realise that these people have a strong pattern of disappointing or betraying you, you might need to confront them or let them go.
- Acknowledge your unmet needs.
The next step is to analyse the reasons that you might feel so betrayed, by thinking about your needs that are not being met in this particular situation. What do you need from this person? Empathy, commitment, support, consideration, understanding? Is your unmet need linked to past experiences or is it relevant for the present situation? If it’s related to your caregivers or your childhood, you might be more reactive than you should. In this situation, we recommend you to disentangle the past from the present and not let your older problem fuel the current experience. It’s OK to feel disappointed but you need to ask yourself if you can accept that this need is not being met or you need to work on your problem and treat the situation like a healthy adult.
- Take care of yourself.
Is there a way you can meet your need for yourself? Do you have friends that can support you? For example, if you’ve made a plan together with your boyfriend to see a movie but he cancelled at the last moment, why not going by yourself? If you need help with a task, why not asking other people to help you? Giving up and stewing in passive resentment is not a solution. Offer yourself compassion or find ways to soothe yourself with a warm bath or a walk-in nature. Acknowledging your feelings and handling the situation with calm even if your mind may go in a thousand directions can make the difference between being hurt and managing stressful emotions in a healthy way.
- Decide if you need to speak up.
Do you feel the need to speak up about your feeling with the person that let you down? Is this person capable of understanding your message or your decision might trigger a defensive behaviour and angry reactivity, making the situation worse? It’s important to learn how to pick your battles and in case you decide to speak up, you might consider doing it mindfully so you won’t determine a counterattack. Communicate your need in a kind and clear way. Finally, ask yourself what you want to get from this conversation: an apology or a promise that the situation won’t repeat again? How big a deal is this person’s behaviour to you?
- Examine your expectations.
Are your expectations reasonable in this situation? Is this person able to do what you’re expecting, to commit to changing its behaviour? If not, try not to take it personally and adjust your expectations accordingly. Always show goodwill and assume that your loved one will too, especially if there is no clear evidence otherwise.
- Set boundaries if you need to.
If you realise that this person is always disappointing you and it doesn’t take responsibility for their behaviour, you need to find ways to protect yourself by setting healthy boundaries that can help you feel emotionally safe. Don’t tolerate when others are constantly breaking their promises, don’t accept disrespectful treatment from no one and let people know that if they mistreat you there will be consequences. Take care of yourself and restore your self-respect and self-worth.
Take-home message: When people disappoint you, accept and process your emotions and try to be your own best friend. Be kind to yourself and get to know your unmet needs. Speak up about your frustrations, in a kind way and try not to react, even if the person opens up an old wound. Learn to set up healthy boundaries if the person mistreats you and learn from every experience to be your own cheerleader and not to let other’s people problems get you down.