Feelings V: Disappointment

This is the fifth in a series on feelings. We have previously noted that this whole matter of “feelings” is murky and prone to misunderstanding. We have looked at emotions (fear, anger, joy, and sadness) to start with and then have proceeded to discuss the whole difficult business of communicating feelings, which is fraught with challenge. The present discussion is an addendum to understanding feelings, particularly how one “feels” when one is disappointed. An important aspect of “feelings” is that the term is not truly definable. The best we can do is to say that it is important, universal among humans and very possibly among many animal species. Feelings are important because they comprise one of the three basic elements of human psychological function, the other two being thinking and doing. It is not so much in the field of thinking and doing that we get into trouble. It is in the area of feelings.

Feelings and words

Let’s review just a bit before we go on to deal with disappointment, which is our present topic. Feelings, however murky and undefinable, begin with emotions, and very possibly with some kind of visceral experience in our bodies. This is the “gut level feeling” you have, or perhaps more accurately the sense that something is happening to you that you can’t quite put a name to. So we call this something-is-happening a feeling, or sometimes in the plural, feelings. There is an emotional and possibly a physical substrate to feelings, but then our minds wonder about and we have some random thoughts about this feeling. We might come up with a few words, but more often we “just feel” something that seems important. One of the things we discussed previously in these Feelings Blogs is that there are no perfect words for feelings, and very few exact words. So we are left with a situation where we feel something, possibly important, but we don’t know exactly what the emotion is behind it nor the cause of the emotion. All we know is that we feel something and feel compelled to put this feeling into words. In Feelings II we discussed how difficult to put feelings into words, but simultaneously how important it seems to us to do so.

Let’s be reminded that there are many ways of expressing feelings that are not verbal, or not verbal in the sense of a conversation. Poets might be the best wordsmiths when it comes to feelings, and musicians may be the next best, particularly those who write musical lyrics. Other artists, like painters and sculptors, also express feelings nonverbally, as do architects and interior designers and basketball players.  One of my basketball buddies described a “go to the hoop layup” as a “thing of beauty.” Feelings come to us and we express them in our own manner, especially when the feelings are rich and pleasurable. But our focus right now is on the feeling of disappointment, something that is not easy to successfully communicate verbally.


This is a feeling word that I think is extremely important for us to (1) understand, (2) use with caution, and (3) hear with diligence. A couple weeks ago when we were “up north” at our cabin, Deb said she was disappointed in something I did or didn’t do. Now, two weeks past I cannot recall what I did or didn’t do. Interestingly, neither can she. But I do remember her saying she was disappointed. I remember we were on the paddle boat when she expressed her disappointment, but I can’t remember the content of this feeling.

Consider with me the whole array of thoughts, feelings, and actions associated with being disappointed: Doing: I did something or didn’t do something; Thinking: I probably thought what I did or didn’t do was the right thing to do; Feeling: Deb felt disappointed. Sound familiar? It should. It happens quite regularly in all of our lives. Because I am now in the enviable position of not remembering what she was disappointed about, nor is she, I can speak without particular emotion. But that surely wasn’t the case when she said she was disappointed in me. As soon as she said she expressed her feelings of disappointment (her feelings) I felt hurt.

Understanding Disappointment

Hurt people always hurt other people. You can remember that from previous blogs. This means that when people are hurt, they usually hurt someone else, very often the person who caused the offense. Deb was disappointed, and in her stating her feelings I in turn got hurt. I don’t know how or why I originally disappointed Deb, but I did disappoint her in what I did, and in so doing, I hurt her. Deb was hurt, got disappointed, spoke it, and then I got hurt. This is how it happens, most of the time. One person is hurt, usually unintentionally, and then in dealing with their hurt, hurts the person who hurt them. I know it sounds “crazy”, but this is the hardest thing to comprehend and accept. We discussed this hurt-people-hurt-people phenomenon in previous Feelings blogs so I won’t belabor the point here. I want to emphasize that disappointment comes first in the form of hurt. Quite importantly, I didn’t intend to hurt Deb, but to go further in understanding hurt and disappointment, I have to acknowledge that I hurt her in some way, actively (doing something) or passively (not doing something).

