Accessing core interests: Why do people say “I’m afraid of disappointing you?”

I’ll start with a casual example, then we will get to the subject of core interests as well as secondary interests like a fear of disappointing others. Note that “fear of disappointing others” is never a core interest, but could be a shield or protective layer to preserve a core interest without exposing it to social scrutiny.

Here is the example about what is really going on with disappointment. If 3 people go bowling, who will have the best time? Will a higher score produce a better time?

At the end of the first game, the one with the top score can be disappointed that they did not do better (and may be anxious and frustrated almost the whole time, except for occasional relief and elation). The one with the worst score can be pleased with their results and delighted every moment of the way. So, depending on underlying motivations, the measured results may or may not produce interest or satisfaction or fulfillment. We can keep score without being anxious about the score, right?

If you were the 3rd person bowling with the other two, who would you prefer to give more attention? Unless you were a professional bowling coach (of a professional bowler), you might choose to generally ignore the grumpy jerk and just focus on the person that is more fun. Or, maybe you care so much about the grumpy jerk that you “give them a time out” and respond to what simply may be calls for high-quality attention.

They may start talking about their score and how important they know that bowling is to you. You might interrupt them. You might even say that you know that their whole commentary about disappointing you with a low bowling score is NOT a test of your response to them. You might play along and say that you care VERY deeply about their bowling score (and that you KNOW that they do, too). Then, you might give them an awkwardly long hug and apologize (VERY deeply) for being so desperately ineffective as a sarcastic brat.

So back to the 3 bowlers and their scores, we know that disappointment is not just about results. It is about our interests and motivations. If I prefer to clown around and even intentionally get a low score in a bowling game so that someone else can celebrate their victory over me with me, then that is a very different motivation than obsession about being competitive as a bowler. Unless I am seriously pursuing a career in professional bowling, the ultimate difference between scoring 300 or 200 or 100 in a game of bowling is not 100 or 200… but zero.

In fact, it is even possible to go bowling with someone just for the social aspect of the experience. Maybe we do not even keep score.

So that was my quick example. What did you learn so far from it? Next, here is some background analysis to learn even more.

First, how open am I to experiencing grief (mine or someone else’s)? How open am I to displays of grievances (as in other people’s anger toward me or mine toward them)?

Grief and anger are signals that an important interest is not satisfied. The method that is not working is probably of no importance. Forget what clearly did not work, at least for a moment. What is the underlying interest (behind the unsatisfying method) and what would work to fulfill that guiding interest?

If someone says they are afraid about disappointing me with a low bowling score, they might really be afraid of disappointing me. Maybe they are using bowling to introduce the subject of them disappointing me. They might even directly say “I am requesting that we communicate more about expectations and motivations.” That is quite direct and healthy, isn’t it?

Back to various signals of an unmet interest, a primary procedural issue is whether the power of the emotional display (such as crying or sending a dramatic text message) actually brings social attention as desired. People do not communicate except to draw social attention and guide it, right?

When experiencing “negative” outcomes (like anger, frustration, disappointment, and exhaustion), it may be clear to the person experiencing the outcome what interest is not fulfilled. However, especially with “surprising frustrations,” there may be layers of avoidance mechanisms to untangle before the core interest is clear to them (or anyone else).

So, let’s dive in to the process of accessing the core interest. If some method (or set of methods) is not working for me (to produce the results I need), then there are two primary ways that things can go. In short, either way I will experience grief (disappointment), whether that is sooner… or later.

First, the more open that I am to experiencing grief, the more likely I am to just complain about the results I have been producing. I lay no blame (or not for long). I just display my lack of satisfaction. I may even make jokes about my clear lack of satisfaction.

So, as I display my experience openly, I notice my dissatisfaction and then I stop what is not working (and perhaps soon explore new methods). If I had expected a particular method to work and it does not, then I am not only unsatisfied but my hopes were disappointed. The hopes were too high (as in naive).  I did not know until I knew.

All that is quite common. The more open that I am to noticing dissatisfaction and disappointment, the better I can perceive those signals to adapt. Note that dissatisfaction and disappointment are simply signals to adapt.

