I recently put a video up on my Facebook page about what to do when you let someone down.
Specifically, I had been discussing my own commitment to recording daily videos and then FORGOT a day, after over two months of successfully recording a daily video.
The world came to a complete halt the day I forgot to record a video.
Kidding, obviously, and I clearly let myself down more than anyone by breaking my commitment. Further, this is a trivial example of letting one’s self or others down, but it made for good food for thought…and I got some positive responses to it.
What do you do when you let someone important down?
This has been coming up a lot in my practice too – something I struggle with as well. I don’t want to let anyone down.
I do, though.
It’s part of being human.
Sometimes, it’s something we can consciously avoid by keeping our commitments and doing what we say we will. BUT – there are times when we genuinely screw this up.
In those cases, here’s what to do:
This part comes hard for a lot of people, but own the fact that you screwed up, let someone down, and say that you’re sorry! That’s simple.
I’ve worked with countless couples where a heartfelt apology was ALL that was needed to smooth over BIG wounds.
2. Learn the Lesson
Why did you screw up? What can you learn from the experience? Everything that happens to us usually comes with a lesson, note what yours is in this situation.
3. Forgive Yourself
Remember that you are human. Hopefully the person who you let down will forgive you, and it does take a sincere heartfelt apology to usually get that forgiveness.
If not, however, that doesn’t mean you have to obliterate yourself with endless guilt. It doesn’t do you any good. If you learned the lesson and apologized from a genuine place, let yourself off the hook too.
More often than not, you might continue to beat yourself up for something that you did that someone forgave you for long before. Get over yourself so that you can get on with your life and just forgive yourself already.
Here’s a link to a post on a powerful way to forgive.
4. Move on
Get on with the story, move on in your life, and give yourself space to be human and screw up again.
When you knowingly let someone down
There’s another way to let someone down that is NOT accidental that I wanted to share about as well. This is when something you need to do for yourself might disappoint someone else.
You might know how I feel about “co-dependency” being a bit of a dirty word, but we are talking about a sort of “ineffective” dependency (or call it the C-word if you want) if you are holding back on something for you because you simply do not want to let someone else down.
Just know this: You are not doing anyone any favors by holding yourself back in the world because of what you imagine someone else might need from you. (In the case of romantic relationships, especially, it is crucial that you are clear with each other about what you do need.)
Whether this is in a romantic partnership or on a much broader scale, to live fully at your best you must be honest with yourself and act from a place of integrity.
Sometimes, sadly, that might mean letting someone down.
To do so, my main piece of advice is to act from a place of love. Not defensiveness, not overprotectiveness and not from a place of self-sacrifice.
Love you and love them.
Be honest with yourself.
Let the person know your WHY.
Understand the impact on them, and be sensitive about it, but don’t let it hold you back from doing what you know you need to do.
If they are hurt or disappointed by your actions, let them have that experience. It’s not your job to take that away from them, after all, you are likely unable to.
I realize that can be hard to sit with.
It IS your job to show up fully 100% honest to yourself and to others.
Maybe there is a lesson here for the other person.
That’s okay too, and it doesn’t have to be yours to teach. You’re learning as well.
Let me know your thoughts, about either the accidental let down or the purposeful one when you had to do something in your best interest that might not have felt good to someone else.
How have you handled these situations?
Post in the comments below.
Cheers to thriving in business & love,
Cheri Kiefer says
My 18 year old son once told me “Mom, if you never expect anything from anyone” you will never be disappointed”. While that may sound apathetic or pessimistic, it has taught me to be less critical and more accepting of people for who they are and not what I “expect” them to be.
Sometimes I feel let down when the other party doesn’t react or behave how I feel they should. However, I try to live up to my obligations in all my relationships. My 89 year old Mom always told me “Cheri, you can only be responsible for your own actions – you cannot control or be responsible for another’s actions”.
I’ve told myself for the past 30 years to “look at myself in the mirror every morning and if I feel good about the person looking back at me I’ve succeeded”.
I believe in surrounding myself with people who bring me joy, but I don’t shun those who don’t yet know the evident “secret”! They are learning life too!