Speaking disappointment (Use with Caution)

Here is where most people get in trouble, but here also is where we could really come together in understanding each other. If you have read the previous blogs, you will remember that when I speak my “feelings” to someone, I am speaking about myself. Or I should be. Very often, sadly, this expression of feelings is about the other person. Recall (from a previous Feelings blog) the lady who said she “spoke her feelings quite clearly” when she told her husband that he was a jerk when he failed to turn on the car seat heater for her when he got in the car after turning the heater on for his seat. She thought she expressed her feelings. She didn’t. She expressed anger at her husband and railed at his character as I remember. But what had really happened: she had an expectation that he would be kind and think of her when he got in the car; she was disappointed when that didn’t happen; she was hurt; and then, sadly, she lashed out at him rather than saying how she truly felt. She was disappointed.

Whether the car seat heater, or another of a myriad of things that have caused hurt and disappointment, the real task is to speak disappointment first and foremost. Having said this, however, we are in swampy grounds because very few people know how to do speak their feelings, much less hear it from other people. To begin with you have to know that you are hurt and disappointed. Please review this matter of knowing that your hurt in Feelings 2 and Feelings 4  To be successful in this endeavor you will have to realize that your feelings are important, that you had an expectation that someone would do something (or perhaps that something would happen), and it didn’t happen. As a result you were hurt. Thus, despite it sounding and seeming narcissistic to say so, disappointment is all about you in this very important aspect of feelings. You feel hurt. You feel disappointed. You Feel. Important. Very important. Next, you have to say it. You need to learn to be brave in expressing your feelings and then learn how to speak them clearly. So say it, say it clearly, and say it without fear thoroughly remembering that you are talking about you, your feelings, your value system, your expectation, and your hurt. But remember, this is half the battle. It is not the end of the battle however. This half-battle could turn into a full-fledged war because when you say you are disappointed, your friend will have an important feeling: hurt. You have to be prepared for the resulting offence felt by the person you’re talking to.

There is no way getting around this phenomenon. It is not something to be avoided. It is something to be aware of. So if you’re going to express disappointment, it behooves you to make it clear that this is your feeling, your hurt, your expectation, and your disappointment. Most likely, however, it won’t matter how you take ownership of your feelings, your friend will also be hurt. You need to know that this is part of being human and being in a relationship with another human being. We all get hurt rather frequently and rather easily. The best thing we can do, and certainly the first, is to recognize that if I say I am disappointed in you, my statement will hurt you.

You must realize that in speaking your disappointment, the person who has disappointed you will mostly likely defend their action compared to a matured response of containing their hurt and just hearing you out. So, unless you are lucky enough to express your disappointment to an emotionally mature person, she or he will say something hurtful back to you, or at the very least make some defense at having done (or not done) what s/he did (or didn’t do). If you express your disappointment, you will have to wander in this swamp for a while until the two of you can come to a better understanding of one another. You can further the process of understanding by focusing on how you are “just talking about my feelings” and not really talking about them or their actions. If you stick with your feelings, your expectations, your hurt, and your disappointment, you will then avoid the focus being on what your friend did or didn’t do that disappointed you. Re-read Feelings II: expressing feelings for some recommendations.

If you stick with your feelings, your expectations, your hurt, and your disappointment, you will then avoid the focus being on what your friend did or didn’t do that disappointed you.

This is very hard as we discussed in Feelings II, but it is essential to learn how to do this. Or come to our office and we will help you learn to do it. First you recognize your hurt and all that goes with it like your value system and your expectations. Then you can say something about what actually happened (or didn’t happen), but spend a little time as possible on what s/he did. The rest is up to your friend.

Hearing disappointment (Hearing with Diligence)

Here I speak to the person hearing the disappointment. Disappointment is always hard to hear. It is no easy task. You will be hurt, which is most important to know and note. You will be sad, which is even more important. You will be hurt and sad because you love (to some degree) the person who is disappointed in you. Furthermore, you very well may not have done (or failed to do) what your friend expected of you. You probably did your best. Maybe you just forgot. Maybe you worked hard at doing this thing right. Maybe you really don’t care much about what you did. None of this matters in the long run. What matters is that if your friend says s/he is disappointed in you, you will be hurt, and you have to contend with that fact. Once you recognize the hurt factor, you can move forward. If you fail to recognize the hurt factor, you will defend and explain what and why you did what you did, which will only make matters worse. I like to think the best of people: you intended to do the right thing. Maybe you actually did the right thing and your friend has a different perspective. Maybe you thinks you did something that you actually didn’t do. This doesn’t matter at the time of disappointment and hurt. The facts don’t matter when it comes to feelings. It’s the feelings that matter. The particulars can be discussed later. What you need to discuss at this point is the hurt factor, first your friend’s hurt, and then speak your hurt, hopefully without defensiveness. Your hurt then would sound more like “I am so sorry to disappoint you. It saddens me. You are important to me. Again, I am sorry. I don’t want to hurt you.  And obviously, even though I didn’t intend to hurt you, I did.”

