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Anatomy of an Upset

By Scott Braxton, Ph.D., MBA

Any time we are upset or disappointed or frustrated or angry, we do it to ourselves. It has nothing to do with the external circumstances. Life is the way that it is. When we get upset about anything, it really has nothing to do with anything else; it has to do with what we perceive and how we are reacting to it.

There are three elements that may be present in an upset. Number one is a thwarted intention. Another way of looking at that as it is a blocked desire. We’re not getting what we want. Something or somebody gets in the way of how we want something to go. It’s like a two or three –year-old conversation: “I’m not getting my way!”

The second element of an upset is what’s called an unfulfilled expectation. An unfulfilled expectation is when we see how something should go and it doesn’t go that way. This is a one-way conversation of how something should go. The operative word is “should.” We basically should all over ourselves.

The third element of an upset is a withhold or undelivered communication. In a situation where there is something that needs to be said, we get stopped for some reason, and communication doesn’t happen. We withhold something that needs to be said, or someone withholds from us, and we get upset. Withholding never works. A really good analogy for this is: withholding is to relationships like rat poison is to rats. It leads to a slow, certain and painful death.

Whenever we are upset its time to look at what’s running us. Is it a thwarted intention, an unfilled expectation, or a withhold? We get to have the insight about what’s running us. What there is to do about it is to get a communication because anything, anything can be resolved through communication.

But before we get into communication, we need to inquire about the source of the upset. This is the intermediate step between seeing where the upset is and delivering it to the other person, undistinguished. Otherwise, the intention will seem to be real to you, and you will end up blaming the other person for not living up to your intention or expectation. But inquire; is the expectation or intention true? Can you know for certain that it is true and it should have gone the way you wanted? Who would you be being if you believe this expectation, and who would you be without the thought this expectation needed to happen. Looking into this opens up some freedom. Ultimately, we get to take responsibility for having the intention or expectation that led to the upset.

It’s from this place of taking responsibility that your communication with the other person will have real power. You will be able to say “honey, isn’t it interesting that I was upset. I had this expectation, and I realized that I was the one who had it. I apologize for the effect that this had on you.” It is then that you can have the type of conversation around what led to the expectation (e.g. context or possibility), and get realigned for how the two of you would like it to go in the future.

So the steps for dealing with an upset are number one: recognize you’re in upset. Number two: determine the source of the upset: is it a thwarted intention, an unfulfilled expectation, or withhold. Number three: inquire around your intention or expectation so that you can be at the source and be responsible. And number four: be in communication. This communication will really make a difference if you acknowledge your role in the upset, you come from aligned values, and create possibilities that inspire everyone.