Wednesday, May 25, 2011

I'm Not Mad, I'm Disappointed

Deb: Is there a worse sentence to hear?

I remember as a child the first time I heard it from my parents. I was mortified. I didn’t know if I would ever redeem myself in their eyes. Of course at that time I had no idea that “I’m not mad, I’m disappointed” was the most oft used weapon in a parent’s arsenal.

And it works because it’s true, isn’t it? When someone is angry with us, we just stick out our chin and wait for the fury to pass, sometimes even giving back as good as we’re getting.

But ... when someone is disappointed in us, it hits like a brick to the head.

Disappointment is a major demotion in the profession of human to human controversy. With the dropping of the “D” word, that person is saying, you are not worth my anger. They are saying that their feelings toward you at that moment in time go to the very core of their being and all they can muster up ... is DISAPPOINTMENT. So, in panicked reaction to this, we scramble to raise ourselves above this lowly status, brick by brick, until we raise ourselves up to “loathed” or even “despised”.

I recently dropped “disappointment” on someone I care for. I was not proud when I pulled this old chestnut out. But I judged at the time that it was my only recourse. I felt they needed to know that I was disappointed with them and along with that I wanted them to know how much I hated feeling this way.

Now THIS was a tactic my parents never used. They did not attach their reluctance to drop the D-bomb to the situation. In fact they always seemed so proud to use it. It was the “good china” of punishments.

But mine was said to a peer, a fully grown up person who deserved, despite my disappointment in them, my love and support.

And I am happy to report that the disappointment card still works its magic. It remains through the centuries, the fuzzy end of the lollypop we never want. And as I watched this person deal with what I said and act on it, without protest, without excuses, without resentment, I marveled. Marveled at the power of the “D”.

I also marveled at their ability to place their ego aside and to listen. I hope it helped that I delivered the message with a spoonful of sugar. But I don’t think so.

I suspect that it will be forever thus. Generations to come will crumble whenever they find themselves on the receiving end of “I’m not mad, I’m disappointed.”

Barbara: You are so right, Deb. On the confession side, I have certainly played this card with my kids, lump in my throat, conviction in my heart. It IS powerful. But at the time, I believed with all my heart that I meant it. Lack of effort, lack of commitment, lack of taking responsibility, all garner a deep sense of maternal “disappointment”. I expect better from them. And I want them to know that. (Not that it happens that often.) That said … it is a magical card that, yup, works every time.

But what I never considered before was the D-word’s omnipotent power. Why not brandish it during much bigger tugs-of-war: invade a country—we’re disappointed in you; oppress the downtrodden—we’re disappointed in you; place greed over compassion—so so very disappointed. It could be the new modus operandi of rulers everywhere: resigned benevolence complete with heartfelt sighs and puppy dog eyes. Kinda love it. 


  1. Not only would I get the disappointed card when I was little I would also get the finger in front of my face. Im talking about the one that comes in when someone is in trouble, I hate that finger.


  2. And PS to anyone that might be having trouble with Blogger yet again. I think blogger is having issues yet again or maby it's just me but for some reason I can't log in or out. So blogger may be having issues Just a heads up.


  3. Argh, that sucks, Lyndsie!! Thanks for warning us (I was wondering why you were coming up as Anonymous).

    I wonder if it would help to change browsers. Is anyone using Safari???

  4. Ah yes, the disappointment card. It's like a dagger to the gut. Watery puppy dog eyes and slumped shoulders. I only use it when it is very true and very deserved, and it completely breaks my heart to even go there with my son.

    There's also the even harsher added factor of, "Don't you think your behaving this way has made God sad? You know God is watching. You know God is the ultimate love and wants the best for you and from you. For a little boy who claims to be a Christian, don't you think your behavior is disappointing and disrespectful to God? Do you think you've been a good representative of Christ? You need to pray for forgiveness."

    As far as being mad, the ultimate in maternal anger in this household is, "You know I love you more than anyone in the whole world, but right now I don't like you. I'm so mad at you that I can't even talk to you right now because I'll say very, very mean things. Go to your room and close the door." Big, scared eyes. Then, he slinks away to his room knowing it's gonna be a loooong time before his fingers touch a video game controller again. (Loss of video game privileges is his equivalent of Spanish Inquisition style torture.)