It is very hard to govern your reaction to someone being disappointed in you. It is hard primarily because you are hurt and secondarily because you intended to do the right thing. You can serve your friend, serve yourself, and serve your relationship by forestalling your explanation and defense and focus on what your friend feels. And then on what you feel.


Further Reading

Previous Blogs on Feelings (I, II, III, IV)

Damasio, A.R. Descartes’ error. NY: Putnam’s Publishing

Hillman, J. (1971). The feeling function. Dallas, TX: Spring Publications

LeDoux, J. (1996). The emotional brain. NY: Simon and Schuster

Powell, J. (1969). Why am I afraid to tell you who I am? Allen, TX: Tabor Publishing

Loving and Liking II: The Importance of Not Liking your Spouse

In our first blog on the loving/not liking phenomenon we discussed how important it is to distinguish liking and loving. Both of these phenomena are of central importance in having successful relationships as well as have an emotionally satisfying life. Simply stated:

  • Loving is natural and often immediate. Loving is most immediate and natural with family members.
  • Liking is the result of something shared: this can be an idea or belief, an experience, or something else that is held in common.
  • Liking comes more slowly and is most common among friends.
  • It is possible to like someone whom you may not love.
  • It is possible to love someone whom you really don’t like. This is the real challenge in relationships, particularly when the person you love but don’t necessarily like is a family member.

A few more things about this business of liking:

  • “Not liking” is not the same as disliking. You can actively dislike someone for various reasons, usually having to do with someone’s character. Disliking someone tends to be complete: you really don’t like the person. This tends to be fairly rare.
  • More often, there are elements of the person you don’t like. You may actually like the person as a whole but not certain aspects of her life. These could be minor things like her table manners, the grammatical errors she routinely makes. Or the dislike could be her political position or how she behaves in a group.
  • Both liking and loving are feelings. We discussed the centrality of feelings in the Feelings I, II, III, and IV blogs. Feelings are a murky combination of emotions, thought, and intuition. They are central to life. They are close to our souls.

One of the things we do with our clients/patients is to help them distinguish the liking and loving phenomena and how they often overlap. Understanding the similarities, differences, and overlap of liking and loving is particularly helpful in spousal and other partner relationships. We have often said to couples, “You got married for the wrong reason: you loved each other.” We make this statement somewhat tongue-in-cheek knowing that it wonderful to love one’s partner and that most people do, indeed, get married because they are in love, at least in America. Yet, getting married primarily, often singularly, because you love someone, does not necessarily make for a satisfying marriage. Very often, sometimes within days after a marriage, people begin to feel a “not like” or even the “dislike” for the person they just married. Then you have a huge dilemma. But why do people discover that they don’t like each other even though they may deeply love each other? The reason, as sages throughout time have told us: “love is blind”.

Yes, love is blind, and it is wonderful in its blindness. When you come to love someone, you are not necessarily interested in everything about this person. You don’t care what s/he does for a living, whether they like baseball, or know how to cook. You certainly don’t think about whether they have ever done the dishes. You just love the person. Wonderful. But also, blind. Love is certainly blind when you immediately love your child when s/he is born. The blindness of loving such a wonderful creation of God is nothing but beautiful, soulful, and perfectly honest. You don’t think about changing diapers for three years or being awakened at 4 AM for the fourth time in the night. You just love your child. Wonderful. But also, blind.

Love can be “blind” when we don’t attend to the whole picture, or better stated, the eventual picture. Blind love is more about a soul-filled moment of perfection. You can really love those Grizzly cubs before they grow up and threaten your life, or love puppies and kittens before they poop on your new carpet. When we love things, especially young living things, we are loving the purity of what is in the moment. We can easily love the stars on a clear night, spring flowers in a mountain meadow, or the call of a loon on a quiet lake because they are representations of some level of perfection. Loving your newborn child is a kind of “perfect love” that is pure and immediate and does not take into account for any potential danger or disappointment. Falling in love with another person can equally be “perfect love” but fail to take into account inevitable disappointments.

