When Disappointing People is Part of your Job

If you’re in any helping profession, a supervisor in any field, or a parent… you’re bound to disappoint someone.

I’m going to be honest: I really don’t like disappointing people.

When I worry that I’m not doing a “good job” caring for the well-being of others, my heart races faster, my sleep becomes disrupted with turning and tossing, and I have more tension in my body. My body feels stressed as it copes with the fear of hurting others and I have a tendency to socially shut down because I think to myself, “maybe if I don’t interact as much with people, I won’t have to disappoint anyone else, and they won’t have to disappoint me.”

My emotional tendency to isolate is exactly the opposite of what I know I need, but my emotions (and coinciding body sensations) have such strong forces that can easily win any battle over cognitive reasoning.

I challenge myself not to shut down when someone either directly or indirectly tells me that I’ve disappointed them. I challenge myself to be as physically present as possible by reminding myself to keep eye contact and deepen my breathing to stay grounded in the interaction.  I challenge myself to empathize with the person’s feelings by connecting to similar experiences of my own, remembering when I’ve felt disappointed for the most “irrational” reasons and realizing that even in those moments I felt like I had a right to tell the person that he/she disappointed me.

I challenge myself to confront the situation even more by asking the person and myself, “what could I have done better?” Or maybe there’s a boundary I have to set and say “I’m hearing that I’m letting you down, but this is not something I’m able to do for you.” The nature of the situation changes depending on my professional role, but what stays the same is that I always try to make myself ready and available to process any feelings.

It’s not easy to disappoint people we care about or people who are already in a very fragile place. But it’s inevitable. Being the “disappointer” can bring up feelings of guilt, fear and anger. Maybe we’re guilty we made someone feel bad, maybe we’re scared they’ll reject us back in some way, maybe we’re angry at ourselves for not pleasing everyone.. or angry at the other person for not being satisfied enough with all that we are already doing.

Any of these feelings can make us want to take ourselves away from others and have some space to process our emotions. Taking the time to listen to our bodies is important in these situations, whether it’s depressed with heaviness, elevated in anxiety, or somewhere in between. Meet yourself where your energy level is and introduce mind/body connection to a reasonable degree. For instance, engage in rhythmic breathing or guided meditation to bring life and energy into depression, or blast loud aggressive music and “dance it out” to alleviate anxiety and release tension.

When you’re ready, seek connection again with others. Confide in someone you trust to accept all parts of you when you’re having a hard time accepting yourself. Engage in playful interactions with someone close to you or listen to your favorite comedian who makes you laugh uncontrollably. Cook/bake something that has a positive nostalgic smell and then share your treats with someone. Find a way to reach out and allow yourself to receive love and support!

We deserve happiness even when we disappoint others. Isn’t it enough to feel bad about the situation itself? We don’t need to further punish ourselves by denying ourselves the things that will help us recover from a stressful situation.

We are human and we are bound to disappoint people.

Let’s forgive ourselves and move towards healing!

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