The Fear of Disappointing Others

We all feel the need to be accepted and recognized. However, you should never put yourself in the position of meeting others' expectations to the detriment of yourself.
The Fear of Disappointing Others

Last update: 20 October, 2021

Think for a moment about your life decisions: where you live, the job you do, or the emotional situation you’re in. How did you get to where you are today? Ideally, you’ll have listened to your needs, your desires, and your preferences when choosing your path. However, many people end up building their reality based on what others expect of them. This tends to be due to the fear of disappointing others.

You probably know someone who wanted to be an artist and ended up studying finance. Or, someone who remains in their relationship simply because they’re afraid of change. You may even find yourself forced to dedicate time to people and activities that neither encourage nor even appeal to you. Why do you go against your own wishes? In this article, we take a look.

What lies behind the fear of disappointing others?

If you’ve identified with any of the above situations, you should know that they’re common. Therefore, don’t worry, you haven’t gone crazy nor are you a masochist. In fact, there are compelling reasons that lead you to want to please others. Furthermore, identifying those causes can help you achieve that freedom that you’ve been denying yourself for years.

Sad man

Guilt

Guilt is an extremely powerful emotion. As a matter of fact, it can end up directing your life if you don’t learn to manage it. It tends to manifest itself in family relationships, where you can come to feel that you’re in debt to your relatives. You feel that your parents gave you life, fed you, cared for you, and have been there for you all your life. For this reason, you might well feel that they have infinite power over you.

Therefore, going against their wishes when choosing your career, selecting a partner, or simply taking a trip instead of visiting them are actions that you may interpret as a sign of disloyalty. Indeed, you don’t want to feel as if you’re an ungrateful or selfish person, and in your eagerness to settle your debt you end up mortgaging your existence.

Shame

Shame is, along with guilt, one of the self-conscious emotions. They’re so-called because their purpose is to allow you to develop a sense of self and live in society, taking into account the reactions of others. However, a problem occurs when, far from fulfilling this condition under your own control, the emotion ends up controlling you.

Shame can appear when you feel that you aren’t responding to the expectations of others. For example, if others consider you intelligent, you’ll be terrified of failure. If they expect you to have a stable life, it’ll be difficult for you to dare to change your job. Or, if your family dictates that having children is the only valid path to take, you’ll feel ashamed until you manage to conform.

Afraid

Finally, the fear of disappointment often hides a latent fear of abandonment. This starts during childhood when you’re totally dependent on adults and you assume that you have to please them so that they don’t withdraw their affection and leave. This is because, literally, your survival depends on it.

However, as an adult, you might’ve continued with this irrational belief. If so, you’ll feel an extreme fear of not reaching those goals that others have specified for you, whether they be family, friends, your partner, or your colleagues. In fact, saying “no” implies risking annoying others and this would be intolerable for you. Therefore, you don’t hesitate in abandoning yourself in order to minimize the risk of others abandoning you.

Sad woman

How to overcome the fear of disappointing others

As you can see, the fear of disappointment doesn’t appear out of the blue, but has been forged throughout your history, and has an evolutionary purpose. As a matter of fact, when you live in a society, managing your social relationships is essential to keep your circle of support populated. However, you can re-educate yourself in this regard to overcome your fear.

Firstly, reflect on your actual obligations. Relationships only make you grow when you can feel free in them. Free to change, free to stay, free to talk, free to share, and also free to set boundaries.

Although social relationships are necessary and beneficial, paradoxically, they become healthier and more constructive when you learn to set boundaries. Therefore, always keep in mind that respecting, loving, and honoring others will never happen if you abandon or ignore yourself.

Secondly, it’s important that you ask yourself what it is you really want. Because, while others can give you clues as to what your strengths or weakest points are, the last word on your decisions is always down to you. Indeed, it’s far less harmful in the long run to disagree with the expectations of others, than to end up feeling dissatisfied because you wish you’d done so.

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  • Etxebarria, I. (2003). Las emociones autoconscientes: culpa, vergüenza y orgullo. EG Fernández-Abascal, MP Jiménez y MD Martín (Coor.). Motivación y emoción. La adaptación humana, 369-393.
  • Cifuentes Preciado, H. M. (2015). Lealtad familiar en la emancipación del adulto joven.