We all have things, experiences, and people we “just love” without rational reason. My wife and I “love” the moment we hear Pacobel’s cannon. It is a representation of our “perfect love” experienced on our wedding day. We all “just love” experiences, memories, and people in different ways and times, but all love “blindly,” as we should.  We would never want to give up this glorious experience of such random loving. But when it comes to spousal like relationships, this grand experience of loving can get us in deep trouble.

Here’s what happens. In the blindness of love we see the immediate physical, sexual or otherwise ethereal qualities of another person. And in that immediate attraction we automatically disregard the plethora of differences that might otherwise be caution signs. This blindness does not help us see the things that might be substantially different between us, some of them quite profound, some less significant. The blindness of love convinces us that nothing else matters and whatever “else” there might be, it will be as easy to dismiss as it is easy to love. Most of the things we don’t like or dislike in someone else have to do with honest differences, not flaws. And in the initial embrace of blind love, these differences seem inconsequential.

When we see couples in our office for a marital assessment we always do what we call a “friendly diagnosis”. Our friendly diagnosis identifies each individual’s positive characteristics. This includes gender, personality, cultural, spiritual and intellectual strengths. Once we have identified each person’s strengths, we frame them as “preferences.” In this framework we can then compare these preferences between the partners. What have felt like “problems” to the couple can then be seen as differences. These problems when viewed through the lens of preferences help each partner to see how despite how much they love one another, there are things that they dislike about each other. Then we can talk about the “not liking” phenomenon because we have some content to the discussion rather than a wholesale not liking or disliking.

When couples learn that they actually dislike their partners for some reason, the dislike becomes more palatable, and even useful in how they see each other, hear each other, and love each other. Furthermore, when they accept that there are aspects of their partners that they don’t like, this dislike diminishes in content and in fury, sometimes to the place where they can tease one another about something not liked without hostility or resentment. They also come to realize that some of the things they don’t like not only are foundational to their partners, but that they are good things…that they just happen to not like.

A few suggestions:

  • Note that you love your partner.
  • Note immediately that you want to say things you don’t like about him or her.
  • Identify something very specific that you don’t like. This will usually be something they say, don’t say, do, or don’t do.
  • Don’t tell your partner this thing that you don’t like. Just sit on it for a day or two.
  • Notice how you “don’t like” diminishes over time…but you still don’t like when they…
  • You might find yourself identifying things you like about your partner. Make note of them.
  • You might notice that some of the things you don’t like seem to be intrinsically related to what you do like about your partner.
  • Then it might be time to talk to your partner: about loving him/her, about liking some things, and about not liking some things.

Further Reading

Our book, The Positive Power of Sadness

Previous blogs on Feelings and Loving and Liking I: Not the Same

Forthcoming Loving and Liking on Children and The Spectrum of liking/Not liking

Who’s in Control

I’ve heard a lot about “control,” most of it negative. Like, “He’s a control freak,” or “She just has to control everybody in her life.” And then there is the other side, which seems to affirm that you can’t control anything and shouldn’t try like, “What’s going to happen is just going to happen” or “Just let go and everything will work out.” I don’t think there is a good concept of what control is, what it isn’t, how it can be good, and how it can be bad. There are also a number of psychological diagnoses, like OCD, that suggest that there is some basic pathological tendencies in control. My interest in this treatise is largely about how people feel in control or controlled. Let me share my thoughts.

Locus of control

One of the very valuable tests we use in our office is something created by psychologist Julian Rotter in 1954 called the “Internal-External Scale”, usually referred to as the IE test. There are only 29 questions on this test which attempts to determine whether a person has an “internal locus of control” or an “external locus of control.” Rotter defined people with an internal locus of control as having control of their lives, compared to people with an external locus of control as having little or no control over their lives. Rotter found that people with an internal locus of control fared better in life, a finding that proved true in research. Many research studies, including my wife’s doctoral dissertation, included the IE to study people’s view of control. An important finding of the IE research showed that people with an external locus of control were more depressed and felt helpless in life. Helplessness, together with hopeless, and a number of other symptoms are symptoms of depression.

