I’m afraid of disappointing people.

This is one of many Fear Confessions in which creatives share personal stories about facing their fears. Let’s celebrate vulnerability with Joanna Waterfall as she shares her fear of disappointing people.

Ah, disappointment. It’s the word that stings so much more than yelling and screaming ever will. It’s when someone comes up to you and tells you ever so kindly, that they’re not mad, they are disappointed. Ouch. As a teenage girl I hated to hear my dad say this to me when I was caught doing something wrong. And I still have a deep fear of it.

I’ve always been a people pleaser. I have always tried to bend over backwards for people just to make them like me. Or I would keep words and comments to myself, out of fear of not offending anyone or hurting their feelings. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve grown more confident in myself where I don’t feel the desire to please as much as I used to, but that 16-year-old, people-pleasing girl still creeps up from time to time. She’s not completely gone.

Whenever you do something worthwhile, there are risks involved. One of those risks you take is disappointing people and having them not be pleased with what you are doing (or what you didn’t do while you were doing it). It’s just something that you have to accept. As much as I know this in my head, it’s difficult for me to accept it in my heart.

It’s one thing to deal with “haters.” The ones who are making anonymous unkind comments from behind a screen. That I can deal with (even though it might hurt a little). But the thing that I’m really afraid of is disappointing a person who I respect, love and care for. Someone who I get where they are coming from and can see eye to eye with. These are the people I’m afraid to disappoint, because then it’s not someone unhappy with their life who needs to make yours just as bad – it’s something I’ve actually done wrong. That’s hard to face. It’s not easy being wrong and facing your selfishness.

How I deal with this: Remembering I’m human. I’m going to make mistakes and I’m not perfect. Knowing that nothing has to be permanent and you can learn from mistakes you’ve made. It’s okay to not have it all together. It’s okay to mess up. So if I end up disappointing someone I know and love, I remember how I am a mistake-making human, try and remedy where I can and keep moving forward.

Within this category of disappointing people, I’m also afraid of telling people no in one way or another. I wish I could just be the “yes” girl. Not disappointing anyone, allowing them to feel happy feelings and go along their merry way. But what I’m learning is in the long run, being able to say “no” – in whatever way you have to – is not only better for you, but better for that person. The times I’ve said yes where I shouldn’t have, the mission isn’t accomplished in the best way, the person doesn’t learn or grow, and neither do I. Learning to allow someone to feel uneasy for a short amount of time is better than making them happy for a few minutes, only to be more disappointed in the long run.

So my friends, these are things I’m working and thinking through. Many fears come up in different seasons of life. Fear is something that can ruin dreams, relationships and careers. It’s a horrible thing that I try every day to be rid of in any way I can.

When I have fear, I try to have courage and act in spite of that fear. I might be afraid of telling someone no, but I’ll do it anyway. That’s courage. It takes away the power that fear has over us. So ladies and gentlemen, do not let fear rule your life. It’s a feeling that will come and go, but you don’t have to allow it to control you. Let go of fear and hold onto a full life.

Joanna Waterfall is a graphic designer, sometimes blogger, and the founder / organizer of The Yellow Conference, a gathering for creative women who want to use their skills, gifts and talents to spread good. In her spare time she co-leads a high school small group and helps run a human trafficking awareness group at her church. She lives in Burbank, CA, and is usually found with a cup of hot coffee in her hands, no matter how warm it is outside.

Image credit: Joanna Waterfall

  1. Sam

    Well written. Being afraid to start a relationship because of the fear to disappoint my partner. I guess I just have to brace myself and be courageous.