However, sometimes I may be less open to those signals. At least occasionally, many people for whatever reasons may be unable to recognize grief quickly and then adjust. They may be “too busy” to slow down and pursue improved effectiveness. As a result of their current methods, they may be “too stressed” or “too anxious” or “too exhausted” or “too overwhelmed.” They may even be avoiding a primary interest by sabotaging their energy (draining it on familiar distractions).

Think about the logical consistency of saying that they are too exhausted to slow down and find better methods. They do not have time to find better methods of managing time (or energy, etc). If they just had more time, then they would love to explore time management, which they admit that they need, and maybe they will eventually. If they are only temporarily exhausted, it certainly is possible for circumstances in life to “settle down” and in mild cases (not severe), then it is reasonable to wait for a possible “accidental” source of relief.

But even if relief comes (“a break”), what then? How important do we make time management (and an underlying issues like staying clear on our core motivations)?

What can be expected if someone persists in methods that exhaust them? They may experience frustration, blame, contempt, and then perhaps a big enough crisis that they panic. However, the innovations that people choose in a panic may be much less favorable than when they slow down, catch their breath, and calmly review alternatives (and predictable results).

So, why would I ever say to someone that I am afraid of disappointing them? That can be a signal of perceived dependency or desperation. If I perceive that I desperately need their approval and collaboration (as distinct from the approval or collaboration of someone else), then it makes sense to anxiously avoid disappointing them. Note that the “fear of disappointing someone” is also known as anxiety or paranoia.

If I depend on them, then I do not want to display my own disappointments to them either. I do not want them to flee or explore alternatives. Plus, I may anxiously attempt to avoid displaying my concerns or fears.

But if I notice my disappointment and display it openly, then I am doing so because of my interests and motivations. If I hide my disappointments, then I hide my interests and motivations.

Why would someone be afraid of their interests and motivations? Because to recognize them exposes us to our own disappointment (as distinct from saying things like “well, that is just boring” or “oh sure no everything is just fine”). Why is that relevant? Showing disappointment could get us in trouble socially. So, anxiety and paranoia are the habitual outcomes that we produce.

How do we learn that showing disappointment could get us in trouble? A short answer might feature the words “during childhood.” If we ever were punished for displaying disappointment (like “I will give you a reason to cry”), then the trauma of that can result in chronic physical tensions to block the display of the emotion of fear.

Note that disappointment is a form of fear. We are never really disappointed about the past. We are disappointed about what a particular past event means to us about our future.

If 3 people go bowling, the one with the top score can be disappointed that they did not do better (and may be anxious and frustrated the whole time with occasional relief and elation). The one with the worst score can be pleased with their results and delighted at the experience.

Disappointment is not just about results. It is about our interests and motivations. If those interests and motivations continue in to the future, then there are two possible outcomes from an unsatisfying result: disappointment (which is fear about the future) or acceptance.

Disappointment is not the same as acceptance. With disappointment, I remain anxious about the future because I have a background of exhaustion plus an interest that I have no idea how to meet (or know of no method that appeals to me).

So, there is a low-intensity panic. I may feel the energy in my solar plexus sink (like “having the wind knocked out”). I may even feel nausea and vomit.

When I have been anxiously hiding fear about the future, and then my pretenses are exposed, that is disappointment. When my desperate hopes are crushed, the underlying desperation remains and is exposed.

My method for hiding my desperation and exhaustion has failed. So, my fear is out in the open. I may be ashamed. I may withdraw. I may even lash out in blame and displays of resentment (which are signals to others that I have unresolved or unexamined issues like a lack of strong social bonds that I do not “own”).

When disappointment is visible, then the old fear (of not meeting a particular need) is still there and that underlying fear is now subject to exploration and observation. I have two basic ways to proceed: I can remain open with others while my fear is present (which involves courage and humility and trust, plus certain kinds of interaction from them) or I can keep them from noticing my fear.

To hide it from them, I could hide (flee) or I could remain with them but hide the fear. I could fake or freeze or distract or deny. I could even distract from the root of the fear by saying “oh it is just that I am afraid of _____.” I may admit to small fears (or even claim to fear things that I do not really fear) as a way to distract from the real interests in the background.