I have generally found that people with an internal locus of control do succeed in life, feel better about themselves and other people, and find ways to cope with life’s difficulties. The feel motivated to do something about their lives, both facing difficult challenges, and enhancing their strengths and utilizing passions. Another symptom of depressions is “anhedonia,” or the lack of motivation and interest. You can see how the arrow could go both ways if you have an external locus of control: (1) you feel helpless to do anything to make a life for yourself, and (2) not doing anything in life can cause you to feel helpless. I have seen both, and it tends to be a downward spiral: feeling helpless; acting helpless. But there is much more about this locus of control business.

Beliefs associated with an external locus of control

Bad luck, for one. People who feel controlled by the world often use this phrase when they fail at something. They even use it to prevent them trying to do something because they “are not lucky like some people.”

Other people. More often it is not bad luck, it is other people who seem to control one’s life. In other words people with an external locus of control feel “controlled” by the people in their lives. This felt external control can be with spouses, parents, children, friends, employers, employees, or government officials. So they feel, “They won’t let me…,” sometimes not even knowing who the “they” are.

Blaming. An adjunct to the “they” problem that these folks have is tendency to blame others in some way like, “the dog ate the homework,” “the teacher didn’t tell me how she wanted me to do the homework,” or simply, “It wasn’t my fault” statements we sometimes hear from children. Adults will blame their spouses, bosses, friends, children, or parents because these people “controlled” them in some way.

Accidents. A patient I saw for maybe seven years (quite unsuccessfully, I must add), told me several times that she (yes, one of the very few women I have seen as a patient in the last 30 years or so) felt that “if anything can go wrong, it will go wrong with me.” This same woman, by the way smoked three packs of cigarettes a day, slept 14 hours a day, watched TV the rest of the day, and now having gained back 100 pounds of the 300 she had lost in bariatric surgery some years beforehand. As I said, the arrow goes both ways: feeling helpless and acting helpless. Freud wrote about what he called parapraxes, which included accident proneness, which he theorized was caused by unconscious factors.

Body ailments. This is a big one. People with a myriad of physical and medical problems almost always have an external locus of control. They speak of their bodies as if these bodies were somehow external to themselves. I hear “my heart this…,” “my arms that…,” my legs that…,” “my eyes this…” and many other physical symptoms. This kind of external locus of control is the most insidious because while the so-called problem is actually within one’s body, the person feels that his or her body is somehow controlled by external factors beyond their control.

Beliefs associated with an internal locus of control

Self. This is the key ingredient with these people. They have a sense of what we psychologists call “self”. This is understandably a vague term without an exact definition but one that is very central to the heart of depth psychology. In its simplest form “self” is the feeling that I exist. Believe it or not, many people operate as if they don’t exist. They just go through life doing what is expected of them but not knowing why, and perhaps not even caring why. This sense of self, that I exist, breeds some other ingredients that lend to an internal locus of control.

Self-confidence. This is not to be confused with arrogance, which is the feeling that I am better than other people. Symptoms of self-confidence include the ability to make mistakes, feel sad for a moment or two and recover from this mistake. The root of the word confidence, by the way could be translated (from the Latin) as “with truth.” So self-confident people tend to be truthful.

Self-reliant. Simply put, they rely primarily on themselves. They share their thoughts, feelings, and doings with others but always at a bit of a distance because they tend to think that they can survive without anyone. This is tantamount to independence.

Disinclination to complain. They tend to take responsibility for their actions, sometimes to a fault or sometimes when it wasn’t actually their fault. But this tendency away from complaining makes them more likable. Do you know of someone who is always talking about what he/she/they/it did to them? You tend to stay away from such people.

A balanced life

No one is in complete control of his or her life. Externally controlled people may have a sense of how we all need each other, but they tend to lose that very important sense of self that is so central in life. We are all dependent on circumstances, other people, and perhaps that random good or bad luck from time to time. The task is to find that internal sense of control that helps you face the challenges and enhance the opportunities.

Further Reading
Brock, D. (2004). Comparisons of personality type, psychopathology, and church denomination in women. Available on Dissertation Abstracts
Johnson, R. (2018). The Other N Word blog and the Feelings blogs
Rotter, J (1954). Monologue on locus of control. Available on the Internet.