How to disappoint yourself

Disappointment doesn’t just happen – we plan for it!

Reading time 9 mins

When I arranged the event in November of the previous year the idea of canoeing around the islands in Poole Harbour – one of the largest natural harbours in the world – seemed like a wonderful idea.

Images came to mind of a flotilla of canoes, lashed together in twos for safety, with about 20 happy NLPers paddling over a calm blue sea in warm June sunshine – well, that’s what you expect of June, here in the UK, especially when viewed from a gloomy mid-November afternoon..

This was a 2-module course and on the previous module, in early May, we had spent a morning exploring and modelling rock-climbing on the Dorset coast in brilliant sunshine which further reinforced my expectation of a great sailing session on a balmy June morning.

The big day wasn’t looking promising

When the day finally arrived the weather looked somewhat dubious with a cool breeze and heavy grey clouds. By the time we set off for the short drive to the launching beach it had begun to rai. We unloaded and launched the canoes in a steady drizzle and the sea was looking grey and choppy. This did not match my fantasy image of the day.

As it turned out we had a great time. It was, after all, halfway through a Practitioner Certification Training and one of the main topics for this module was Reframing – how to change the significance which we attach to an event!

So we applied our NLP skills and attitude, reframed creatively, and had a wonderful time in a Force 4 to 5 wind and continuous rain – even if it was not precisely what we had all expected.

Fantasy & reality

Right from the beginning of the day I had been aware of the many differences between my expectation and the reality – and of the developing process of “disappointment”. So I was able to interrupt the Disappointment Process early on and deal with the mismatch.

The old adage “men plan – God carries out” came to mind and it is a recurrent theme in most of our lives.

Some years ago, during my hippie phase, I made what was then an almost obligatory overland trip to India in search of gurus and enlightenment. And found that most of the holy people I came across were boosting their sense of their own piety through suffering and abstinence or enjoying the adulation and wealth bestowed by naive locals and foreigners, alike. And the mismatch between expectation and reality resulted in ‘disappointment’.

I had carefully planned the journey from England to Greece as I was cycling this stretch. Then I left the bicycle in storage and began the second stage. I had made almost no preparation for this part of the trip so I moved from one day or one town to the next as I travelled eastwards – and the trip was a delight, with lots of adventures and surprises.

Now what was expected

I was looking forward to seeing the Taj Mahal. I had read a little about it, seen some wonderful photographs and met lots of people en route who raved about its beauty and majesty. In reality it looked smaller, shabbier and less imposing than I expected. Disappointment again.

When I reached Madras I was broke and had to spend a month there waiting for a friend to send me money for the return journey to England. Madras is a wonderful place surrounded by palm groves filled with parrots and monkeys, interesting villages, and ancient temples carved out of the living rock and it is on the spectacularly beautiful Indian Ocean coast. I had never even heard of Madras before so instead of disappointment I had a month of discoveries and surprises.

When the money arrived I began the journey which I knew would take me back through India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Turkey and Europe. I was determined that, this time, I would make the trip from Kabul to see the famous giant carvings of the Buddha’s of Bamiyan. (Yes, the same Buddhas that were subsequently blown up by the Taliban! And it’s sad to think that some 5000 of the wonderful, dignified, and hospitable Afghani men and women and chidren had been killed in just the last few months.)

Anyway, this was back in the Seventies and since my eastward trip Afghanistan had bowed to international pressure and closed its borders to Irish nationals because of suspicions that the IRA was receiving weapons from Afghani arms manufacturers. So there was no way I could re-enter the country and get to see the Buddha’s. Another disappointment!

(This setback resulted in a leisurely, wonderful, and quite unplanned trip through southern Pakistan and southern and central Iran.)

How to be disappointed

If we use NLP to ‘model’ or unpack the ingredients of, disappointment we can see a number of key pieces in the Disappointment Process.

  1. First you need a detailed image of how things will be, or should be, or ought to be.
  2. Then you have to spend some time developing this image, making it more idealistic and practically living in it.
  3. Finally you compare the reality with your fantasy and become upset because they do not match!

Of course, this only produces a somewhat mild state of disappointment. To experience REAL disappointment  – the kind that leads to either depression or anger – you have to then spend some time berating the fact that the two images do not match.

It’s also a good idea to find a scapegoat for the mismatch so that you can then blame other people, or fate, or God – in fact anyone or anything except yourself!

We all do it!

Most of us are experts at the mild stage Disappointment Process. We begin planning our summer holidays in the depths of winter. We look at brochures of idyllic scenarios, carefully retouched, and always showing the ideal weather for that location. Then we spend 4, 5, 6 months inhabiting this fantasy, experiencing in advance all the wonderful experiences we have planned – living in brochure-land.

Then we spoil it all by actually going on holiday.

And we then discover that the rooms are smaller, that the expected sea view from the balcony overlooks a building site, that the food is “foreign”, that the walls of the apartment are so thin we can follow our neighbours’  conversations, and that the weather does not remain uniformly idealistic for our entire stay.

Perhaps the ideal would be to book the holiday and spend four or five months enjoying the holiday in fantasy. And then, at the last minute cancel it! Avoids all the disappointment.

