The anatomy of an upset.

Did you ever notice that, when you go to the doctor and say you don’t feel good, the doctor doesn’t yet know how to diagnose you? 

He or she may begin to ask you a whole bunch of questions to determine more accurately what is wrong, and only then can the doctor begin to diagnose your illness.

Patient: Doctor, I don’t feel well.

Doc: Do you mean your fingers don’t feel anything that you touch?

Patient: No, no, no. I mean that I don’t feel well inside.

Doc: Inside where?

Patient: Inside my body.

Doc: That’s a large area. Can you be more specific?

Patient: Inside my stomach.

Doc: Where in your stomach? Can you point to the area?

Patient: Right THERE in the middle. (Patient points.)

Doc: OK, what kind of pain is it? A sharp pain? A dull pain? A shooting pain?

You get the idea. The doctor sets about making distinctions in order to better identify the problem. 

The same holds true with upsets.

The dictionary says “an upset is a state of disorder; confusion; an unexpected defeat; a minor physical disorder; an emotional disturbance.”

But you already knew that, and it has never helped you get rid of your upsets. The dictionary definitions are comparable to the patient’s upset in the illustration above. They are mere concepts—symbols of an upset. No doctor, or other healer, can do anything with them beyond understanding that the patient is experiencing something upsetting.

In order to get rid of our upsets, we will need to make distinctions. In that way, as in the above-mentioned patient-doctor scenario, we will have a better shot at pinpointing the problem and resolving it.

We’re in a generous mood today so we’re not going to make you work at coming up with those distinctions. We’ll simply tell you.

There are three components to every upset:

  1. An unfulfilled expectation.
  2. An undelivered communication.
  3. A thwarted intention.

An unfulfilled expectation occurs when what actually happened does not agree with the picture we had formed in our heads about how things would turn out.

“I got all dressed up to attend my friend’s wedding, and I expected some eligible guy to approach me and start a conversation. Hmmpf! No one so much as gave me the time of day.”

An undelivered communication occurs when we have something to say, but we can’t, or don’t, say it, or we are waiting for someone to say a particular something to us, but that person never does. It can also occur when we observe others having a conversation, and we wait for one of them to say a particular something, but neither one does. In each case, when that communication goes undelivered, we find ourselves upset.

“I borrowed my husband’s car and forgot to let him know. My stomach hurts thinking about how angry he’ll be when he sees it’s not in the driveway.” 

“My wife came home and left all her shopping bags in the middle of my home office. I ended up putting everything away, but when I mentioned it later, she just shrugged, without even thanking me, or saying sorry.”

“My father-in-law scolded his wife in front of my kids for something it turned out she didn’t do. We were all waiting for him to apologize, but he never did.” 

In each of these cases, someone is upset because of an undelivered communication.

A thwarted intention occurs when we have taken active steps to begin work on something, and an outside force prevents us from continuing our progress towards our goal.

“After a month of going to the office every Sunday, I finally set aside time to fix the roof. Wouldn’t you know it—THAT DAY a storm kicked up out of nowhere. It rained for two solid days, so my plans to complete the job by Monday were completely ruined.”

At this point, we find that many people are still confused about the difference between an unfulfilled expectation and a thwarted intention

Let us try to explain.

Your expectation is a “picture” you have about how things will be. This picture lives inside your mind and takes shape from your past experience, how things have always been, and how you assume things will always be. 

This picture—your expectation—gives rise to an intention—a job that you’d like to set in motion. 

So expectations exist within your mind, and you have absolute control over them.

Intentions take expectations out into the world of action. Intentions are no longer under your absolute control and can be impacted by outside forces, obstacles or roadblocks.

An upset consists of all three components in varying degrees. One will be more obvious than the others. When you distinguish which of the three is the main one, you can begin to put in the correction, or simply realize the source of your upset and let it be. 

You will notice that as soon as you have carved out the reasons for your upset, or said another way, to the degree that you can bear the responsibility that you have set up that expectation, or can deliver that communication, or surrender to the outside force that thwarted your intention, your upset will lighten, or even disappear completely

When you grasp this concept, your life will become completely transformed. You must work on this day and night until you perfect it. You will make mistakes every once in awhile. After all, you are human. You can’t be expected to become an expert in this immediately. It will take time and practice. But if you work on it for as long as it takes, you will begin to see remarkable results. 

If you and your spouse undertake this work as a couple, you will become closer, more intimate, more tranquil and less anxious than ever before. 

An example.

You submit your resume and go for a job interview. You know you are a perfect fit for this position, you are the best-qualified candidate, and you expect to be hired. But the recruiter picks someone else. 

You’re upset. 

Not only was your expectation unfulfilled, you’re left with a need to plead your case before the recruiter (undelivered communication), and your attempt to put yourself “out there” to be considered for the job has been blocked (thwarted intention). 

You will not get the chance to resolve your upset with the potential employer. So what can you do?

You can go to your spouse or your friend and communicate your upset, and if he or she is able to re-create you, your upset will disappear.

An illustration.

“Honey, you’ll never believe this. After all those interviews, they picked someone else. I’m so bummed out. I “dressed for success,” I spent $200 to perfect my resume, I brushed up on all the interview questions, and I have exactly the right experience. What more could I have done to get that job?”

“Honey” was quiet the entire time—not only did she keep her mouth shut, but when she noticed her mind “chattering,” she silenced it as well. She set about concentrating on her husband’s communication. She did not get hooked by the melodrama. Instead, to her best efforts, she allowed all her husband’s emotions, opinions, points of view, attitudes and body sensations to reside within her as though she were living through the experience herself.

Once he was completely “talked out”—or another way of saying this is “re-created”—she could help him dissect his upset, sharing with him where he’d had an unfulfilled expectation (he hadn’t gotten the job he “knew” he’d get), an undelivered communication (he needed to plead his case before the recruiter and couldn’t), and a thwarted intention (he’d put himself “out there,” but outside forces prevented him from realizing his goal). 

Now, he was no longer confounded by the blur of his upset, he could identify, and deal with, its three manageable parts; i.e., what actually happened.

Authors’ note: When someone comes to you in a state of upset (incapable of disentangling from the overpowering muddle of a situation), before you speak another word or begin to re-create, ask “what happened?”

This expression allows the other person to pause and begin to make distinctions. It also lets her know that you’re there as an objective listener, to help her.

Nearly always, what actually happened is quite different from—and not nearly as oppressive as—what we add to the story.

Remember Detective Joe Friday from the old Dragnet TV show? He used to say, “Just the facts, Ma’am.” We tend to dramatize things in order to build a fascinating case to wow our audience, when “what actually happened” is far less catastrophic and far more easily fixed.

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