That’s Men: If only we could find a way not to burst each other’s balloons

 

I will tell you a story about the Balloon family in a minute but first, a serious question: is disappointment the dirty little secret we all carry around with us? I mean disappointment in ourselves and in other people and the disappointment other people feel in us.

My question is prompted by a statement issued by the Psychological Society Of Ireland in which psychologist Caoimhe Nic Dhomhnaill gave a number of tips for healthy families.

“Conflict within families generally arises from unacknowledged disappointment,” the statement said.

“When we have a fixed mind about how family relationships should be then we are more likely to be disappointed. Pausing to acknowledge privately that what arises is disappointing can avoid unnecessary conflict.”

Family conflict
In other words, she puts the question of disappointment at the very heart of family conflict. Is it also at the heart of our own conflicts with ourselves? I would certainly have to admit I spend a lot of energy on trying, sometimes successfully, sometimes not, to avoid being a disappointment to myself or to people who matter to me.

It may be a rather negative way to live one’s life but I suspect it’s everywhere.

When people fight in relationships, aren’t they usually saying, even if they don’t put it explicitly, you have done something that disappointed me or you have disappointed me by failing to do something? What’s more, I feel pain because of it and so should you.

For an illustration, look at the Balloon family. Mr Balloon and Mrs Balloon have a baby. Baby Balloon sleeps in the bed with Daddy Balloon and Mammy Balloon for some years, after which they decide it’s time for him to have his own room.

On the first night Baby Balloon is to sleep separately he feels lonely so he gets out of bed and sneaks back into the room in which his parents are sleeping.

When he climbs up onto the bed he discovers there is no room for him between Mammy Balloon and Daddy Balloon. So he lets a little bit of air out of Mammy Balloon and then he lets air out of Daddy Balloon. It’s still a tight fit, so he lets some air out of himself also and goes to sleep.


Confrontation
He is confronted in the morning by an angry Mammy Balloon who has woken up to find herself deflated.

“You!” she shouts. “Do you know what you’ve done? You’ve let your Daddy down, you’ve let your Mammy down and, worst of all,” she rages, “you’ve let yourself down.”

“And if you do it again,” she shouts at poor Baby Balloon, “I’ll effin’ burst ya.”

Feeling shame
So there it is: Baby Balloon has now learned that not being a disappointment is the thing that matters in life. He has also learned to feel shame.

Disappointment, shame and fear are next-door neighbours and sometimes they live in the same house. Shame poisons happiness and is accompanied by fear.

In these ways we all end up in the same fix: I am disappointed in myself, I am disappointed in you and you are disappointed in me. And if I let you get too close to me, matters could turn even worse because then you would find so much more to be disappointed about.

Is there a way off this treadmill? If I find it I will let you know, but meanwhile it might help to remember that disappointment usually involves a failure on somebody’s part to meet some imaginary standard. The imaginary standard could be in your head or in the other person’s head.

And if the standard that I have set for you and you have set for me is imaginary and, moreover, mistaken, why then should either of us go around feeling bad or angry because one of us has disappointed the other?

Easier said than done? Yes but what a revolution it could be if we were able to throw off the shackles of the fear of being a disappointment – and to drop the demand that other people must not disappoint us.


Padraig O’Morain (pomorain@yahoo.com) is accredited by the Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy. His book, Light Mind – Mindfulness for Daily Living , is published by Veritas. His mindfulness newsletter is free by email.

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