For most of my life, I have bent over backwards to avoid disappointing anyone.
This is classic behavior for the dedicated people pleaser. We hate saying no (even when we force ourselves to say it anyway). We want to make people happy, avoid conflict, and live up to any and all expectations placed on us, even if said expectations are completely insane. As a result, many of us turn into perfectionists, and we drive ourselves up the wall with anxiety trying to live up to an impossible ideal.
So now I practice disappointment. I give myself permission to disappoint someone else if I believe it is the right thing for me to do. After years of putting everyone in front of myself, I practice putting myself first. I ask myself what I feel comfortable with. I ask myself what I feel like doing. I ask myself how I want to be treated. And I try to make my decisions accordingly. Not in the spirit of being unkind or selfish, but in the spirit of finally giving myself control over my own life.
Sometimes practicing is difficult. I had someone make a request of me a month or so ago. It was something to which I had already responded no earlier in the year, and something which, if I agreed to it, would undoubtedly make me very unhappy. I said no again, and the person wrote back to tell me how disappointed they were, and how everything was going to be much more difficult for them now. I, of course, felt like melting into a puddle and wallowing in my failure as a human being.
Instead I made it into an exercise. I thought of all the other nice things I had done for this person over the last year. I reminded myself that I also have a right to be happy. I didn’t ignore, as I usually do, the fact that this person has a habit of asking me for things while not being particularly nice the rest of the time. I realized that disappointment isn’t a big deal in the scheme of things–I am often disappointed myself, and yet somehow I carry on, so the odds were good that this person would be just fine. And somewhere near the end of my thought process, I knew that just because a decision of mine had caused disappointment didn’t mean it was the wrong one.
So now I sometimes disappoint people. I don’t always give the “right” answer. I don’t always hide my own feelings. I still endeavor to be tactful and kind, but I’m able to stand firm when I need to. And even when I fail, I’m much more likely to recognize what’s going on. For those of you who have always been able to do this, it might not sound like much, but for me it’s like living in an entirely different world.
A world in which I’m finally allowed to be me.