  5. P.S. It's May 25th. Happy Towel Day! Are you a hoopy frood who knows where her towel's at? 42

  6. Oh, I suspect you would have hated parenting me. When my folks tried the disappointment card, I would just tilt my head and either ask "why?" or say "that's okay, I'm disappointed in you, too." (As I got older, "but we can't choose our relatives, so we'll both have to deal" was often appended to the thought.)

    My father learned pretty quickly that it was best to just tell me why he disagreed with what I had done, give me a punishment if there was one, and to move on, but my poor mother kept trying the disappointment card, and my lack of "proper" response to it gave her no end of frustration and grief.

  7. Oh, Kelly, you sound suspiciously like my youngest... I know your child-type ;) xo

    And Rigel -- had to look up Towel Day. And Hitchhiker's is STILL on my must-read list. Of all the people I know, I'd sure say that Rigel was a hoopy frood who always knows where her towel's at :)

  8. My parents always used the less than card. Example, I love your house but it would look so much better with drapes, (insert any word in here). This was done with everything. They always wanted perfection. It didn't work and like Kelly I fought back.
    I have used the disappointment card but at the time I use it I am disappointed and explain to the person it might be more me than you but this disappoints me and makes me sad (fill in any word you feel). Another great blog today.

  9. Yes I hate that finger too. I try to resist using it. Oh yeah the love you but don't like you card. I've been there. Never had the God one though. Just the starving kids in China. What is happy towel day???? Wow Kelly, you conquered the disappointed card. Well done. Love that Madge but maybe your sentence could have used a different font...or had the word truck in it more. :-)

  10. I'm very sorry Barbara. You might have a philosopher on your hands. If law isn't as broken a degree as it is here in the States, push the child thataway - there's nothing good to come from a philosophy degree. ;-)

    Deb, it's probably a good thing I was in general a very happy and well-behaved child, because I would have been a terror otherwise. I learned "why" at a very young age, and used it to my advantage. I was also very, very literal. "Don't feed your brother mud pies? Okay! I'll feed him mud AND WORM pies! You didn't say I couldn't feed him mud AND WORMS." Rinse and repeat.

  11. The current one from my mom, and yes, I'm 35 years old, is "It's clear your priorities are very different from mine." It’s not the nicest thing to hear, but I do my best to shrug this one off, because really it is quite true. My priorities are different from hers. Still, I get the meaning behind the words. So, if the disappointment card fails to work, you can try this one out.
    PS, I'm having the same trouble as Lyndsie with Blogger....

  12. Kelly, lololol!! And, yeah, we have mentioned maybe a thousand times over the years that Michele should be a lawyer. Also have pointed out that there are no "philosopher's wanted" in the classifieds. She's chosen communications. That oughta do it :)

    Molly! Argh, same troubles?! I get tons of messages on my FB about people not being able to consistently post comments. I've begged Blogger for help, but nothing has worked so far. That said, "it's clear your priorities are different than mind"??? Ouch.

  13. Deb -

    Towel Day is an annual geek honoring of the writer Douglas Adams and his books, the most famous of which is The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

    In his novels, really together, on the ball folks (hoopy froods) who are up for any travel or emergency always keep a towel with them. (It's sort of Adams's equivalent of MacGyver's Swiss Army knife.) On Towel Day, in memory of Adams, geeks carry around a towel. Hang on - let me get my big, blue hardback Adams compendium off the shelf.

    "A towel, it says, is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have. Partly it has great practical value. You can wrap it around you for warmth as you bound across the cold moons of Jaglan Beta; you can lie on it on the brilliant marble-sanded beaches of Santraginus V, inhaling the heady sea vapors; you can sleep under it beneath the stars which shine so redly on the desert world of Kakrafoon; use it to sail a miniraft down the slow heavy River Moth; wet it for use in hand-to-hand-combat; wrap it round your head to ward off noxious fumes or avoid the gaze of the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal (such a mind-bogglingly stupid animal, it assumes that if you can't see it, it can't see you - daft as a brush, but very very ravenous); you can wave your towel in emergencies as a distress signal, and of course dry yourself off with it if it still seems to be clean enough.
    More importantly, a towel has immense psychological value. For some reason, if a strag (strag: non-hitch hiker) discovers that a hitchhiker has his towel with him, he will automatically assume that he is also in possession of a toothbrush, washcloth, soap, tin of biscuits, flask, compass, map, ball of string, gnat spray, wet-weather gear, space suit etc., etc. Furthermore, the strag will then happily lend the hitchhiker any of these or a dozen other items that the hitch hiker might accidentally have "lost". What the strag will think is that any man who can hitch the length and breadth of the galaxy, rough it, slum it, struggle against terrible odds, win through and still knows where his towel is, is clearly a man to be reckoned with.
    Hence a phrase that has passed into hitchhiking slang, as in "Hey, you sass that hoopy Ford Prefect? There's a frood who really knows where his towel is." (Sass: know, be aware of, meet, have sex with; hoopy: really together guy; frood: really amazingly together guy.)"

