Fear of being a disappointment

How an excess of empathy, arrogance and expectation fuel your disappointment fear.

Trisha Lewis - Unsquashed!
5 min readAug 29, 2021
Fear of being a disappointment sad face carved in stone

It seems we don’t just describe films or parties as disappointments — we describe ourselves as being a disappointment!

‘They expect so much from me — I can only disappoint them.’

No harm in the occasional ‘self-lecture’ when you mess up due to lack of preparation or you swear at the boss because you were in a bad mood!

That’s a warrented note to self!

But — you don’t want to go through life either assuming you are going to disappoint in the future, or that you have already been a disappointment.

The desire to avoid being a disappointment starts in childhood and continues into adulthood.

You don’t want to disappoint your parents, your teachers, your boss……and so on through life!

It’s not as if you are setting out to disappoint the world.

You wouldn’t dream of deliberately disappointing someone — unless you were teasing someone with a deliberate wind up!

But what if you’re worrying that you might disappoint without meaning to?

Do you avoid certain situations just in case you disappoint?

Has this fear led you to tip over from a pleasantly accommodating person to a people-pleaser who struggles to say ‘no’?

These are potential consequences of this fear so let’s do some forensics on what lies at the core of this particular fear.

Why does the mere idea of being a disappointment flood us with a preloaded feeling of shame?

Could it be empathy?

Empathy has a way of flipping feelings.

You don’t like feeling disappointed and so you hate the idea of anyone else feeling disappointed.

Empathy turned up high can create an illusion that you know what others are thinking and feeling! Assumptions — humans are so good at these.

We have the the tendency to make assumptions about everything. The problem with making assumptions is that we believe they are the truty. We could swear they are real. Don Miguel Ruiz

Listen out for the ‘I know what they are feeling’ inner voice that mutters about how disappointed in you they must be.

Could it be unconscious arrogance?

You are placing too much importance on yourself!

Dear Reader, I know you are not an arrogant type.

But I want you to do a little thought experiment.

When you worry about disappointing people, you assume you have power over their feelings.

You also assume you have a big effect on them, and they are completely focussed on you and how you are making them feel!

That sounds a little arrogant!

Rationally you know you are not a mind reader or in control of how people think.

Rationally you know you can’t please everyone all the time.

Good old rationality eh?

The fuel that drives the fear of being a disappointment is excessive self-focus and a belief that you can ‘make’ people feel something.

Sounds like taking the focus of you would be a good way forward.


This is where consciously being present comes in.

To be present and curious is to take the focus of yourself — and cut off the fuel for your fear of being a disappointment!

And what about expectations?

Fear of disappointing fueled by expectations — Man with post-it notes stuck all around including Expectations and Norms.

There is something else to consider under this heading of ‘fear of disappointing’ — and that is ‘expectations’.

The higher you climb the further the fall.

We are regularly exposed to stories of famous people or celebrities who have fallen from grace –they have failed to live up to the high expectations we had of them.

Imagine the nightmare of having a good reputation, being admired, having a fan club!

What would it feel like if every time you were asked to carry out a presentation, project or performance, you had the weight of their high expectations and the fear of not living up to those expectations?

The fear of disappointing really kicks off when you have such high hopes resting on you.

After all, if they don’t expect much you can exceed their expectations!

But hang on…

Why are you even thinking about being a disappointment?

You know you are more than capable of delivering — so why the fear?

Could it be that your inner critic — or squasher as I call it — is messing with your confidence?

Whilst you rationally know you are capable of meeting or exceeding expectations; your inner critic is mumbling away about how you might mess up and you might not be as good as you think you are.

What if you have a nagging sense that you are putting on an act — and it is this acting version of you that they admire. You might not be able to keep up the act — then what?


Harvey and Katz share these quotes from real people expressing real feelings:

“People think I’m very bright and a good conversationalist, but I’m really just a dilettante. I know a little about a lot of things, so they think I’m smarter than I am. If they looked for depth, they would find out how shallow my knowledge really is”.

“Men think I’m beautiful and compliment me all the time. But they don’t see me without all the makeup and my hair is not fixed. Without makeup, I’d be nothing — they wouldn’t look at me twice.”

Despite all the evidence pointing to the fact that you will do a good job, you are not sure that this will be the case.

Maybe this is the moment you will be found out!

The way forward?

Do your preparation well — but with this mantra:

‘I will enjoy this — I will enjoy the process of preparing and enjoy delivering something I am proud of. I can’t please everyone of course — but that’s ok… the world is full of individuals!’

Ask for feedback — so if you have ‘disappointed’ you get to know more about why — and it could be useful!

Keep a grip on reality — you are not a mind reader.

Stay curious and present — take the focus of yourself.

It’s not all about you — and it is about you! You being your unsquashed self.

All things human are explored in ‘The Mystery of the Squashed Self’. Available on Amazon — other booksellers to follow.

I have a YouTube Channel with videos on this topic and other communication and confidence tips and I post regularly on LinkedIn.

I work with clients on being visible as them — confidence growing and clarity. Ditching baggage, sharing story and practicing performance. Details at www.trishalewis.com



Trisha Lewis - Unsquashed!

What if we spotted and sorted our 'self squashing ®' - what if we used curiosity as an anitdote to comparisonitis and self-consciousness? Let's see!