Tuesday, June 25, 2013

What To Do When People Disappoint You (Or Act Like A-holes Or Dillwads)

how to deal when people disappoint you

When I was but a wee Von, I remember having a thought along these lines:
Bring a grownup is going to be so easy! Nobody's in charge of you, you get to do what you want all the time and the only people you have to worry about are your friends! And they're awesome! 

And then I spent some time thinking about marrying He-man and how I could convince my parents to buy me a guinea pig. 

But here's the thing: 
There are plenty of things to worry about in Grownupland (obviously) and one of those are the relationships you have. Relationships of any sort are tricky. Professional relationships, romantic relationships, friendships - they can all be tough.

And eventually, you're probably bound to meet a few bad apples. Colleagues won't finish their part of a project. Friends will share that thing you swore them to secrecy on. Romantic interests might cheat or share those saucy photos or say mean things about you after you break up with them.

How do you deal when someone disappoints you or generally acts like a Grade-A Jerk?

When someone has behaved in an eye-rolling or tear-inducing way I say to myself:
"You've shown me the type of person you are and I will adjust my expectations and behavior accordingly."
(my internal monologue is much more calm and articulate than my external dialogues.)

What does this mean?
If you cheat on your girlfriend I don't hate you, but I'm not going to date you.
If you're consistently late and unreliable I don't hate you, but I'm not going to refer my clients to you.
If you're negative and emotionally volatile I don't hate you, but I'm not going to call you for emotional support.
If you're unstable when you drink I don't hate you, but I'm not going to be around you when there's alcohol involved.

We're all flawed human beings. I gossip too much. I can be judgemental. I will totally use your shampoo and conditioner when I stay at your house. And we'd all be friendless if we reserved the slots in our social calendar for perfect people.

When someone behaves poorly, you don't need to hate them with a firey passion for the rest of your life.  You also don't have to pretend it never happened.
You can protect yourself.
You can opt out of those aspects of that person that are crazy-making.
You get to chose the people you surround yourself with and how you interact with them.
It's totally, 100% up to you. 

How do you deal when someone disappoints you - repeatedly?

photo by kennymatic, cc

44 comments

  1. Thank you, I really needed this post today. Sometimes our friends do disappoint us - but that doesn't make them an all round bad person. I'm not sure if that was the message her but it was oddly reassuring.

    How do I deal with serial disappointers? I become increasingly busy.

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  2. With friends who have some flaws (like we all do), but are overall wonderful people I try to keep that in mind. And not expect someone who cannot cook to prepare a dinner (even if they volunteer). To give a hypothetical simplistic example. So this way there would be less disappointments and confusion. But all in all I try to talk through all disappointments and explain where I am coming from and where we stand. And in a long run if things don't work out then I try to cut those people off my life. Not always so easy, but then again - not impossible.

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  3. This has been eye-opening in that I just realized I can opt out of aspects of a person instead of the entire person. Whaaaaaaat. This changes everything.

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  4. This a great post! It definitely took me a LONG TIME to sort of...compartmentalize my friendships with people, ie: taking a grain of salt when making plans with a flaky friend, only opting in to low-key hangouts with the wild partier, and making particularly finite plans with people I can only handle in small doses. It's a great way to keep the friends you have and make the relationships easier to deal with, even if they get difficult.

    P.S. I am SO GUILTY of using friends' shampoo and soap when I crash at their houses!

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    1. I DO IT ALL THE TIMMMMMMME.

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    2. It's one of the joys of traveling. And I totally expect people to do it to me.

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  5. I've unfortunately dealt a lot with both friends and partners who are emotionally volatile and negative. In such cases, I withdraw or detach from emotional involvement, but the result is predictably an accusation that I either don't love them enough or I am not a good friend. Fortunately, I can recognize when I'm being manipulated. I'm starting to wonder why I pick these people and them me... It's not straightforward at all. I like your advice, though. It is helpful to know that we all can protect ourselves and not get drawn in to someone else's drama.

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  6. This has been an apt post. I was just sharing with a friend about a free market event that's held at the Eurasian Association. The event is about sharing and countering capitalism in a non-reactionary way. And she replied, "so only poor Eurasian people can go?" ARGH!!! But it's ok, I will take your advise and never ask her to another indie event ever. Only mainstream dinners with mainstream friends to mainstream places. No more opening her mind or challenging her world view. Nopes. It's ok.

    The friend's not a bad person and she's been there for me but not everyone lives my lifestyle or wants to be challenged out of theirs. Thank you Sarah. I think this saves me a lot of grief.

