How to React When Someone Expresses You’ve Let Them Down

Disappointment occurs when we experience feelings of sadness or displeasure when one’s expectations or hopes are not fulfilled. It is safe to say this would be considered an unpleasant experience, which we’d like to avoid in the future. When someone expresses we’ve let them down, we know they are generally feeling disappointed because we weren’t able to meet, or fulfill their expectations. This can make us feel responsible for their reaction, which may or may not be true. Regardless, here are some healthy ways you can react when someone expresses you’ve let them down.

Check In With Yourself

Checking in with yourself first is key. Notice what physical sensations, emotions, and thoughts occur when someone expresses disappointment. All of these occurrences help inform us about whether our choices and decision making are helping or hurting us. They can also offer information about whether or not our priorities need to change.

Guilt is often a common emotion one experiences when we feel responsible for the outcome of a decision or its impact on a relationship. It is a powerful emotion that makes us think “I made a bad choice.” Guilt can often elicit feelings of Shame which makes us think “I am a bad person.” 

Examine Your Thoughts

It is important to examine your thought process by checking in whether or not it is true, and also whether or not these thoughts are useful or helpful moving forward. After you’ve identified the thought you are having about yourself, or the situation, I recommend asking yourself the following questions.

• Is it true?

• Can I absolutely know it’s true?

• How do I react-what happens (thoughts, emotions, physical sensations) – when I believe this thought?

• Who would I be without this thought?

To get the full impact of this process, I also recommend examining the opposite thought as well. 

Be Kind to Yourself

You cannot be all things to all people. It is really easy to feel responsible for someone else’s reactions and responses. However, the truth is we are all doing the best we can with the tools, time and help we have at this moment. Making time to focus on yourself, your interests, and your own self-care is vital to a healthy, balanced lifestyle. 

As difficult as it can be, sometimes saying “No” to someone or something else means saying “Yes” to yourself. We all need this from time to time so it is important to be kind to yourself. No one is perfect, and we all ever-changing and growing. 

Validate and Respect the Other Person’s Response

While you now know and understand you are not responsible for the other person’s experience, it is important to let them know you get why they feel the way they do. While you may not agree with the person’s response, or reasons for their response, it is still important to validate their emotional experience. By letting them know you understand that their emotions and experience are real, you let them know you value them as a person and that what they have to say is important. Hey, it’s got to be important if someone is taking the time, effort, and energy to verbalize their disappointment.

Remain Open

Continue to remain open to helpful, constructive feedback. While it can hurt, and be difficult to hear, our friends, family, employers, etc. are often coming from what they believe is a good place when they offer their responses. Take it in as helpful information, and not as a personal attack.

However, if the person’s communications are aggressive, disrespectful, untrue, or even violent, that is often a sign the conversation (and quite possibly that relationship) needs to end.

When It’s Time to Make a Change

If you notice a pattern to your responses when someone tells you you’ve disappointed them, dig deeper. It may mean you need to change something about yourself or the situation. Our responses are gifts filled with information fed from intuition, our gut. Listen closely. 

If you’re having trouble making these changes, or identifying what needs to change, it may be time to contact a professional for help. Counseling can be a great tool to help you unearth patterns your gut is telling you about what needs to change for your own growth. A good therapist or life coach can also help you learn and use effective coping and communication skills. 


Mallory Grimste, LCSW is a mental health therapist in Woodbridge, CT. She loves helping tweens, teens, and young adults struggling with Anxiety (... and other Big Emotions) find what works for them.

Originally a Jersey girl, she loves the beach, sunglasses, and iced coffee. Her favorite coping skills are deep breathing, listening to music, and watching Scandal.

Want to know more about Mallory, or how she can help? Check out her website at http://www.mallorygrimste.com.