Disappointed? Try Again.

Posted August 13, 2012 by Monica O'Connell in Life After Five

Let’s take a stroll down memory lane together. You’re about 16, you have a curfew and you’re late. Your mom or dad is waiting up for you and when you walk in the door, they start the “you missed your curfew” lecture. At some point, most people recall hearing their parents say, “I’m not mad, I’m disappointed.” Fast forward some 10 + years to a couple’s session I was having recently where one of the partner’s was late for an important dinner and the other partner was sharing how he felt about his partner being late and he said, “I’m not mad, I’m disappointed.”

Full disclosure: I hate that sentence. I hate when people say they felt disappointed. It makes my skin crawl. Here’s why: it’s a total cop out and it’s a stomach punch for the person hearing it. Most people can recall a time when they disappointed someone very easily. And while the behavior done that was “disappointing” may very well have been, it’s not a memory we need to be storing as life changing. Being late for curfew probably wasn’t when my parent’s felt most connected and loved in our relationship, but it wasn’t a life changer. People recall “disappointing” moments as life changers when really the behavior is not unlike other mistakes we make.

The person saying the “I feel disappointed” sentence is really not identifying their actual emotional experience. The sentence just suggests that the person was emotionally impacted. And let’s be honest, both of those above scenarios have the potential to leave people being mad. I’d be mad if I waited for hours for my 16-year old kiddo to come home. I could have been sleeping and as time ticked by, my anger would increase.

Instead of saying we are disappointed, what else can we do? Sharing our feelings carries weight in conversations, as it requires us to take a risk. I have to reveal a little bit more about myself if I tell you that your behavior impacted my emotional self. These two sentences are quite different. 1. I was disappointed you were late. 2. I felt scared you were late. I was worried about you.

  • When you feel the urge to say you’re disappointed, check in with yourself. How am I really feeling? Feelings examples include: I feel sad, mad and/or fear/scared/afraid.
  • When someone is late to dinner with me I tend to feel worried about their safety. When someone forgets that we had plans or can’t keep the plans we made, I may feel sad because I wanted to spend time with them. I could have used disappointed in both of those sentences. I think the person better understands my feedback when I choose an alternative.

Challenge this week: Pay attention. When was the last time you used the word disappointed to describe how you’re feeling? What would fit more accurately? Replace disappointed with a different feeling word. Let me know what happens for you.

About the Author

Monica O'Connell

Monica O’Connell is a Licensed Marriage and Family therapist in Minneapolis, Minnesota. In her practice, she spends her career cheering on “Career Girls” as they learn how to get the most out of life. Monica works with arguably some of the most successful, intelligent, inspiring women in the Twin Cities who tackle self-discovery, career success, and what’s getting in the way of their true desires. She shares her favorite moments as those “best described not by words but by the stomach aching, face soreness that comes from spending an entire day laughing with loved ones.”