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    1. It really, really will! And I'm sure she brings things to the proverbial table that other friends don't :)

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  7. "I gossip too much. I can be judgemental. I will totally use your shampoo and conditioner when I stay at your house."

    OH LADY. I do the same things. I don't know if this means we'd be best friends who enabled each others bad habits or if we'd hate each other because we hated those attributes about ourselves.

    (Frankly, I'd hope the former.)

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    1. We would be BFFs with no shampoo or conditioner left ;)

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  8. "I gossip too much. I can be judgemental. I will totally use your shampoo and conditioner when I stay at your house."

    You mean there are people who expect houseguests WON'T use their shampoo and conditioner? I usually have 2 or 3 open bottles at a time and if there's something I don't want to share I will take that out of the bathroom. But in general if your friend enough that you're staying over I'll share just about everything.

    Other than that the post is a great reminder. One of my guys asked me to do something 48 hours in advance. I reminded him that due to his flakiness I won't make plans with him more than 3 hours in advance, hurt to much to arrange my day around him then get flaked on. He knows this is his biggest flaw and we're working on work arounds/fixes but for now we know the rule.

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    1. I love your response to this!

      While I don't like the word flaky, I am more... spontaneous and intuitive by nature and I don't like planning things too far in advance, especially social events. I might be feeling differently the day of and honestly, I like more organic hangout time (even though most grownupland schedules don't permit for that). ANYWAY! My friends always want to know like a week or so in advance but... ah, it's like, I DON'T KNOW! Haha. So, I like that you have accepted who he is and have come up with an arrangement that works. If you are free in those three hours and feel like hanging out, then sweet. If not, you move on. And then no one's feelings are hurt. :)

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  9. I was just having a conversation with my brother about this the other day. We agreed that most of the times when we get frustrated with others, it's because we expect them to act a certain way even though we know from example that that's not who they are.

    Thats why I love this part:

    When someone has behaved in an eye-rolling or tear-inducing way I say to myself:
    "You've shown me the type of person you are and I will adjust my expectations and behavior accordingly."
    (my internal monologue is much more calm and articulate than my external dialogues.)

    I think it's just as important to adjust expectations and behavior for the ones we love as well, and not just for the bad apples. For example, you might have a friend who makes a great traveling partner but hates to plan the trips. That doesn't mean you can't travel together, but it does mean that you have to adjust your own expectations and behaviors and be willing to take on the responsibility of planning the traveling if you still would like to travel with that person. If you make that conscious choice from the beginning, you never get to that point of frustration or resentment.

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  10. I tend to be the type of person who is exceptionally loyal up to a point and then once you've let me down that "one last time" I basically cut you out of my life. This may not be the healthiest approach but for me, if you let me down repeatedly then you aren't worth my time, so I stop. That only applies for personal relationships.

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    1. I tend to do this as well, but I try to only reserve cutting people out when their behavior is really so frustrating and disappointing that I finally can't just choose to like certain parts about them anymore. It's a bummer, but it seems healthier than holding onto people who you find it difficult to like anymore.

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    2. Yep, I do this too. There is definitely a line that people will cross and they need to go; however, I love the message of this post. Keep the flawed people around if you're still getting a mutually beneficial aspect out of it. Remember, you have flaws too that I'm sure someone, somewhere is putting up with to some extent!

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  11. Oh, man. I'm dealing with a friend that I just can't seem to get together with. This has been happening for a long time. I keep extending invites, and many times don't hear back from her. The thing is, I KNOW she's busy. She really does have a lot on her plate(including an upcoming wedding), which is why I feel jerky about thinking these thoughts- but it's been happening for a long time. And I know it will continue as she starts a new job in September.

    I said I'd go to her wedding, but I'm starting to regret it. Cost is a factor, but I'm feeling resentful of the situation, and feeling bad for being resentful. She's a close friend and I love her dearly, but I just don't know how to bring this up to her.

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    1. I'm sorry, dude. That totally sucks - especially when you know there are 'legitimate' reasons for her flakiness.

      For what it's worth, when I have a friend who's really flaky, I don't really invite them to do things one on one because they just disappoint me. I include them in group invites and if they actually show up, I view it as a pleasant surprise ;)

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    2. Yeah, that's a good idea. Now I have to think of a possible graceful way to bow out of the wedding. Blergh.

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    3. Not attending the wedding of a close friend whom you love dearly because of cost is one thing; and not attending due to resentment is quite another.

