By Phillip Weiss with Teresa Edmondson
Upset. The word has so many meanings, so much nuance for each of us – especially right now. It seems that no matter where we look, there’s plenty of upset swirling around.
Dr. Murray Bowen had a lot to say about this idea of upset or disturbance. His take was that these moments of family or societal disturbances were also times of opportunity. He believed that during times of calm, systems are more inflexible and less subject to needed change. But that during times of upset, there is actually greater potential for flexibility and personal growth.
Think about that for a minute. During times of upset, you have the greatest opportunity for growth. If just one person can show up just a bit less disturbed than the rest, then growth in some form can occur. As we’ve said before (and it bears repeating), when I can show up as a less-anxious presence, this can have a calming influence on those around me.
Look around you in our world today and note what you see. Where is there less reactivity and better thinking? What actions inspire humans to be their better selves?
Behaviors I have found that help me be a less anxious presence include lowering the volume or intensity in my voice, not “taking the bait,” and choosing my words carefully. It also means “showing up” and being present-and-accounted for in my important relationships, even in the midst of upset.
Bowen also predicted that when I am able to respond to upsets with just a bit more emotional maturity, I not only provide a calming influence to those around me, but my own maturity and capability grows as well. (Think “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” compliments of Friedrich Nietzsche and Kelly Clarkson.) This newfound maturity then reaches across all of my relationships, both work and personal, improving my own life as well as the lives of those around me.
When I can think about “upset” in this way, I’m less fearful of it. I’m more willing to move towards it, experiment in the midst of it, learn from it, lead within it, and grow from it – to not become so upset by the upset, you might say.
1 I do believe that there are times when we definitely need to step away. This stepping back might actually be the most mature and wise response in the moment. However, if it’s a reactive, knee-jerk response to always walk away, then it might be a missed opportunity.