    Today, I am carrying my favorite towel (tied to the strap of my purse), a worn out legacy of my son's toddler years. It's a VeggieTales towel, because, of course, Larry the Cucumber and Bob the Tomato are very hoopy froods! :)

  14. "Disappointment" is such a value-laden word. Basically, it means that one person has been judged and found lacking in some way (be it behaviour or speech) to meet the minimum acceptable standards of the other. In my world, behaviour is a means of communication. When someone acts a certain way, why? What's going on? Do you have all the information? Behaviour is a method of communication for those who can't find (or don't have) the words needed to express them to communicate their needs/wants in a more palatable manner to others.

    I have found that "disappointment" is the value judgement of someone not meeting his/her perceived "potential" (another value-laden word). Someone may be "disappointed" that my son didn't eat the fruit that they put on his plate. I'm not. That's his choice. I may be "disappointed" that my son may not join band again next school year. Again, it's my son's choice. The "disappointment" is my reaction to his choice. He will have to face the consequences (be it good or bad) for that decision.

    Yes, have expectations of others - it's needed for people to grow and challenge themselves. But if your expectations aren't being met, maybe you should re-evaluate your expectations rather than be "disappointed"? Do you know all that's going on with the other person? Is there something in the environment bothering him/her? Are your expectations realistic for that time?

    Self-esteem is such a fragile beast. It is so easy to find all the shrapnel, and continue to find it for a long time, after someone drops the "d-bomb".


  15. My most affective attention grabber remains the full name, both girls have two middle names and they know if I use both or god forbid their whole name they run for cover.

    I've only pulled the D card a few times and I don't think my youngest has gotten there yet. It is more affective than anger and I figure as long as I keep telling them I'm proud at other times it will balance out. You can't have the good without the bad.

  16. Rigel thanks for the wonderful reminder of what that was from. It's funny how you can read a book that you adored (which I did) and forget the great details. Wonderful to have it in my head again. Thanks.
    Joelyne, great and wise words and I agree with all of them. The difference here is, that I more than gave the benefit of the doubt and because I know this person so well, I knew that they were in fact, disappointed with themselves and needed a gentle nudge. I knew this person was trapped in a pattern of behavior and I knew why. I gave a nudge and they went on to behave as I knew they wanted to deep down. I was not disappointed in them for me, as I am the only one I hold up to my own moral mirror. I was disappointed for them. Turns out I was right. I blogged about the general concept of the old phrase we all use. But as in every aspect of my life, I deal with each case in a very intimate individual way. I hope I always will.

  17. Oh Erin, I had all but forgotten about the dreaded "full name admonishment!". I have never used it myself but I was on the receiving end many times of DEBRA ANNE MCGRATH GET DOWN THESE STAIRS RIGHT NOW!

  18. lolololol Oh, yes! Proper first name (not regular nickname he's always called by), middle name, and last name said in the "mom voice" can freeze mine in his tracks!

    What's funny is I've called out my son by his full name in the mom voice while out in public before and heard grown men around me go, "Uh oh." Seems everyone recognizes and remembers that one! lolol

  19. Oh, Deb, BTW - I cannot eat a steak without thinking of the cow in the Restaurant at the End of the Universe! lol

  20. Yes Cow at the end of the universe! Love it and remember it more importantly. Called accountant. NO package yet.
    Grown men going Oh oh. Funny.

  21. Oh yes the full name yes I hate that. That is never good. Oh Another thing. I hate that stare. Im talking about the stare you get when you know some one is made or disappointed in you. They don't say any thing it's just a stare. I got that quite a bit.



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