Sources of Upset, Part II: Unfulfilled Expectations

In my last post, I proposed that all negative emotions, or upsets, could be attributed to three sources:

  1. Withheld communications
  2. Unfulfilled expectations
  3. Thwarted intentions

Part one of this series described withheld communications while focusing on family gatherings and workplace dynamics.  I will again relate this information to our personal and professional lives.

Unfulfilled expectations occur when we expect something to happen, and it doesn’t.  The term expectation refers to some action that originates from others.  This is in contrast to intention (as in thwarted intention), which refers to an action that originates from ourselves.

For those of you familiar with Temperament Theory, you will recognize the following four descriptions in the work of David Keirsey, Ph.D. and, more recently, Linda V. Berens, Ph.D. I have found that what constitutes an unfulfilled expectation to each of us depends upon our temperament.

Individuals favoring the Artisan (Keirsey) or Improviser (Berens) temperament are inclined to act quickly, often with only a brief contemplation of that action, and with an expectation that others will, eventually, agree with the plan they initiate.  They have a strategic intelligence.  The freedom to act and having an immediate or near-term impact are core psychological needs for this temperament, making them excellent in a crisis or emergency situation.  People of this temperament have a variety of reactions when they are blocked from taking action and having an impact (thus unfulfilled).

  • They become frustrated, then work to persuade others to agree with and follow their action; or
  • They proceed recklessly without consulting others in anticipation of disagreement, and deal with the consequences later; or
  • They become angry, sarcastic, and then withdrawn; or
  • They quickly shift to another plan in an effort to get agreement on a new course of action.

Unless folks of this temperament are tied down and boxed in, they are not sitting still long enough to dwell on the anger of being unfulfilled. Instead, they move quickly to their next idea. They are known to take risks, so strong is their need to act and have an impact.

During family gatherings, these folks can defy tradition, suggest wild alternatives to the status quo, and say things that “stir the pot”.  They can be the life of the party, and may act outrageously to ameliorate their boredom.  They are often perplexed as to why others don’t see the humor and excitement in their ideas. While they are perceptive of the moods of others and the dynamics of the group, they often choose to ignore such nuances as a distraction to their efforts to take action.  If the desires of the artisan/improviser temperament are repeatedly unmet, they will become depressed, despondent and/or withdrawn.


Individuals favoring the Guardian/Stabilizer temperament are inclined to follow the rules, honor traditions, and seek affiliation with a group(s) they find meaningful.  Such groups could be familial, social or professional.  A sense of belonging and a belief in responsibility are core psychological needs for these individuals, making them the most consistent, loyal and reliable of the temperaments.  They have a logistical intelligence: bringing the right resources and personnel to bear on an issue.  People of this temperament have a variety of reactions when their values of loyalty and duty are not honored, and thus go unfulfilled.

  • They become angry with the person or group defying established norms and traditions, or
  • They use criticism in an attempt to change the behavior of others, or
  • They demonstrate resistance and become controlling of people, processes and things in order to get their intentions fulfilled, or
  • Simply withdraw, becoming stubborn and righteous about their anger and perspective.

The attachment these individuals have to the rules and traditions of a group they believe to be meaningful can prevent them from seeing the world through the eyes of others.  The impact this has on their relationships then serves to perpetuate the very frustration and unfulfilled expectation they so dislike.

During family gatherings, these folks find comfort and enjoyment in the predictability of family traditions.  They are happiest when serving the generations-old holiday meal and putting family heirlooms on display.  When others don’t respond with the same respect for rules and traditions, the guardian/stabilizer temperament can become angry, critical and/or forlorn.


Individuals favoring the Rational/Theorist temperament value a clear goal, and a well-reasoned plan for getting there.  Competency and self-control are core psychological needs for these individuals.  They are often viewed as natural leaders because of their strategic intelligence and their ability to be articulate and persuasive.  People of this temperament have a variety of reactions when their preference for a well thought-out plan with clear objectives is resisted, therefore unfulfilled:

  • They can become angry and controlling, or
  • They can question the competency of others, or
  • They can be embarrassed by their own perceived lack of competency and/or control, or
  • They can become argumentative and push obsessively with more logic, or
  • They become uncharacteristically mindless.

Once a plan has been made, and a course of action is underway, these individuals can be persuaded to change that course if presented with the logic that supports a change.  Contrary to what you might think, this temperament does not always need to be in control, but they will be watching to make sure that someone with competence is in control!

During family gatherings, these folks will elevate the dinner conversation to a discussion of world affairs in search of a good argument.  They argue not to fight, but to hone their own knowledge and challenge their intellect.  This desire can upset the group dynamic, especially if old wounds or dysfunctional patterns surface.


Individuals favoring the Idealist/Catalyst temperament value cooperative relationships and authenticity.  Meaning, significance, and recognition of the unique identity of both themselves and others are at the core of their psychological needs.  They possess a diplomatic intelligence. People of this temperament can react in several ways when others impede their desire for harmony and a purposeful life, leaving them feeling unfulfilled:

  • They can become worried or depressed if their life is chronically unfulfilling, or
  • They can become flustered and angry in a situation where disharmony evolves, then
  • They will work to rescue the victims of disharmony or unfair treatment, or conversely
  • They will remove themselves completely from the situation

Despite the conciliatory nature of these folks, they can become quite incensed when expectations go unfulfilled, or feelings are not taken into account.  It is the irony of this type: their strong reaction to an upsetting situation can make it worse.  However, they are usually quick to regain their focus and become the catalyst for reconciliation.

This is especially true during family gatherings, as these folks have their radar focused on the group dynamic.  Are people enjoying themselves?  Are any old and unpleasant dynamics emerging?  If so, they will use their diplomatic skills to avert this possibility, fearing the harmony of the group will unravel. If their efforts fail they may lose control and become angry, blame themselves for not being able to affect harmony, and/or take themselves away from the situation.  Yet, when all is well with these individuals, the kindness, compassion and coaching they display makes them a comfort to their friends, family and co-workers alike.


In the situations described above, substitute “family gatherings” for “at the office,” add a little imagination, and perhaps you can see yourself in some all-too-familiar workplace dynamics.  There is truth in the aphorism, “Wherever I go, there I am!”  Well-adjusted adults are generally successful at modifying their behavior to the context of the moment, but under stress, we can all fall back on behaviors that are most familiar, and “familiar” does not necessarily mean “appropriate.”  Who we are as a result of growing up in our family of origin eventually seeps out into other aspects of our lives.

So what to do with this information?  I suggest that:

  • you first identify which of the Temperaments you most identify with.  This is often best determined by reflecting on how you react when under stress.
  • Next, focus on the individual or group you are interacting with.
    • Are there any clues as to their expectations?
    • What are their likely reactions to having these expectations unfulfilled?
    • How can you fulfill their expectations and your own?
    • Where are the opportunities for compromise, growth and change?

While this is a tall order for many of us, information and self-awareness provide a great place to start.

Stay tuned for the final post in this series, thwarted intention!


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