What’s the D-Word? And How Does it Affect You?

Our world is complicated and confusing.

We all know what the F-word is (slips out occasionally, some of us more than others) and we all know what the C-word (contender for one of the most offensive words) is but what most people don’t talk about is what the D-word is. The D-word haunts people. The D-word scares people, breaks them down, paralyzes them. The D-word causes people to stop chasing their dreams, to accept mediocrity, and to fear change. The D-word casts a shadow on who we are and who we want to become. The D-word creeps in our heart and sets off a ripple effect on the choices we make and the direction we take our life. The D-word causes us to invite negativity in our lives and dance around all the positive things because we fear it won’t last or we aren’t worthy to receive what is good. The D-word is invasive, persuasive, and destructive.

The D-word is Disappointment.

It’s crazy what people will do to avoid the D-word. They will stay playing a sport that is no longer fun. They will pick a college because others expect them to. They will stay in a relationship that no longer is loving and supportive. They will stay in a job they dread. They will choose a profession because they are afraid to speak up.  They will accept unhealthy behaviors from other people.  They will let go of their dreams, hopes or ambitions.  They will settle. They will become angry and resentful. They will lose themselves.

I am a people-pleaser-in-recovery. Can I get an Amen for the process it took to shed that layer and let go of the need to be liked and to be perfect?  I have spent a large portion of my life being afraid of letting people down and I can tell you, it’s exhausting.   As a kid I didn’t want to disappoint my parents.  As a student I didn’t want to disappoint my teachers.  As a friend, I didn’t want to let my peeps down. As a wife, I didn’t want to disappoint my husband.  As an adult I had a fear of disappointing myself so I over compensated and tried to control every little detail in hopes of avoiding the negative feelings that come with experiencing disappointment.  And you know what, I failed. Epically.

The good news: I care about people and the fear of disappointment drove me to be successful and hard working.  The bad news: It is impossible to make everyone happy, so failure was inevitable, regardless of my efforts. I let people down. I failed at relationships. I lost friends.  I kissed some boys who didn’t deserve my love or attention. I let go of some of my dreams because I decided they would never happen so why even try. I made a shit-ton of mistakes and have chapters in my story that make me wince.  But I survived.

Somehow those disappointments became blessings. The friends I lost were toxic.  The boys were douche bags (Disclaimer: not all but some) and led me to the man I was supposed to marry.  The failures were lessons and new opportunities arose.  And the people who truly loved me, forgave me for letting them down. I disappointed them but that didn’t change my worth or my value to them. They loved me regardless.

See if you can follow me on this: what makes this 14-letter word so powerful is the power we chose to give it. It is 100% our choice. That’s it. Mic drop.

My parents didn’t put pressure on me to be perfect. I put pressure on me to be perfect. My friends didn’t tell me not to disappoint them. I told myself not to disappoint them.  My teachers didn’t believe that a failed test meant I was a failed student.  I told myself that if I failed a test my teachers and my family wouldn’t think I was smart.  My husband didn’t expect me to be the perfect wife. I told myself that if I wasn’t, he wouldn’t love me (so far from the truth!). I didn’t want to disappoint others because I avoided feeling such an uncomfortable emotion. Let’ face it, disappointment sucks…. and it was my fear of it that drove me to believe my worth was tied to my accomplishments or my achievements.  I was afraid of disappointing others but more importantly, I was afraid to disappoint myself. 

And it wasn’t until I learned that disappointment is a part of life and it wasn’t my responsibility to meet others needs or make them happy that I finally found peace.  My flaws (so so many!!) and my failures (countless) were painful but they are also the internal quilt that made me who I am today. Truth be told, I’m starting to like that tattered, mismatched, imperfect quilt because it’s my story and I own every part of it.

If there is one predictable thing in life it is that we will be disappointed.  Disappointment happens to everyone.  Life tests us all the time.  We can choose to stay in a place of disappointment, or we can choose to leave it in the rear-view mirror, move on and let it go. 

Ever notice how your house feels somehow cleaner after you take out the garbage? Do the same with the stuff inside that no longer serves you.  Make a dump run and get rid of all that negative trash (things you tell you self that are false or untrue) you have been carrying around.  You might surprise yourself how much better you feel once it’s unloaded.

How do we do this? Pause and take a moment to wallow, experience the wave of the emotion and let it sink in.  Put things in perspective.  Be open to new ideas.  Own our mistakes and don’t be afraid to apologize.  Reflect on what direction to go next.  Accept that there is more than one way to achieve our goals.  Don’t let others expectations cloud your own vision for yourself.  See the opportunity for growth and change.  Understand the outcome is not a setback, just an adjustment.  Open your heart to what you really care about and leave the rest behind.

Disappointment is not a bad feeling- it is a feeling that means things didn’t go the way we planned, and we need to adjust.  It also means I am not responsible for how anyone else feels.  Part of my recovery as a people-pleaser (I’ll call it my Step 6) was saying, “I’m sorry if you don’t like me, but that’s your problem not mine”.  Ahhhhhh. Exhale.

Step 7 will be telling myself “Today I will live with acceptance rather than expectation”. What could be more freeing, more loving and more powerful?  I’m putting Andra Day’s song “Rise Up” on full blast and tackling the day.   Wanna join my recovery and let go of the D-word? Let’s do this together.

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