If only we could all live by the opening lines of the Beatles’ “Don’t Let Me Down”, and that would be enough for people to not let us down, that would be great..
Alas, life does not work that way. We have all been the unfortunate recipients of unfulfilled promises. We have also been guilty of making promises to others that we were ultimately unable to fulfill. People are letting each other down all the time.
We do not necessarily have to excuse this type of behavior, because it is not the greatest quality to have, but we must keep in mind that we are only human, after all. To quote Alexander Pope on his “Essay on Criticism”: “To err is human…”
This article will:
- Help you understand why more people get disappointed with others
- Give you tips on what you can do to deal with disappointment in such a way that it will not poison you emotionally and mentally.
- How your high expectations could make you vulnerable for being let down
- Tips on how to deal with people letting you down
- Closing Remarks
This article is part of a much bigger guide on learning how to become happy that I’m sure is the biggest freely available guide on the internet right now. This article contains some great tips, but you’ll find a lot more actionable tips in the section Happiness Tips!
How your high expectations could make you vulnerable for being let down
Some people hold high standards of themselves and expect other people to behave according to their ideal. The problem is, that ‘ideal’ is more often than not just a version of the person you made up in your head.
Example of feeling let down
I have personally experienced a lot of disappointments in my life, made even worse by the fact that I could have avoided it altogether.
I served as council secretary during my senior year in university. I had to balance attending meetings, writing letters, and studying for licensure exams. I did have assistance, but I was often anxious because I expected them to start doing the assigned tasks as soon as I gave it to them. I stressed myself out because they did not have the same sense of urgency I did.
I did not show my disappointment, but I ended up doing a lot of the work myself, which made them feel alienated and useless. If only I knew then how to prioritize tasks and delegate them accordingly.
I now consider it as a learning experience, because it has helped me become more assertive in setting boundaries and communicating my feelings.
It has also helped me distinguish “ideal” from “real”, which significantly improved the way I expect others to behave. I did not become more pessimistic, I just became less rigid. Most of all, it did wonders to my mood and the way I interacted with other people.
The concept of incongruence and being let down
In the humanistic school of thought in psychology, there is a concept called “incongruence.” Developed by Carl Rogers, it basically talks about the discrepancy between the ideal self and the real self. The ideal self is how we wish and expect ourselves to be, and the real self is how we really are. The higher the dissonance, the more we become disappointed in ourselves.
This concept can also be used to understand why high expectations lead to disappointment. High expectations stem from the concept of the “ideal” version we have of that person. The greater the difference of the ideal self to how they really are, the more we set ourselves up for disappointment.
Again, this does not excuse or absolve them for letting us down in any way. This is just a simple explanation to something we can control, because what we can control is our own mind and our own feelings about it, not theirs.
Tips on how to deal with people letting you down
Being let down by others is something that we can’t always avoid. Even though we can change our own state of mind about it, there are still some tips that I’ve found useful in dealing with the actual disappointment.
Here are 4 tips that have helped me.
1. React accordingly
As previously mentioned, we cannot control how people act towards us. This is actually a pretty freeing thought. Imagine assuming you were 100% responsible for how others behave towards you. That is a huge weight to carry on one’s shoulders, and 99.9% of the time, it is not even a correct assumption!
All we can do is control how we are going to react to their behavior.
In the words of Maya Angelou, a famous author and poet:
You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them.Maya Angelou
Being let down by people is a part of life. It is unpleasant and unfair, but it will be more unfair for you if you continue to dwell on it. You were already disappointed in the first place, why increase the negative thoughts and feelings that come with it, when you can:
- Allow yourself to feel disappointed.
- Understand that you are not responsible for their behavior, only how you expected them to behave.
- Depending on the context of the problem and relationship with the other person, see if it is worth communicating or continuing the relationship (more on that in tip 4!).
2. Communicate assertively
It may be difficult to believe, but some people are just plainly unaware of their disappointing behavior. Maybe they just lack self-awareness?
This may be because they rarely, if ever, get called out on it. In any case, depending on your relationship with the person, communication helps not only in managing your expectations, but it will also let the other person know yours.
Assuming that people ought to know better is not always wise. The best course of action to ensure that this behavior will be avoided in the future, is to communicate your thoughts and feelings in an assertive manner:
- Use “I” statements to express your feelings
For example, “I felt disappointed when you did not work on the project like you said you would”.
- Listen and validate what the other person has to say about it
For example, “I understand you have a lot on your plate and feel completely spaced out”.
- Set boundaries for your own peace of mind
For example, “I would appreciate it if, in the future, you will let me know that you would not be able to work on the project as we discussed”.
3. Think realistically
The best way to combat disappointment is to manage our own expectations. It is admirable to see the best in people, but we also need to be careful not to mix the ideal version of them to the version of them that they show to us.
Or better yet, have realistic expectations in the first place. See them as how they are, not how we want them to be. The more we set our expectations based on how people really are, the less disappointed we become. In turn, this will also make you a better friend.
Observe behavior patterns and ask yourself the following questions:
- Has this person let me down before? What was the context of that situation?
- Did I merely expect them to act that way towards me, or did I communicate my expectations towards them?
- Shall I continue to invest in a relationship with this person if they continuously set me up for disappointment in the first place?
4. Know when to stay or when to let go
Think about the person that let you down, how they have treated you, how you felt about it, and decide for yourself if that is something you can tolerate. If not, then it may be time to slowly sever ties with them. Or at the very least, minimize contact with them.
Negativity can spread from one person to another, and you want to minimize the impact this has on your own happiness.
Remember, when dealing with people that let you down, the only thing that is within your control is yourself.
You get to decide how to react towards them. You get to decide if the behavior is something you can tolerate or walk away from. It is not selfish to think of yourself first and foremost. If it is not serving you, see it as a learning experience in becoming a better, more emotionally mature person. After all, when other people disappoint you and you dwell on it, you only end up disappointing yourself, and that is an additional hurdle to tackle.
What did I miss? Are there any tips you want to share? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!
Nicole AlbertoMental health researcher
Mental health nurse researcher, budding forensic psychologist/alienist, history junkie, and mindfulness enthusiast! Infinite jester in constant pursuit of clarity, being, and the best burger in town.