You disappoint me
Do you remember being afraid of disappointing your parents when you were a child? It felt worse than having them angry at you. Those dreaded words, “I’m not upset with you, I’m disappointed,” stung worse than any punishment. Somehow we believed and internalized the most deplorable thing in the world we could do was to disappoint someone. We worked hard at keeping our rooms clean, doing well in school, being the best little dancer in our ballet class and sucking it up when life didn’t go our way. We stuffed our feelings, minimized our own pain, learned not to cause a ‘scene’ and did whatever needed to be done to avoid being a disappointment. And for some of us, we carried that into other relationships. We were afraid of disappointing our teachers, bosses, partners, neighbours, doctors - just about anyone with an opinion. I can recall feeling bad about not flossing my teeth enough NOT because I was concerned about gum disease but because my dentist and hygienist looked so disappointed in me! And it wasn't just people we could disappint. For some of us we also had the fear of disappointing God. I can’t think of a greater burden to put on a child than telling them their behaviour or choices disappoint the power behind the entire universe. But that is exactly what a friend of mine heard a school teacher tell one of her kids, “God is disappointed in you.” Try to come back from that as a seven year old. You may have decided you only had two choices: please everyone or be a disappointment. You either doubled down on pleasing people or you passed on even trying. You may have stopped caring what people thought. Your fear of disappointing them was managed by pushing them away and protecting yourself by ‘not caring’ what they thought. Unfortunately neither option guaranteed you wouldn't disappoint someone. Constructing a life around not disappointing people is a trap. We can become a reflection of who we think other people want us to be rather than who we really are. We can become resentful of the people in our lives when they don’t recognize our efforts to please them. Disappointing someone is simply failing to live up to their expectations. You get to choose whether you want to live up to them in the first place. You decide whose opinion matters enough to you that you want to discuss any disappointment that you experience so you can have a stronger, more realistic, healthy relationship. And you also get to decide whose expectations and subsequent disappointment you don’t give a damn about. What no one told us when we were kids was that it is OK to disappoint people. It gives them an opportunity to revisit their expectations of us. It allows us to have a conversation about what is reasonable. It gives us a chance to think about our behaviour from another perspective. It gives us the chance to own our experience when we say "I am disappointed" rather than "You disappointed me." And here’s the truth: you will be disappointed in life. I will disappoint you. (Some days I disappoint me.) We are all disappointing each other all the time. It’s a fact. We can’t be in a relationship that doesn’t disappoint us. When you have been let down by someone, instead of making it about their failure step back and explore why you expected them to behave differently. Let your feelings of disappointment be a guide to having healthier expectations.