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We're Seldom Upset for the Reason We Think

Taken from:
LETS TALK with Paul Beckow
Goldstream Gazette, March 2010

Dear Paul,
My husband was away for three days on business and didn’t call once and he said he would. I feel hurt, upset, very crazy inside and I just want to lose it on him. Help. What’s happening with me?

Dear Carol

I understand Carol. There are times in our intimate relationships when things, big and small, can really throw us. Some things happen and we feel hugely upset – hurt, fearful, angry - as you said, a little crazy inside. We’ve all been there.

Being in a relationship invites us to navigate our way through moments like this. Want to explore into this upset you're having a little deeper?

What most people do when they’re feeling this way is “react.” Let it all hang out on the other. Often called “dumping”.

It’s a mystery to me why we choose to communicate when we are in our most insecure and troubled state, when we are most upset. Yet we often do. When we’re most upset seems to me a time when we should take care of ourselves first and then when we recover our selves we would be clearer and might know what we’d really like to communicate.

While reacting, unloading, the tendency is to blame. After all it was the other person’s actions that “made us” feel scared and hurt.

So first, Carol, about blame.

We all understand blame creates lots of hurt and misunderstanding and exchange back and forth. Blame digs both people in deeper.

Also, when we blame, we give up our power. And this is a time you need your power - our power to look after your feelings and your well being. This invites us to look and see, to ”look within” - why am I feeling so upset? What’s this about for me?

This “ looking within” begins with taking a deep breath and becoming a little quieter inside, giving room to our feelings, without dramatizing them or doing harm to the other. We begin by watching ourselves, our racing thoughts, and all that we’re saying to ourselves. We become curious.

Because now we’re more quietly looking at our self rather than just at them, we can pose some questions -- questions such as:

Why am I so upset? What is this feeling that’s got me? What do I believe to be true here? Where else have I known this feeling? What am I making his not calling mean?

Examine this for yourself Carol. You may find many of our very troubling upsets in life are actually strong and triggered reactions from the past.

Consider, we all have a “memory file” of our very young experiences, early-childhood upsets, disappointments, and wounds. As adults, any event with any kind of similarity at all to an early wound can trigger a whole wealth of strong feelings. That’s how the brain works.

But don’t believe me Carol, you have to look for yourself to see if what I’m suggesting is true.

So, what really happened? You say he didn’t phone you when he was away.

What was the fear, the thoughts, that this event precipitated? What did you say to yourself?

Perhaps you thought: “Something terrible has happened. He’s had an accident” or “I knew I can’t trust him.” or perhaps “ I must not be that important.“

What did you believe to be true about his not calling? Getting at this you are getting at the source of your upset.

Often when we inquire this way, a simple incident from the past reveals itself. We can then understand much more about our self and our strong reaction. This is one way we begin to manage our feelings and take care of ourselves.

New insight or personal understanding soothes and eases us in some ways. Our communication to our partner now can be more like sharing, not blaming, and as a result they may be able to hear us easier.
It could sound something like:

“When you didn’t call, I felt really angry. I was definitely making it mean that “you didn’t care, that I wasn’t important and I felt really hurt.’” ( and your insight might be something like)

“When I was wondering about these feelings, I remebered my eighth birthday party – and my father calling just before the party was to start and saying he couldn’t come home from work. I remember how upset I was and saying to myself: “I’m not important here. His work is.” As an eight-year-old little girl who wanted to be my dad’s favorite, this thought totally devastated me ! “

“I think this is all mixed up for me in the upset I feel in you not calling. I can see why it would make a big difference to me that you call when you’re away. I’d really like it if you did that.”

When we discover the incident from the past that fuels our upset, there is a release of sorts, a new kind of clarity. Through self-reflection and understanding our selves we’ve settled ourselves and we can then respond to things that happen more clearly and effectively.
Next time you’re having a big upset, look and see for yourself. This kind of inquiry may support you in looking after your well being and sharing yourself with your partner. Look and see - you may find – we’re seldom upset for the reason we think.

Paul Beckow is an individual, marriage, and family therapist on the West Shore. See www.paulbeckow.com

For personal or couple counselling, for more information, or to register for a course - please contact Paul Beckow at The Victoria Family Institute.

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