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When Family and Friends Disappoint You

Andromeda Peters, LICSW

How Can Therapy Help Us Navigate Disappointment in Our Close Relationships?

Familial challenges are one of the leading reasons for seeking therapy. We are taught from an early age via societal norms and media that typically, our families and friends represent a safe space that should be reliable, nurturing, and grow with us as we develop into our adulthood, joining us during all of life’s phases. But what happens when our experiences do not match up with these narratives? We often find ourselves in cycles of disappointment, and we may even find ourselves comparing our experiences to those of others. Ongoing experiences of having unmet needs can shape how we view our relationships and create an impact on our self-worth.

Benefits of Therapy for Improving Our Relationships

Individual therapy, couples therapy, and family counseling can provide a healthy platform for giving us more insight into our emotions after being let down by friends and family. One of the biggest takeaways from therapy, as it relates to feelings of disappointment, is that it is okay to give yourself the time to experience an emotion and normalize it. It is natural to yearn for healthy dynamics in our friends and family, and disappointment does not always mean that our dynamics are unhealthy. It is therefore important to work with your therapist on identifying present emotions to be able to then process them and gain a full perspective on your experience and how you then have healthy insight into your relationships.

What Comes Next?

Next, it is important we look at our expectations and reality. Psychologist Justin Arocho, Ph.D., states that upon assessing our expectations, it is recommended that we ask ourselves if our expectations align with reality. He offers this example: expecting a reply within five minutes of sending a text message may not be a reasonable expectation, which can lead to a frequent feeling of disappointment. Therefore, it is important to evaluate our expectations to decide if they are realistic or need tweaking. 

Another important factor to keep in mind is that disappointment, although uncomfortable, is a normal emotion to experience. With that said, one of the best ways to handle disappointment from loved ones is to learn how to cope with the disappointment once you have named the emotion. You can do this by leaning in on healthy outlets for self-expression such as journaling, physical movement, talking to someone in your support system, speaking with a therapist, deep breathing, and other forms of mindfulness, as well as soothing internal dialogue. 

Once you have found some relief, you can decide on taking action such as voicing your concerns in a healthy way or setting boundaries. Additionally, you may decide it’s best not to take any action, which is also okay. What’s more, we can communicate healthily to our loved ones by using “I” statements, stating how an experience made you feel, and what you are asking for in the future.

Some relationships with our family and friends can be meaningful to us which is why our emotional responses may feel more intense in these dynamics. Even with taking action, disappointment may still occur, and it does not mean that you have done anything wrong. It is important that we hold space for different emotions, even the unpleasant ones, and realize it is a part of life. However, being intentional about naming the disappointment, reviewing your expectations versus reality, coping in healthy ways, and deciding your next course of action, may help experiences like these feel less exacerbating. In every relationship with our loved ones, no matter what their roles are to us, they are also imperfect with their own flaws, challenges, and differences. Regardless of how difficult it is to sit with any painful emotion, it is beneficial to remember that the feeling will pass.

If you would like to talk to a therapist about navigating disappointment and how to cope with it, please reach out to Symmetry Counseling for therapy in Chicago, Phoenix, or Washington DC. We also offer online therapy through teletherapy. Get in touch today for support. 


Arocho, J. (2021). A Psychologist’s Advice on How to Deal with Disappointment. Manhattan Center for Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.

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