Reasonable Upset

In an attempt to act responsibly when you're upset, you might try to determine if your level of upset about something was reasonable. Even if there were some universal measuring stick for appropriate upset, the answer wouldn't be particularly helpful. You would either claim your right to be upset or feel shame for having the wrong level of upset.

Rather than trying to decide if upset is legitimate, it's more helpful to ask yourself, "How can I be responsible in the midst of this upset?" In Compassionate Communication (NVC) taking responsibility for any emotion means connecting with the underlying universal needs/values and acting to meet them in harmony with others.

This pretty simple form of responsibility gets tricky when you question the validity of your own experience by asking if your emotion is reasonable. Here are some other the forms of questioning that invalidate your experience:

  • Do I have a right to ask for that?
  • Is it okay to need that?
  • What if I'm over reacting?
  • What if it's just from my past and I'm projecting it onto the present?
  • Yeah, but my partner never asks that of me.
  • I don't want to be a burden.
  • S/he will just say no anyway.

A subtle and foundational part of behaving responsibly is turning toward your experience with acceptance and compassion. Whatever experience you're having, it won't go away if you measure its validity. Turning towards it allows you to choose how you want to respond.

Let's say one of your partner's friends has expressed a romantic attraction to your partner. Your partner tells you that it's nothing to worry about because the attraction is not mutual. But you've been in similar situations in the past and it didn't go well. You know that at least some of your upset is from past pain. Your partner has earned your trust and yet, this is a scary situation for you.

Regardless of the mixture of emotions triggered by history and those triggered by current events, there are needs that are alive for you and want your attention, a few might be security, comfort, reassurance, clarity, consideration, caring, and respect. Again, these needs are valid even if they are based on a misperception of the situation. Measuring their validity or even correcting your misperception won't necessarily bring you relief (Analyzing relative levels of correct and incorrect perception is another rabbit hole you can get lost in). You have a right to your needs and you have a right to make requests to get these needs met. Making requests of yourself, your partner, and anyone else, negotiating something to take action on, and checking in later to see if those actions were effective in meeting needs are the last steps in taking responsibility.

For example, to help meet your needs for security and comfort, you might ask yourself to bring to mind all the potentially tricky situations in the past in which your partner came through and earned your trust. You might ask your partner if s/he would be willing to, for the next month, to only spend time with this friend when other friends are present.

What if your partner says no? Your partner saying no doesn't invalidate your request or mean you did something wrong. It just opens the next step of negotiation which is to ask your partner what needs of theirs come up hearing your request. The negotiation can now continue and include these needs of your partner as well as your own. Perhaps your partner will offer the next request and say something like, "Hearing your request my needs for autonomy and trust come up. I wonder if a different idea would meet your needs? How about this?: for the next month, you can ask me any questions you like about the situation including how I am maintaining boundaries, if my feelings are changing, if my friend has brought it up again, if my friend has flirted, etc. You can also ask for reassurance at any time about my dedication to our relationship. I commit to respo nding to your questions with a warm heart and non-defensiveness. If I can't respond this way in the moment, I will ask for a time-out and come back to your questions within the same day. How does that land?"

Hearing your partner's idea feels okay to you, but you are still pretty nervous so you make this request, "Okay, I am willing to try that. I wonder if we can also recommit to our weekly date night and check in every Sunday evening to make sure it is in our calendar and we have something special planned?"

When you both are honoring your own feelings and needs, negotiations can be this straightforward. A negotiation gets tangled when experience is invalidated and/or you can't truly access request energy (you can't hear no to your request) or your partner hears a demand regardless of the intention you hold. You'll hear more about this in next week's Connection Gem. For now the essential thing to remember is that what allows you to take responsibility for your upset and get to the point of negotiation is turning toward your experience with acceptance and compassion.


This week look for signs that you are pushing away your experience. This might include tensing up around an emotion, criticizing yourself, telling yourself how should or shouldn't feel, comparing yourself to others, or distracting with sweets, screen time, etc. In those moments, for one full inhale and one full exhale, simply say to yourself, it's okay to be feeling this right now, I can just be with it.


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