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  • Writer's pictureAnnelisa MacBean

Learning from Disappointment

In any close relationship, we inevitably disappoint the other person; let them down in some way, frustrate, thwart or fail them.

It can be incredibly activating to be the one who disappoints, especially if the primary way that we received love and attention in early relationships was to set aside our own needs and prioritize tending to the needs of others.

In a field where narcissistic or borderline structures organize relational dynamics, we aren't seen as a subject in our own right, but as an object in the perceptual field of the other. Under these conditions, our sense of worth is derived by how well we are able to respond to and regulate the emotional needs of that other.

At a young age, this is a tenuous situation in which to be placed. No child is ever able to perform the necessary level or degree of care that would assuage the suffering of a parent or caretaker. Children cannot parent their adults.

Nevertheless, driven by our instincts for survival, many who are raised in such circumstances will do just about anything not to disappoint, for to do so opens the doorway to seemingly unbearable feelings, images, and impulses.

This drive to make sure the other is "OK" shows up in our adult lives, in relationship to spouses, children, friends, and in professional relationships as well. We may frame it for ourselves as caring or concern or even love for others, but the roots of codependence go deep here, sucking fear up from the ground of our early conditioning. Our sense of worth and identity becomes conflated with our attempts to avoid furthering any perception of ourselves as disappointing, or disappointments.

The invitation, as always, is to slow way down and bring curiosity, awareness, and kindness to our experience in these moments as we begin to generate new circuitry.

What is it like for you to disappoint someone? To let them down? To fail at living up to their expectations, no matter how hard you try?

What are the core beliefs that arise during these times, the feelings that you will do just about anything to get out of, the habitual behaviors you engage to avoid a direct confrontation with your own embodied vulnerability?

What do you imagine the consequences will be if you are not able to “make them happy,” or remove their anxiety, emptiness, self-hatred, and the pain of their unlived life?

Will you be abandoned if you disappoint them? Or will you be the target of rage and attack? Will you be shamed? Unsafe? Should you just go ahead and try to make them feel better at all costs, even if detrimental to your own integrity?

To what degree have you come to organize your life around the unconscious belief that your role is to heal, fix, and cure the other when they are upset?

And for those of us who identify with being healers, therapists, or counselors of any kind, what does it mean about us if we are not healing, but disappointing?

It’s some very rich territory that we can investigate … a deep well of sacred data we can delve into here. It is an act of mercy and compassion, for both ourselves and others, to take some time, not just to explore this, but to identify and live into the alternatives!

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