"How do I let go of my fear of disappointing my mother?"
Question from a reader:

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

Dear you:

The 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). 

Several months ago she asked her father and me if we'd come for a visit (we live in Connecticut and she and her family live in Georgia) and babysit overnight for her children (ages seven and three) so she could attend a concert with friends (her husband is in the Navy and is currently deployed). We agreed. 

Except I didn't want to spend the night at her house. 

And rather than being honest about it, I got myself all spun up with shame, resistance, and guilt because I was making my preference mean that I am a selfish person, and that being a selfish person is a bad thing.

Me. The one who teaches others how to honor their needs and preferences.

I was afraid to disappoint her (and upon deeper inspection, my husband).


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 to, 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 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.

Sometimes I have to revisit these.


Getting back to my recent FODO scenario...

In the end, I didn't stay. I went back to the hotel and my husband spent the night. I stayed until well after the children had gone to sleep and I came back well before they woke up so I could make them breakfast.

In the morning I asked my husband how it had gone and he replied that three-year-old Avery had gotten up in the middle of the night and crawled into bed with him and that several hours later she went back to her own bed.

(He and I had actually talked about that happening and how cute and heartwarming it would be. All I could think about was being too hot and unable to sleep. I also imagined all the other grandmothers in the world, except for my own, swooning at the thought of their precious grandbabies crawling into bed with them).

Later, when my stepdaughter texted me to check in, I wrote: "Avery crawled into our bed for a few hours then went back to hers." My husband, who was looking over my shoulder, asked, "Our?"

I was so torn. I felt defensive and embarrassed.

When my stepdaughter arrived home I came clean. "I wasn't actually here, I went back to the hotel."

I have no idea how she felt, but my behavior bothered me so much that when we got home, I let her know: I want to apologize for misleading you into thinking I had spent the night (when I texted you) when in fact, I hadn't. It's been bothering me ever since and I finally figured it out: I was embarrassed and a little ashamed of the fact that I didn't want to spend the night and that this would mean I am just like my mother and grandmother, which I am in some ways (and not like Patti [their other grandmother]! Seriously though, it wasn't fair or right of me to not be open and honest with you. So again, I am sorry. And I love you!!"

I didn't hear back from her and I watched my mind create evidence to prove that she hates me.

[We all have default patterns, thoughts, and beliefs and one of mine is "no one likes me" (or "everyone hates me."]


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 c.l. anderson released this post 3 days early for patrons.   Become a patron