Jenev Caddell says
Thank you so much for your comment, Cheri! Your 18 year old son is wise beyond his mere 18 years! I love your attitude – looking at yourself in the mirror and your definition of success, as well as recognizing that we are all absolute beginners on this journey called life. 🙂
Reading articles like these are the times when I’m so thankful for the internet. It’s just what I needed to read. I guess I’ve always been so keen to show a good image of myself and I never want to let people down. And it has become so big thing to me that I feel very anxious for weeks before and after a certain type of task, especially if it’s supposed to be done with a group. I always wanted to be a good example for my little brothers and family and friends, but I now know that I’d be a better example if I showed my weak moments and how I get through them. It’s just so hard to speak up, when you’re used to being private.
Thank you for reminding to solve things with love. That is the right way to treat people. If I let them down, I still love them. And whether it’s normal people you meet at school or work, I still love them as my schoolmates, workmates, people. I have so many emotions, for example the defensiveness you mention, that grow too big that prevents me from being free. Too thick shield prevents me seeing things clearly. I should let me be more weak and vulnerable every now and then. It’s just that I’ve created this role, when I’m among my family and friends, of being the one who never cries, who never talks about emotions, who never gets hurt.
One tip for everyone: Humor actually helps. When I have been weeks away from everyone, make a joke about it first to break the ice and get back to people. It’s all just been in my head, so when I text to people it shows that everything is actually okay, and we can laugh in this world. Now that I think about it, it’s like those bittersweet moments in movies, only in this time you’re living them. You can just be thankful for all you have, the family, the friends, the world, no matter how bad it gets, we’re in this together.
Thanks so much for your thoughtful (and vulnerable!) reply. It’s so true — we are in this together. Vulnerability and rawness is endearing. We are all imperfect and just trying to figure life out and do our best, right? And….love is the way.
I agree with you on the humor part too — it always helps!!!
And yes, we’re in this together!
Thanks so much for your comment, it means a lot to me!
Larry Lindsey says
Hi my name is Larry, I have a friend we were close as friends only . She had a boyfriend turned out badly for her . I stuck by her protected her from him . I listen to her and tried to be her strength.
Than she lost her apartment not she couldn’t pay but from domestic violence. It was unhealthy for her. So I help move her out and move into my home . Before I go on let me say this . I consider her as a sister not anything else . I have no desire to sleep with her . I’m a guy who believes in friendship and loyalty good or bad . Everything went fine for a month we got a long , we would talk , she give me pep talk told me things I could improve on and liked spending time with me . She treated me with love and respect than my own sister did.
Than she started drinking a lot. People I don’t know were bringing her home. I’d fixed up the bed for her put her to sleep. Than it got so bad she was urinating in bed. I would change her clothes and bed sheets , I’d do her laundry cook her meal all the while I had to work as well . I do everything for her . I’m still doing it .
We had a huge fight I opened my big mouth . I feel guilty every day I blame myself for causing more pain to her. I feel I don’t don’t anything right now . I feel resentment and shutdown. She doesn’t live me anymore and she is on the street living place to place , people I know that are bad for her. I’m to blame. I ruined our friendship.
3 weeks go by she comes around and we don’t really say sorry, she says she’s over it but I feel an emptiness. Something not right . She quite and reserved . She comes over and we go to eat but we hardly talk . She leaves my place and she has dirty laundry there . I take it clean folded. She says she’ll be back but stays a night over a gf house. She thanks me for everything and opens a little.
Next day she’s coming back getting ready for work she needs to be early for work . She looks tired depleted. She’s not happy. Closed down .
I do everything to prove to her my loyalty my love for her and try to let her know I’m there for her . Our friendship has changed I want it back and I’m worried about her every day. I want to help her I just don’t know what to do . I feel I’m screwing up.
She said to me Larry thank you for everything you do for me . You don’t have to do anything for me. I know but you don’t say no you allow me to do it.
I feel lost and I’m not making her happy. I need
Answers. I will love her no matter what she has done. I just cannot give up on her .
You are a good friend who cares very deeply. But remember this: NO ONE can make anyone else happy. Please don’t take on that burden. We can try to help others and lift them up, clearly you’ve done that, but when it drags you down as it is doing, this becomes a problem — an anchor that will only take you both down.
You taking care of yourself is the best thing you can do for your friend. Seeing a professional counselor could give you a head start on that to help with this situation and more.
I wish you all my best,
Lise Lee says
This happened not so recently, but i had let down my best friend and we haven’t been able to move past this. It had been my fault but no matter how much I try, I can’t seem to find the right words to say without sounding without empathy and stuck in self-pity. My friend is not one to open up so easily, so when she did and I had laughed in her face because i thought she was joking, im afraid she might never be able to forgive me. Hopefully you have some advice for me? Thank you so much.
