Question from a reader:

How do I let go of my fear of disappointing my mother? And why is it so scary?

Dear you:

FODO (Fear Of Disappointing Others) is real.

It’s so real that it can often stop us in our tracks, keep us from setting boundaries, and make us do things that are out of integrity with who we are (or want to be).

Example: I recently lied to my stepdaughter because I didn’t want to disappoint her (this is a hindsight observation. If you want the back story, check it out on Patreon).

For most of us, our first FODO experiences are with our mothers (or fathers, or both). And for good reason. In the first few years of our lives, our survival and well-being depends on them.

For many more years than I care to admit, there was nothing worse than my mother telling me that she was disappointed in me. It pinged the fearful-little-girl part of my brain.

FODO is hardwired into us. Especially us women. We learn it by watching our mothers as they get caught up in their own FODO and we internalize it. Disappointing those who take care of us might threaten our survival.

There are three things I did to let go of my fear of disappointing her:

#1 I acknowledged that my well-being and survival no longer depend on whether or not she’s disappointed in me.

#2 I actually said to her, “I am no longer seeking your approval. I am okay if you are disappointed in me.”

#3 I practiced being okay with being a disappointment.

(I revisit these steps as needed because it is never one-and-done and fear returns, and that’s okay)

When we practice being a disappointment we make the unconscious, conscious. We allow ourselves the opportunity to know ourselves more deeply and to examine, with curiosity and compassion, how we show up when we believe others are disappointed in us (for me that looks like pulling back, pulling away, stopping, hiding, lying, seeking approval, people-pleasing, putting my needs/preferences aside, etcetera).

What’s on the other side?

We stop agreeing to do things that we truly don’t want to do, we stop trying to hide the parts of ourselves that we think will disappoint others (and let me tell you, it takes a lot more energy to hide), and we start looking inward for wisdom and solutions.

What’s your relationship to FODO?

Much, much love,

Karen

P.S. An expanded version of this piece first appeared on Patreon. THANK YOU to my current Patrons! If you want more of this consider joining me on Patreon, the “tip jar” for the Internet. For as little as $2/month you can ask for and receive advice on difficult mother-daughter issues (or anything else you’re wrestling with) and support my work at the same time! Click here to learn more. My current goal is 100 Patrons. When I reach this goal I will make a monthly donation to Women’s March, whose mission is to harness the political power of diverse women and their communities to create transformative social change.