Many people could say “it is always best to display the fear bravely.” However, if that is always best, then why do the other options exist?

Is it wrong to be desperate while pretending not to be? It is just one way to operate.

Part of the terror about disappointing others is the idea that others may recognize elements of pretense. If others recognize patterns 0f possible pretense in me (not just error or confusion but intentional deception), then I might expect criticism or punishment. I might expect to crumble under the pressure and break down in grief and admitting to exhaustion.

Why is admitting exhaustion such a concern? If I value certain aspects of what is familiar, then I might habitually preserve the familiar rather than risk losing any of it.

When there is a background of barely-suppressed distress, I may want to avoid the social vulnerability of displaying it. After all, I suppress displaying it because I am pretending to have less social vulnerability / anxiety than I actually experience.

That is THE core pretense / core issue in the background. Social anxiety goes with a lack of satisfying social bonds. But if I display any lack of satisfaction with current social bonds, people could withdraw. So, there is the familiar trap / tangle. I am not satisfied with my current reality, including my social momentums, but the only people that I already know to share the dissatisfaction with are people I already know… and what if they are also compulsively hiding their own dissatisfaction?

Will they condemn my expression of dissatisfaction? Will they betray me or abandon me? If I perceive that I currently lack strong social bonds, then the possibility of abandonment (or even condemnation) will likely be a big concern for me. People who perceive that they have strong social bonds are not paranoid about expressing their own dissatisfaction (or about hearing about the dissatisfaction of others, even disappointment relating to them personally).

I pretend that I am not anxious. I am anxious because I am not as satisfied and as well-adjusted as I would like to be. To maintain the pretense, I either do not pursue fulfillment or only very privately.

If I am not confident, then hiding my lack of confidence is the only option that avoids openly recognizing a lack of confidence (which then opens me to opportunities for developing confidence). What if people share my experience and my interests and then even suggest simple opportunities for greater satisfaction?

Showing interest in increased effectiveness implies current dissatisfaction. So, I pretend not to be interested in effectiveness (and in the confidence that comes from repeated effectiveness).

High-quality communication allows for me to safely recognize specific habits of avoidance and pretense. High-quality communication allows for me to form and nourish strong social bonds. Effective communication is like watering the seeds of healthy relationships.

Without high-quality communication, social bonds may be “thin” (needing constant physical presence and signals of validation, like hugs). For very young children, social bonds are still growing (thickening), so they naturally start thin. Without learning to speak and then to effectively communicate, the social bonds may endure, but will never “blossom.” For someone to be able to form new social bonds throughout life in to adulthood, the skillful use of language is extremely useful.

So, a lack of social confidence may involve a relatively low level of competence in the use of language. Lack of social confidence is a social issue, but can also have medical factors. Is there a demon that possesses someone and results in weak habits of social bonding? There is no such demon (even if a licensed high priest insists that there is). However, there are neurological factors in the use of language, including stress hormones in particular and emotions in general.

How effective am I at forming strong social bonds? One factor is my social circumstance (where I live, how much prosperity I control, plus access to existing contacts, etc). At least in extreme cases, another obvious factor is neurological development and neurochemistry (including things like being alert or well-rested).  Those two (social circumstances and neurology) may be rather obvious.

What about this other issue though? Is it also obvious that how well I use language is also a factor in my own satisfaction with the social bonds that I experience? Do I blame others obsessively? Do I withdraw and then fixate on “that one new social bond that can solve everything?”

As I develop more competence at high-quality conversations (including with adults), then I am more likely to be relaxed about forming new bonds. I can form one new bond. I can form several.

I am not avoiding the disappointments, unmet needs, and shames of prior social bonds. I am not pretending to be constantly satisfied (as in “content” or “happy”). If I am not currently satisfied, I know it. I may not display it in the same way to everyone, but at least I am aware of how satisfied or well-adjusted  I am (as signaled by my own emotions).

In particular, I am not avoiding my needs or interests. I am open to my motivations. I am not terrified of them. I am not anxious to bury them. However, I may respect that they can be powerful and intense and complex, so I am attentive to the pace of any exploration I make in to accessing my core motivations and unleashing them.