If you can apologize honestly and really show your friend that you understand why what you did was hurtful and it wasn’t your intention — it’s on her to forgive you. I hope you can forgive yourself, and give her the time she needs to forgive you.
I hope this is helpful.
I wish you all the best,
And what if you let your parents down about something important, and it’s 50% your fault and 50% theirs, but they don’t admit that they also have some responsibility about what happened.
I can see why that would be frustrating! I’m not sure I understand what you are asking, though. What if? You can’t force anyone to take responsibility for themselves, but taking responsibility for yourself is, in my mind, a good move!
Shivangni Sharma says
So I let my husband down on purpose. I have diabetes and because of that I need to loose weight so I’m healthy enough to get pregnant so we got a training guide from a professional but after
2-3months of really hard work, eating right, going to the gym twice a day and everything like that, I thought I would check my weight and it was still the same as when I first started doing the training. I was so shattered because I was giving it my all and my husband is so supportive and just so amazing about my health. That day I had to eat something unhealthy and I left it in the fridge, he found it asked me about it and was so hurt and disappointed that he didn’t want to be with me anymore. We had a huge fight and now We live in the same house, sleep on the same bed but he hasn’t said a word to me in 5 days, hasn’t touched me, it’s basically like I don’t exist for him.
I know I should have had better control. I just wish there was some way that I could fix it and we could go back to the way we were.
Any ideas please on how to bring the peace back into our home?
I’m a little confused to be honest — you have done some really great work for 2-3 months eating well and working out — and ate something unhealthy once and your husband doesn’t want to be with you anymore? My sense is that there is more going on here than you both may realize. Could you ask him to have a conversation with you about what’s happening? And if it feels like you are going around in circles, consider getting some professional assistance with this.
Here are some tips to have a difficult conversation.
The International Centre for Excellence in Emotionally Focused Therapy is a resource online with names of qualified couple’s therapists you can look up by your location if the conversation you have together doesn’t go well.
Good luck and I wish you all the best!
A month ago my partner broke up with me and I was really sad – heartbroken. I wanted to feel validated so I made an online account and started talking to someone – gave them my number and after a few texts I told them to delete my number and block me. I felt terrible and I didn’t enjoy it. Though I had no intentions to meet this person or quite bluntly, hook up – I knew it was wrong because I knew my partner and I would make up and work things out like we always do. I didn’t delete this text because I’m very opened with my partner – we tell each other important things such as this one – we don’t hide anything from each other. We made up the next day and probably that same night. When I saw him again I had forgotten about this petty conversation I had with the stranger. About a month passed by and my partner came across the text. He felt lied to and betrayed and broke up with me again. I’ve fucked up and so has he and we always make up because we love each other so much. I don’t know how to make it up to him this time. I don’t know if I need to move on or fight for him. I want to fight for him but I’m afraid the more I do the more I push him away.
That’s really tough — I hope he has found it in him to forgive you.
I thank you so much for this. I have been depressed for quite some time over losing my business and my spouse has been picking up for my slack. They’ve been compassionate, loving, understanding- all in all, all I could ever pray for. In my sadness, I fell into self pity and became oblivious that I have made them depressed, made them feel alone in our relationship, they’ve been putting in the work and I dropped the ball to the point that I see I have abused their love and their trust. It hurts so much to see my self pity cause so much pain but your article brings me hope… Hope that I can be the person they married and hopefully heal the wounds in their heart and heal our marriage.
The let downer says
I let a friend down deeply. I told him I could help him with a job and in the end I just couldn’t deliver. This job is everything for him. I know I should’ve said no from the beginning and now I just made him waste way more time. I don’t know what else to do but I believe I just ruined our friendship for life. To make it worse I broke the news by text instead of calling.
Hey, it’s been awhile since you posted this – unfortunately I have not been diligent at looking through countless comments on the blog, many of which are spam – and you may not see this … but I wonder if now that some time has passed … and if you are still not talking, if you could call you friend and offer an apology?
It’s pretty common for people to say “yes” when they mean “no,” which doesn’t excuse it, but we are all human and make mistakes!! Some pretty worse than that… So … I thought I’d pipe in and offer that idea in case it felt aligned to you.
You learned a lesson to say “no” when you mean “no,” and you’re offering your friend the opportunity to be forgiving which is a gift to all. Good luck and I apologize for such a late response.