Think of the last time anyone said to you, “I’m disappointed in you”. How did that make you feel?
Being disappointed is part of life. I guess it is one of the greatest challenges in life. Realizing that life is not happening the way you want and managing to push through despite it.
Although being disappointed is part of life, being disappointed in others should not be. When I work with my life coaching clients, we deal with a lot of disappointment. Sadly, what hurts them most is not self-disappointment – that things didn’t happen the way they “should have” – but being a disappointment to someone close.
When I think of all the times I have heard this, I can see two groups of people that express disappointment in my clients: teachers and parents, in this order. I dare say that they cause a lot of damage.
Disappointment is “sadness or displeasure caused by the non-fulfilment of one’s hopes or expectations”. Therefore, saying to someone, “I’m disappointed in you”, is telling that person he or she is not fulfilling your hopes and expectations.
Who are you to cause someone a bad feeling for not fulfilling your expectations?
Independent thinking and external standards
As a student, I heard this expression myself, and so did my children and children I work with. We all protest strongly when we hear it. For kids (and I agree with them), the adults who are disappointed in them are always in a position of authority, and the messages they send contradict.
“We want you to develop independent thinking, to show critical thinking and to stand up to your values, and oh, by the way, we set the standards and if you do not live up to them, we will punish you, shame you, use our love and attention to put pressure on you, make you feel guilty and oh, by the way, we will do all this and tell you that it is for your own sake”.
Independent thinking and external standards don’t go hand in hand. If you want to develop children’s independent thinking, you live up to your own standards and hope you’re such a great role model that your children/students will adopt them, too. If they don’t, then be disappointed in your own failure to inspire them with your example.
Disappointment as a form of abuse
For many people, disappointment is a weapon to put pressure on others to do what they expect of them. In some cases, it can be a form of abuse.
The person who expresses disappointment is always a person in a position that the child/student depends on highly. This is why it is considered abuse. As a parent or a teacher, you have power. If you use it badly, you are in fact, abusing your power.
As I’ve written above, disappointment is part of life. We face disappointment as babies as soon as we come into the world. When we don’t find a way to manage their own disappointment, we start “throwing” it on the people around us. If we are in a position of power, we project on others our inability to manage our own disappointment.
So, if you think about it, anyone who says to someone else, “I’m disappointed in you”, is in fact too weak to manage his or her own feelings.
It takes me a while to work this out with some of my clients. They have a distorted sense of identity, because someone who was supposed to care for them, guide them, inspire them and support them on their journey through life, told them that they didn’t live up to his or her standards.
The scar from this statement lasts for a long time and does not fade. It often stays vivid in the person’s memory for years, if not forever. Painful memories are stored in the amygdala, and the amygdala never forgets. This is the reason people remember painful things that happened decades ago and relive them every time an association brings them us again.
Disrespect and trust
It is important to understand that the pain is big because the person who says it is very important. If someone you don’t know passed you by on the street and said, “I’m disappointed in you”, you would shrug your shoulders and continue doing what you did before. However, if someone you care about, or worse, someone you really want to please, said that to you, it would hurt big time.
What makes this statement abusive is that by saying it to someone who is trying to please them, they betray some of their trust. This trust will be hard to rebuild later. When you say, “I’m disappointed in you”, you are saying to the other person, “you have failed in your attempt to please me“. If you say that to someone, don’t be surprised if this will bring you disrespect.
If you are modeling “good” behavior, you earn respect. But if you put pressure on people to fulfil your expectations, you earn disrespect. It’s as simple as that!
I have heard many teachers say to children they are disrespectful. If you look at the relationship they have with their students, you know they have earned this disrespect. 100% of the time, these teachers have used their power to put pressure on kids to do things they were not comfortable doing and used pain to “motivate” them. Pain and motivation cannot go together. Motivation is charging emotional batteries and pain discharges them.
If we want to raise happy, healthy, friendly and successful children, we, parents and teachers, have an important role to play. We must be good models and support the kids’ journey. It is our job to teach them to find their own GPS and navigate through life with it.
If we tell them that their journey must use our GPS and they disappoint us if they don’t use it, although it’s old and outdated, we can no longer be their most important socializing agents, and we lose their trust and respect. Trust and respect are the real power we have for influencing children’s life. Without it, our children/students will see us as just another person passing them by on the street, or worse.
Trust is the cure to disappointment
To change this cycle, use the word “trust” and tell your children/students you trust them to develop their own standards. Encourage them to follow their GPS, and not yours.
For every time you have said, “I’m disappointed in you”, or worse, “You disappoint me”, say 10 times, “I trust you to do well”, “I trust you to do your best”, “I trust you to do the right thing”, without being tempted to tell them what the right thing is.
It is your job to build that trust, not the other way. They don’t need to prove to you that they are trustworthy. You do!
If you express disappointment, you are weak and, therefore, not trustworthy. It means you are not managing your own feelings and you are abusing your power to boost your small ego. Disrespect will soon follow.
Tell your children/students to trust their own thoughts, trust their own gut feelings, trust their own judgment and trust their own abilities. They will surely live up to your expectations.
If you are disappointed that your child/student does not fulfill your expectations, you are in fact disappointed in yourself for not being able to develop that trust and respect and be an inspiration. So next time, instead of telling your children and students you are disappointed in them, talk to the mirror.