How To Stop Worrying About Letting People Down, According To Therapists
All of us worry that we've disappointed someone, whether it's about a specific thing — we didn't turn up to their birthday party because #selfcare — or about bigger issues — we aren't living the "right" life with the "perfect" job or partner. Parental pressure can play a role in this, as well as other societal expectations, or even just being temporarily overwhelmed. But for some people, it can be really hard to stop worrying about letting people down. If you find yourself worried perpetually about the expectations of others and how you're potentially letting them down, it's important to remember that that's not necessarily a bad thing, says therapist and founder of Aspire Counseling Jessica Tappana.
"Worrying about disappointing others is a sign that you care, which is a positive thing," she tells Bustle. "However, it is impossible to make everyone else happy, because everyone you encounter will have different expectations of you. Living your life constantly worrying about letting others down will prevent you from finding true happiness for yourself."
The funny thing about the expectations of others is that they can be larger and more threatening in our minds than they are in real life. Will we really lose our family's love and respect if we don't get into med school? Are the costs of disappointment as serious as we think? Chances are that the answer is no. If you're constantly thinking about how you're disappointing others, here are some tricks to get your brain to stop.
1. Look At Where This Behavior Came From
Therapist Celeste Viciere tells Bustle, "It’s important to understand that your feeling the need to please everyone did not happen overnight. You may have this behavior pattern because you watched your parent or caregiver do this or, even as a child, have always been the person to do so much for others and were never given an opportunity to take care of your needs." But getting that insight into your people-pleasing is a key way to move beyond it. "Regardless of how the behavior derived, it’s important to understand that you can work on changing it," says Viciere.
A good way to explore the origins of your worries is by using therapy. If you'd like to make some progress on your own, though, Laura MacLeod, a social worker and founder of From The Inside Out, has some steps for self-reflection.
"Fear can be very overwhelming, so it helps to contain it by sticking to facts and being specific," she tells Bustle. "Who are the people you fear disappointing? Look at your relationship with them. Will their loyalty and love stand up to a disappointment? Trust your gut instinct." She also suggests sticking to the facts. "What specifically do you see yourself doing or saying that could be disappointing? How bad is it? We all have flaws — is yours more egregious than others?" Asking those hard questions may help you see where this behavior comes from.
2. Remember That You Can't Please Everybody
It's true what you've been told: you can't make everybody happy. "It's impossible to please everyone," Tappana tells Bustle. "Now, knowing this logically doesn't always make your worry go away. Acknowledge that you're worried because you care. But also acknowledge that living to always please others will mean sacrificing your own values and you'll end up disappointing someone anyway when two separate people have conflicting expectations." This isn't failure; it's life.
3. Think About Your Own Core Values
If worries about disappointing others consume you, Tappana suggests going back to your own ideas and values. "Spend some time thinking about the things that are most important to you," she tells Bustle. "Once you've clearly identified those core values that you want to guide your decisions, you can keep these in mind when you begin worrying about disappointing others and feel comfortable knowing that you made the right decisions."
This will help out in tricky situations where somebody's feelings may get hurt. "If two friends invited you to events at the same time and you've identified that "fairness" is one of your core values, you can confidently choose to go with whoever invited you first," says Tappana. That's a way of staying true to your values, even though it means disappointment for somebody.
4. Set Up Emotional Boundaries
If people-pleasing is in your make-up, this may mean you find saying "no" incredibly hard. And that means your emotional boundaries, the limits you set for the behavior of others, may not be as firm as you need them to be.
"Work on saying 'no' to doing things for others," says Viciere. "The more you exercise the ability to say 'no', the easier it will get. As you are trying to create boundaries or work on yourself, understand that people may be disappointed, and it won't feel good. You have taught them that their needs come first, so of course there will be an adjustment period to the relationship. You can be kind but firm about your need to put yourself first."
5. Try Exposure
Anxiety about letting people down can be a form of social anxiety disorder, in which people chronically avoid situations in which they might disappoint somebody else. But, experts say, it's impossible to avoid these situations — and you can use that fact to your advantage. "You will inevitably reach a time where you think another person is disappointed in you," she tells Bustle. "When this happens, acknowledge any emotions that you notice in yourself. Through going through this a few times, you'll help teach your brain that it's OK to disappoint someone. You may be surprised how most of your relationships will easily survive minor disappointments. And the relationships that don't may have been frequently challenging your values and causing you other types of emotional pain."
The bottom line? Nobody is perfect, and everybody experiences the pain of disappointing somebody in their life at least once. But through working on the cause of your anxiety around letting people down, figuring out your core values, and experiencing it a little at a time, you can look forward to a life where it stops bothering you as much.