Do People Disappoint You Sometimes?
All Leaders Express Disappointment (albeit incorrectly)
I work with the highly driven population. Executives, entrepreneurs, and leaders of all types. It’s not uncommon for people who are ambitious, and determined to live an extraordinary life, to find themselves feeling like the rest of the world does not always measure up. There’s always someone in their lives who isn’t pulling their weight, isn’t contributing, or isn’t behaving well. This happens at work, and also at home.
If you are like any of my coaching clients, you might have someone in your life that is somehow falling short too. Perhaps this person is overly aggressive, consistently short-sighted, doesn’t acknowledge your efforts, doesn’t work as hard as you’d like, or just doesn’t meet your expectations. No matter how hard you try to express your frustration and disappointment in a way that will yield results, it never seems to help. In fact, the harder you try, the worse it seems to get.
As a leader, you may be trying to get one of your employees to step up. As a husband or wife, you may be trying to get your partner to be more social. As a father or mother, you may want your teenager to make more of an effort to stay organized. The more you harp, the less progress you make, and the more frustration you experience!
You Are Trying to Get Water from a Wall
That’s the conversation I’ve been having with several of my clients lately. It sounds irrational, but that’s what many people do. They get very frustrated when specific people in their lives do not deliver what they are looking for. They become angry, upset, disappointed, and disillusioned when significant people do not behave in the ways that they want them to.
Do People Disappoint You Sometimes?: A Case Study
Case 1: My client (let’s call her Jill) is upset because her dad treats her differently than he treats her siblings. She wants him to invite her to events, reach out to her, and generally give her the same kind of attention that he gives to his other children. He seems to have other plans. When she does spend time with him, she feels that he is controlling and withholds his generosity from her. She wants his affection and consideration and feels terribly hurt when she doesn’t receive it. This has been going on for at least ½ of her life.
Case 2: My client (let’s call him Jason) is frustrated to the point of insanity because his wife has no sex drive. His wife has a problem with depression and alcohol and needs to be treated for that. She needs the time and space to really deal with her challenges. Jason understands this on an intellectual level but cannot deal with it emotionally. He wants her to show physical signs of affection and lives with constant disappointment when the hugs are not warm enough or the kisses are passive. The rejection and resentment are killing him – he often talks about being so upset that he wants to cry.
Case 3: My client (let’s call her Janet) is a senior executive for a major retail brand and is constantly agitated over the arrogance and stupidity of her boss – the president of the company. He tells her that she has poor communication skills yet he is the one who always misses meetings and blows off her concerns. She wants him to acknowledge her contribution to the company but he never does. She wants him to say that she is doing an amazing job and to admit that without her, the brand would be a mess – but he doesn’t give an inch. While she loves her job and is excellent at it, she is considering switching to another company.
All Instances of Disappointment Have the Same Function
First, it’s interesting how the three situations are completely different, yet the underlying issue is essentially the same. In all three cases, Jill, Jason, and Janet are hinging their happiness and sense of well-being on the actions (or lack of action) of someone else. Each of them would be much happier and more satisfied if that significant person in their life would just behave according to their wishes.
Unfortunately, wellness is hard to come by when it’s dependent on others. In fact, it’s a sure-fire formula for misery. When we need someone else to behave in a specific way in order for us to feel good, then we are handing over the reigns of our emotional state to that other person. By the same token, if someone else is responsible for your happiness, it’s a heavy burden to carry, and one that is destined for failure. It’s hard enough to manage one’s own emotional state. Imagine being tasked with managing someone else’s!
How to Cope with Disappointment
So here are some ideas to consider when you are faced with someone in your life who constantly shows up in ways that are less than stellar:
- It’s not about you. That other person is behaving the way they are behaving because of their own ‘stuff’. Don’t take it on. Don’t own it and don’t make it a reflection of your self-worth.
Each time Janet’s boss behaves in an aggressive manner towards her, the dialogue that runs through her brain is that she is just not good enough. It would be a game changer for Janet if she understood that her boss’s aggressiveness is not a reflection of her value at all but rather a reflection of his communication style. Janet would be a lot happier if she stopped hoping that her boss would be softer and kinder and she learned not to take his tone personally.
- You are responsible for your own happiness. As long as your happiness is dependent on the actions of others, your happiness is in someone else’s hands. Start owning that responsibility and release other people from the obligation to make you happy.
Jill’s dad, admittedly, behaves in ways that appear unfair. It has been that way for a long time and yet each time it happens, she becomes upset. She is handing over a great deal of power to her father each time she’s upset. What if Jill stopped expecting fairness from her dad? What if she didn’t NEED him to be fair in order for her to feel a sense of wholeness and peace? How much power would she reclaim?
- Your happiness is a function of your thinking (not a function of someone else’s behavior). The thoughts you think over and over again form your beliefs, which ultimately trigger the emotions you feel about any subject. Use the process of journaling to uncover the thoughts and beliefs you have about this particular relationship. Challenge the beliefs that cause you to feel mad, sad, frustrated or disappointed with the relationship.
For example, Jason might journal and uncover that one of his core beliefs is that if he were more attractive, his wife would have greater sex drive. That belief might lead him to feel very poorly about himself. In actual fact, his wife’s sex drive probably has nothing to do with him at all. This realization would go a long way to reducing the resentment and frustration he feels and enable him to help her cope with the struggle she is so clearly undergoing.
- Stop trying to get water from a wall. Stop looking to that person in your life to serve a personal emotional need. First – if they don’t have it to give, stop expecting it and feeling disappointed when it doesn’t come your way. Second – your emotional needs are yours to fill – find other ways to feel good about this particular relationship in your life.
For example, Janet’s boss was the one that gave her the senior position in the company – that certainly is a form of endorsement. Her interpretation of his ‘aggressive’ behavior as a put-down may not at all be consistent with his intentions or his beliefs about her.
- What you Focus on Grows. When you focus on what isn’t working in a relationship, the relationship breaks down further. However, when you focus on what is good and right about a relationship and acknowledge those elements, the relationship improves.
In each of these cases, the relationships described are important to the individuals. If none of them have the intention of departing their respective relationships, then they would each benefit from taking some time to focus on what is healthy and productive about the relationship. Alternatively, if the dysfunction in the relationship is that unbearable, then I would encourage them to explore why they remain in the relationship. What beliefs keep them in the relationship?
The bottom line is that we are often compelled to hold other people responsible for our mood and emotional state. It’s easier to use someone else as the reason for our unhappiness than it is to take full responsibility for our thinking.
There is great power that comes from learning to release others from their need to behave in ways that are designed to please us. Becoming independent from this need allows us to live with far greater peace, ease, exhilaration, and joy.