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The Choice to Stay Upset

A couple of months ago I wrote an article on acceptance and going with the flow as life happens. In that article I presented four options that dialectical behaviour therapy teaches about dealing with upsetting situations. As a quick recap, here are the four options: 1) Try to change the situation 2) Try to change how you feel about the situation 3) Stay upset 4) Accept the situation.


Most people find that options one, two, and four make sense, but why on earth would anyone choose option three – to stay upset? Don’t people want to be happy? Don’t people want to let go of their hurt and frustration and move on? The truth is, a lot of time people choose to stay upset. You might think this is a bad option, but it can be a fair option depending on how someone chooses to stay upset. Let me explain further.


You’ve likely encountered bitter, angry, people. People who seem quite miserable and resentful. Most likely, they’ve experienced some pain in their life, and perhaps not knowing how to work through it, or how to sit in their pain in a healthy way, resentment and bitterness has eaten away at their spirit. While these individuals have chosen option three – to stay upset and hurt – this outcome isn’t ideal, but is a reality for many.


When I say it can be a real option to choose to stay upset, I am hoping for a very different outcome by maintaining upset in a very different way. Here are some things to consider when making the choice to stay upset, but doing so in a way that keeps you emotionally healthy.


  • We will often stay upset if something we value has been affected. Some people might value a strong work ethic, some might value loyalty, and others might value fairness. There’s a long list of things people value, and if something happens that affects what you value, you will likely get upset. For example, if you value a strong work ethic and you work alongside someone who is lazy and only puts in half an effort, you might feel upset because your value system is being triggered. Staying upset is often a way to stand up for and honor our values.


  • Try not to add to or subtract from your angry or hurt feelings. This means don’t add fuel to the fire that’s already there. When you’re upset it’s easy to become even more upset by having a heated internal dialogue. Instead allow your feelings to be present, but don’t heighten them by adding negative thinking. Also try not to subtract from your feelings, meaning don’t minimize them by telling yourself “I shouldn’t feel this way”. This invalidates your experience, which will make you grip on to your hurt even more, plus add more problems because you’re beating yourself up for your feelings.


  • Consider a timeline for staying upset. Most people who choose option three will want to remain upset to honor their values and their pain, but may not want to feel upset indefinitely. It can be helpful to decide how long you want to hang on to these feelings. Ask yourself what feels appropriate given the circumstance or the value that you’re fighting for? Maybe it’s a week, but maybe it’s as long as a year or longer.


  • Don’t expect others to stay upset with you. Just as you have four options to deal with an upsetting situation, so do others, and not everyone will want to choose option three. It feels nice when others join us in our hurt and anger because it validates our emotions and experiences, however other people place importance on different values, and their value system may not be triggered in the same way yours has been. Some people value happiness above all, and so option three isn’t a likely choice for them. The key here is to recognize other people’s values aren’t the exact same as yours, and their choice to do something different is valid and your choice to remain upset is also valid. Your experience of the event will be unique to you because you are your own person.


  • Allow yourself to step in and out of the hurt. Just because you choose to stay upset doesn’t mean you have to feel that way all of the time. Allow yourself to be distracted and to have moments when you don’t feel upset.


Perhaps you want to and are trying to choose one of the other options, but for some reason find that you’re choosing option three. Sometimes this happens because your soul knows you need more time to honor the pain or hurt you’ve experienced. If this is the case, try not to rush yourself through the process of getting over your feelings, and instead try the above ideas to help you sit in the pain in a healthy way. As long as you’re not beating yourself up for your feelings and adding fuel to the fire of your pain, your soul will know when you’re ready to try the other options. Until then, it’s okay to give yourself the time and space you need to feel your feelings.


Karla Reimer, MA specializes in the areas of self care and spirituality, as well as many others. For more information on Karla, her work, or other articles she’s written for Living Well click here to link to her full bio page.