      One quote that helped me is "Seek first to understand, then to be understood" - thank you, Stephen Covey. You could ask your friend about the kind of contact that will work with her, through her wedding and the " starting the new job " period. Thinking about the big picture : can you let resentment go?...accept a gap in contact time?....find a "win-win" solution such as Sarah suggested, etc.? Good friends are worth the effort of forbearance (to a point, of course) and discussing "what will work".

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  12. Thanks for this Sarah. Lots of people are referring to friends and partners, but this is useful for me in relation to a colleague and a recent major disappointment. I am tattooing your internal monologue to my eyelids now....

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    1. It's helpful for just about every situation! I should probably write it on my arm....

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  13. What a useful post! And some of the comments were like whoa as well. Love the picture as well! Thank you for the useful read.

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  14. Slightly peripheral but if you DO end up with a guinea pig (and I always recommend two...they are herd animals and need company) you can make him or her a salad! Woot! http://www.smallanimaltalk.com/2013/06/recipe-guinea-pig-salad-aka-how-to-make.html

    On the topic though, my mum gave me the best advice when I started high school. I came home all disappointed because there were some d-heads, and I really thought I'd left them in primary school. "No," says mum. "There are d-heads in high school, there will be d-heads at University and you will work with d-heads sometimes. D-heads are everywhere." So the question is, if you can't live without them, how do you live with them?

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    1. moms have the best wise words, and they get better (or our ears actually listen…) as we get older :)

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  15. I have a small handful of exceptionally flaky friends (and brother) and years of disappointment has taught me to never rely on them in a pinch, nor plan anything one on one with them. It's sad and has put a definite gap in our friendship, but I'm no longer willing to put myself on the line for such irresponsible behavior.

    I always use peoples shampoos and conditioners - I hope my guests will do the same! :D

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  16. When someone disappoints me repeatedly, I tolerate whatever flaws he/she has. Just like what you posted, I try to tune out or not focus on that aspect. It does seem tiring at times but I try. I've had this friend who kept on lying to me and I kept forgiving her until that one time she lied and I felt it was just one time too many so I decided to cut the friendship. It's not something I liked doing but when too much is enough, I need to step back and think of myself this time around.

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  17. This is such a great way to look at disappointing situations of any sort.

    I've had friends disappoint me & I used to get really pissed about it, but at the end of the day you're right we're all human, all flawed, sometimes we're gonna screw up - several times in a row - it's just about opting out & changing behaviour/expectations accordingly.

    Thank you so much Sarah :)

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  18. Word.
    I'm a serial later-runner and I'm sure my bosses have probably installed the same motto in their book of 'dealing with Ebony'. Luckily, when I'm there I give 110% and it shows in my customer feedback.
    I love this post girl, we all need reminding every now and then what it means to be human.

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  19. Very, very wise post. When someone disappoints or hurts me, I also remind myself that what other people do is about them, not me - an idea I picked up from a wonderful book called The Four Agreements (have you read it?). So if someone is a jerk-face... they aren't trying to be an asshole, they didn't set out to hurt you or be inconsiderate or unfair, they're just acting out their own drama. That doesn't make the hurt go away but it can help me lessen it, sometimes.

    P.S. Your shampoo line made me smile - like many of the other commenters, I do the same thing ;)

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    1. I haven't read The Four Agreements - but sooooo many people whose opinion I value have recommended it.

      I'm glad to hear so many other people use their friends' shampoo and conditioner - I expect people to use mine!

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  20. I actually had the opposite problem, recently. I've never had an issue with opting out of certain behaviors that my friends display, but I had a very close friend for the past few years who just kept disappointing me in so many ways with regards to how they treated our friendship. For the longest time I tried avoiding the situations where I'd get disappointed, but they ended up outweighing the good times, so to speak, and just about a month ago I allowed myself to do something I hadn't with that person, which was just stop talking to them. And it was amazing! Occasionally I miss them, of course, and I haven't made any "official" cutting of ties, but for the first time I feel completely okay with letting go of this person and not having them as a constant presence in my life. I think people tend to let the fear of losing a friendship outweigh their own happiness and comfort at times—or at least, I do! So your advice is great, for the people who keep finding themselves in painful, disappointing situations with friends.

    By the way, I always love your posts about friendship! :) You have a lovely kind of clarity and eloquence when it comes to discussing the harder aspects of friendship, like "breaking up" and knowing when and how to communicate with the people you're close to.

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  21. Captain Awkward pointed me to this post and it's just what I needed to read in light of recent events in my life.

    This is something I already tend to do with people I'm just getting to know--the harder part (and one I'm still learning) is how to adjust your expectations of someone you've known a long time. There can be a tendency to see that person through the light of all the Good Times You Shared in the past and that makes it harder to admit to yourself that things have changed between you. (Things will always change between people, because people are supposed to grow and change. What they change into depends, in part, on how you react to those changes.)