Advanced skills

To get really good at the Disappointment Process we have to be efficient and

  1. Invent an ideal scenario – as unlike the real world as possible
  2. Live in this fantasy i.e. ‘associate with it’ so it becomes almost real
  3. Compare the imperfect reality with our perfect fantasy and rant and rave about the imperfections.

Disappointing relationships

Many of us run a predictable pattern here. You meet somebody, you fall in love with them, and then you begin creating fantasy images of the future. You create your personal blueprint for how things will be in 1 year, 5 years or even 10 years time – and this blueprint is your plan for how both they and the relationship between you ‘will be’.

Then months or years down the line you look at the reality, find it bears little or no resemblance to your blueprint, and blame them for not being the person you expected them to be!

And you announce accusatorily “you’ve changed!” as if this was a major sin. Of course, in your version of reality, it is – because they have not adhered to your plans. They have ‘made you’ disappointed so you rant and rave: “Is there no justice in life? Why can’t I get a break! Is it too much to ask that just once in a while things would work out the way I want them to? Etc. etc.”

Disappointing families

Let’s say you settle with someone and decide to have children. You talk about how it will be and create delightful Happy Family pictures. And guess what? The children turn out to be noisy, they don’t smile all the time like in the TV adverts, maybe they’re not even as good-looking, they misbehave, and sometimes they even get ill or grouchy. Worse, they don’t stay small and cuddly but grow up to be teenagers with views and values of their own – often quite different from the views and values you wanted them to have. Once again life differs from your blueprint. Once again you’ve run the Disappointment Process.

“They made me disappointed”

There is a widespread belief, although it is rarely stated or even recognised consciously, that the world and the people in it should match our expectations. In particular, people should behave according to our expectations of them. And if they don’t behave like that it’s because they’re being bloody minded, or are not taking our feelings into account, or are trying to irritate us, etc

This attitude, which typically “runs in the background,” leads to endless disappointments, lots of frustration, and occasionally outbursts of anger towards those who simply refuse to fit with our plans for them.

Disappointment & violence at home

Some people, when they realise that they cannot impose their blueprints on the world at large, begin to impose it on those closest to them – their partner or even their children. And should these close relatives not give in to their demands and expectations this disappointed can lead to frustration and to violence.

If they treated friends or colleagues with verbal or physical violence they might retaliate or have recourse to the law. So they impose it on those who cannot physically or verbally hit back or cannot escape.

Some people run a subtle form of this pattern where they rarely need to resort to the physical or mental abuse – they just explode every year or two, demolish someone’s character, or break a few things or knock someone about a bit. Then the non-verbal threat of a further explosion keeps people in order for a good while afterwards.

3 steps to mitigating disappointment

(1) Acknowledge that disappointment is a normal part of living. It is great to look forward to things. It’s great to have fantasies. Often, as with annual holidays, looking forward to things can be a very important part of the process and can enable us to have “something to look forward to it” during the dark, dreary days of winter (at least in the northern hemisphere.)

(2) Recognise that reality is not going to be exactly like your fantasy or expectation or blueprint and may not even approximate it – and continuously update your fantasy with feedback from the real-world.

(3) Acknowledge the cause of your disappointment is you (or, to be precise, the manner in which you use your brain) and that there is no point in blaming others for not fulfilling your fantasy – unless they, as consenting adults, have agreed to devote their lives to fulfilling your blueprint for them.

Let’s apply this in relationships:

To expect that other people will behave according to our blueprint for them is unfair on them. Yet many of us don’t seem to appreciate this. After all, if he/she really loves me they will be exactly like I think they should be…..!

It may help if you share with each other your dreams for the future – for yourself and for the relationship. Because this enables both parties to adapt their fantasy based on what the other person has in mind.

Making yourself disappointed about your holiday or your trip to the concert is one thing: making yourself disappointed about the behaviour of other people in your life is quite a different matter – and will have a more undermining effect on the quality of your life and relationships.

If you really want another living being to full your fantasy buy yourself a dog. Preferably when it’s very young and malleable. And train it in exactly how you wish it to behave – dogs have been bred to go along with such treatment. Human means are less amenable – and never so in the long term!

Final tips

The handiest way of freeing yourself from the Disappointment Pattern is to become very aware of doing it – while you’re doing it. And you’ll find that in this way, gradually, the times when you become disappointed become fewer and the duration of the disappointed much shorter and the intensity of the disappointment much less.

There is no point in trying to “not” have great expectations – nor would this be appropriate. In any case it’s not the fantasy that’s the problem – it’s not updating it and not recognising that others have their fantasies or blueprints, too. And that these are likely to be different from yours.

Keep your dreams, your optimism, your hopes, your fantasies. It’s great to live in fantasy land, and it’s lovely to fantasise. It only becomes dysfunctional if we think reality will definitely, or worse, should definitely match our fantasy…


Bookmark and Share

The Pegasus NLP Newsletter

Most articles on this site were first published in the Pegasus NLP Newsletter.

This has been published regularly since February 2000 – and you can subscribe to the newsletter here

And there will be no spam – I promise.  You have trusted me with your email address I will use it for the Newsletter and for nothing else – and it will never be shared with anyone else. Ever.  (Reg Connolly, founder of Pegasus NLP.)

Scroll to Top