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.