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  22. I think this is great advice. I've personally been cut out of two friends' lives and I've done the same to others over (looking back) relatively minor incidents. I think we're more apt to have these knee-jerk reactions when we're young (at least I hope so). But the people who cut me out of their lives were doing me a favour. They weren't good friends, and I can see that now. (I could see that then, but I was in denial.) I think we should treat friends more like family--flawed people who we love. For some reason, we place these huge expectations on friends to be perfect and fulfill every need for us.

    But if someone cuts you out of their life because you're going through a busy time and can't see them on a weekly basis, I think they're not worth trying to salvage.

    Great post!

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  23. "You've shown me the type of person you are and I will adjust my expectations and behavior accordingly." When faced with really huge disappointments this phrase is the closest I can get to that golden goal of Forgiveness. It lets me continue to co-exist with the person and let go of the anger while clearly not pretending that the harm didn't happen. In some cases I decide that sort of person just isn't the sort of person I want really close to me. Sometimes with close friends I'll take the time to gently point out the issue around the time that I start adjusting my expectations to match their behavior. We all have our flaws and/or no-so-proud moments and can learn from them. And, heck, once or twice my expectations needed some adjusting too (the horror!).

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  24. This is such excellent advice. Unfortunately, I don't deal well when people disappoint me. I show little tolerance and automatically separate myself from them till the friendship is long over. I don't think Im perfect in anyway. I simply struggle with the disappointment and in order to avoid it I only give my time to my loved ones. When they disappoint me it hurts but I can deal much better because I love them.

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  25. I really, really like this! Xx

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  26. Going through dissapoint with the mojority of my so called 'friends'.....I always support them, listen & am the one they lean on, but it seems the time I need them, no one is there???
    They know somethings going on, but the next time they communicate, its as if nothing happened? Done being a doormat -- this is when I walk away. Better to be alone, then with 'friends' who can only think of themselves.

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    1. Totally agree.

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  27. Funny, no one defends those who have been labeled "disappointments". Its not merely about adjusting your expectations but also realizing that not everyone is like you and acceptance is key. No two people will always see eye to eye on anything! So what you see as a "disappointment" in someone, others have no problem with, and can be genuinely empathetic (whatever the case may be). In other words, it's all subjective! Has anyone really stopped to think about what it does to people when you go about merely "tolerating" them? Or openly calling them a disappointment? Or openly disapproving of the choices they have made? No! Sounds quite manipulative and convenient to me. When I do something your way, I'm good, we're even better and then the minute I don't, I'm a disappointment? How is that even possible??? It's this opinion and behavior why there are many people battling with self-esteem and self -acceptance issues and the biggest of all, depression! View the other perspective sometimes, everything is not always about you and your needs/wants...

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    1. When I invite someone to a social event, then they change their mind at the last minute because they want to stay in and watch a television programme, I don't think they're "not doing things my way", I think they're being rude and inconsiderate.

      When someone agrees to give me a lift to a social event then pulls out at the last moment because they had to go to work that day and are an "ickle bit tired" (they must have forgotten about what they do 9 - 5 every day when they offered me this ride), resulting in me having to be late and someone with crippling social anxiety who'd really braced themselves and worked hard on preparing themselves to come out that night having to leave early because they had a panic attack when no-one else was at the pub when they arrived first - the person offering me a lift isn't "not doing things my way," - they are being rude and inconsiderate, and adding insult to injury when they dare to tell me that the fact someone felt they had to go home early was my responsibility.

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    2. Anon,
      I see where you're coming from. I also think there are certain behaviors we can all acknowledge are unacceptable and inconsiderate: lying, going back on important commitments, etc.

      I'm not encouraging readers to 'tolerate' people (if you feel you're 'tolerating' someone, you shouldn't be spending time with them. It rude and unkind to everyone involved) and I think it's the rare occasion that calls for openly calling someone a disappointment - something I never suggested in this piece.

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  28. I recently had to end a "friendship" it ended badly and I beat myself up for a month over it, so much drama, using, backstabbing, I just kept making excuses to myself, she didnt mean it, or she's just tired or had a bad day, it was an old friendship, high school, and I'm in my I 50's, it sucked, I'm not perfect by any means, I'm a loner, but a giver and extremely loyal, I finally had to face that I was just being used, most of the time, there were too many negatives to continue, and for some wierd reason my husband and I are getting along so much better since we stopped,,

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