I “own” that I have motivations and that they may not all be met (or even clear to me). Maybe I value disappointment as a signal of an unmet need. However, maybe I have been terrified of disappointment.

If I was terrified of other people displaying disappointment (like some men who are actually repulsed by movies with crying), then I would have withdrawn from situations in which I perceived someone else to be willing to openly display their motivations and their level of satisfaction. If I perceive my own social bonds to be desperately weak, then I will be anxious about other people getting angry at me. I was terrified that I might be abandoned. I was desperate.

In a case like that, I would have been open to remaining in situations that did not work exceptionally well for me, but that did seem to work better than whatever alternatives I perceived. I may have intently explored alternatives (perhaps discretely or even in total secrecy). If my social bonds are not clearly satisfactory, then I may even trigger “little outrages” in others to assess their level of devotion (tolerance) and also to attempt to distract them from issues that could trigger outcomes that I consider “potentially catastrophic.”

I would lack confidence. I would be shy. I would not be secure and assertive. I would not develop more assertiveness (or only rather slowly).

I would avoid the issue of unsatisfied needs. I would avoid displays of dissatisfaction. I would be uncomfortable around open displays of unsatisfied needs.

Contrast all of that with a healthy mode. If others are angry with me (disturbed by me), I want to know. With priority relationships, I seek to identify the source of anger and get unmet needs met. With low-priority relationships, I am interested in outbursts of contempt (even not directed at me) as signals for me to withdraw.

In a healthy mode, I value the disappointment of others and myself. I naturally ignore the disappointment of anyone who does not interest me. Otherwise, disappointment can signal to slow down, clarify focus, and refine methods. There is an underlying fear of an unmet interest and I value meeting it reliably.

When latent disappointments build up, there may also be frustration to resolve and exhaustion to remedy. Note that the ultimate solution to exhaustion is not to suppress motivations or fears. As always, identify what outcome is a priority, then establish relevant methods, then prioritize and proceed.

Exhaustion is a signal that something currently being done needs to be delegated or discontinued. Efficiency (as in time management) will be highly valued.

Or, if the label of exhaustion is just being used as an excuse to hide something else, then the social assertion of exhaustion could work as an avoidance mechanism. People may even respect the signal’s message without raising the issue of the signal’s “precision.”

Imprecision is part of communication. For instance, I may say “I value time management.” That statement is a “social display” and may or may not be precise. Why would I say it? To whom? Do I actually invest time in my own introspection and planning or not?

We may want to know if specific other people are suppressing frustration, disappointment, or motivation. We might assess that by displaying specific “dramas” (probably quite sincerely / unconsciously) and then noticing their response (if any).

Of course, we would only be interested in knowing about others if we were in some way interested in them for our own motivations. Do we consider someone a possible ally in regard to a secondary motivation? That is one level of interest. Do we value someone as a prospective partner in regard to a core motivation? That is a greater level of interest.

Do we look to someone for high-quality conversations? Then we might also be interested in noticing how they interact with others.

Are we committed to healthy social bonding? If so, then we must be willing to loosen or sever social bonds that are notably unhealthy (as in draining or even exhausting).

Do we complain of discomfort around someone? If so, what do we do about it besides complain? Once the pattern of repulsion is clear, do we respect the signals of our own emotional responses? Is the respect sudden and decisive (like a total cessation of interaction) or do we temporarily compromise the urge to pull away (or push away) so as to withdraw slowly? Maybe other core interests are served by a slower withdrawal, right?

Every pattern of behavior has relevance. That is why each of them manifest.

Want to know what is going on for someone? Observe them. The functions of their behavior (the underlying motivations) can be recognized in time.

If someone is threatened by observation, that is not unusual (and signals a sense of social vulnerability). Observation can be withdrawn, done secretly, or “owned.”

My attention to other people can be thought of as a gift that some people will recognize as a gift and then greatly treasure, others will not notice at all, and some will flee from in terror. It is good to notice how different people respond to attention and how their responses can change.

Why do I look? I look to see. There is no other reason to look.

J.R. Hunn
480 265 5522


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