  2. Ella

    I’m like this so much! Especially with unable to say no to people. I wish I wasn’t trying to act so perfect and do everything ‘right’ whenever I’m around anyone. :/

  3. Brenda

    Im very much like this and i only just realized this now as a soon to be 16 yr old. When i was in kindergarden, quite often my teacher would yell at me and get angry at me. It happened almost everyday, although the other teachers were nice, i tried everything in my power make them happy and like me. Ever since, i easily cry when people get angry at me, wether its my friends, family, teachers/instructors and even strangers. Especially teachers. The other day i wasnt wearing gym uniform,(i always do) and my teacher gave me such a disappointed face. I nearly cried. I really want to overcome this fear. I feel so weak and too emotional. Im glad im not the only one.

    • Hi, Brenda. Thank you for opening up and sharing your fear of disappointing people.

      Joanna said it beautifully, “How I deal with this: Remembering I’m human. I’m going to make mistakes and I’m not perfect.”

      “When I have fear, I try to have courage and act in spite of that fear.”

      I think about this advice a lot, because it seems so simple. Joanna acknowledges her fear and intentionally changes her mindset. She chooses courage. It’s a powerful reminder to look within to overcome our own fears.

  4. Ellie

    I’m glad to have found this even though you wrote it so long ago. I’m very much struggling with the same thing right now. I put so much pressure on myself to be the kind of person that others want me to be. But I’m finally realizing that the direction I’m going in is not where I actually want to be. I know I need to backtrack, but I’m just so terrified of disappointing those that I respect and who respect me. But like you suggested, I’m going to try and let go of my fear so that I can start forging my own path and not going down the one made for me.

  5. Anonymous

    I realize this is an old article, but it applies all the same. Lately I’ve been acutely aware of just how bad my issues with never wanting to disappoint people have become. I had very strict, very overbearing parents (it would take ten pages to get into it all, honestly). I am also a people person and very much liked by pretty well everyone who knows me. No one wants to be in trouble with their boss, but when my boss as much as tells me I did something incorrectly, my chest tightens, I feel absolutely worthless and despondent, and I am overly apologetic while trying to keep from crying. When I was younger, my parents wouldn’t allow me to drive, get a job (at 18 I actually got through the interview and hire process at a local McDonald’s with the manager’s understanding that I had to ride with my Dad, but my Mom told me that they would change my schedule without notice and that there was no way I was taking that job. She made me call them and tell them I had changed my mind. Most humiliating phonecall I had made.). I was told I couldn’t use their vehicle and couldn’t have a car until I could pay for it myself, but they wouldn’t take me to a job so I could pay for one. So I was stuck and miserable. You might ask why I stayed that way – it was because I was TERRIFIED of disappointing my parents. I mean, knees shaking, stomach churning, scared-to-death. Throughout my 20s and 30s that fear of disappointing “adults” has held on in spite of years of therapy, one mental breakdown, and 3 years of suicidal depression. Most of my issues of gone but that one. To this day, even though I have a great relationship with my parents now, if my Mom says something that even makes me think she’s disappointed in me or any of my choices, it crushes me so bad. I start feeling depressed again, worthless, and sometimes I even think the only way out is to die. I know that’s ridiculous. It’s so bad that it has caused social anxiety, something I NEVER had before! I am really uptight and afraid to let my true colors show to anyone, scared that if I say I enjoy (insert random movie title, TV show, or musical artist here) that people around me will judge and belittle me for it. I always feel like people are condemning me for who I am. I condemn myself all the time. I don’t like to post opinions online anymore for fear all my friends will be angry with me for thinking the way I do. It’s really gotten to the point where I’m scared to talk to anyone about anything, and I’m literally afraid of being judged for everything down to how I hold the gas nozzle! I have absolutely NO confidence or esteem for my body (I have PCOS, so in spite of my efforts, I am overweight, my hair is thinning, and I have a lot of issues with my skin), I always feel that when people are talking to me, they are sizing up how ugly and repulsive I am. I’m afraid to go out and have fun, because I feel like everyone will be disgusted with this fat, ugly chick for letting loose a little bit. Like how dare I try to act like I think I’m cute at all. I really want to work through these issues but I don’t know how. I keep telling myself these things shouldn’t bother me, but they seriously, seriously do on a visceral level.