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The Nice Guy reaction to being a Disappointment

I was once a camp counselor at an American camp, and I was looking after a bunk full of 13 year old boys. My first night there, they were really rowdy until late at night, and I got in trouble for it as their managing counselor.

My boss Alvarez came up to me in the morning and said, “I’m really disappointed in you.”

This was at the height of my nice guy syndrome days, and I was absolutely destroyed by that feedback. Being a disappointment to a cool guy I wanted to like me is pretty much the Nice Guy’s worst nightmare.

So of course I put in my best effort to calm the boys down for the remaining nights, and suffered acute anxiety whenever they kicked off.

Looking back now, I realize that was a really manipulative word for him to use. He didn’t know me at all, so how could he have any reasonable expectations of me to be disappointed in? And what was he trying to achieve with saying that, to open some childhood daddy wounds in me?

That was a really fucked up thing for him to say. For anyone to say to anyone, really.

And I misinterpreted it.

See, when we people pleasers hear that someone’s disappointed in us, we think we’ve received objective feedback that we’re a bad person. We’re conditioned to think anyone’s opinion of us is accurate, so to be a disappointment means to not have been as valuable and impressive as we should be.

But actually, they’re just telling us their unique subjective preferences (assuming they’re even telling the truth).

In fact, what they’re really telling us is that they are unable to accurately predict people’s behaviour. Why else would you be disappointed? You only feel that way when YOU guessed WRONG about how someone would behave!

So it’s important not to confuse the word disappointment with actual poor performance. When someone says that to you, try responding with, “Well, I guess you had unrealistic expectations”.

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One Response

  1. Of course, this same logic applies to ANY negative feedback. If someone has an emotional reaction to you, it’s more their problem than yours (but you can still take responsibility for breaching your own values)

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