Sorry, that's a U.P.

By Sarah Kmita, LPC-MHSP

In a recent session with an adolescent client, I interrupted, “Wait, what did you just say?” The discussion revolved around setting boundaries and the client was referencing a conversation with a friend. I thought I might have misheard…

I asked, “A ‘U.P.?’”


As much as I like to believe I’m still young enough to be “down with the kids these days” it never ceases to amaze me that there are constantly new phrases, slang words, and novel concepts being created by today’s young people that I am completely in the dark about. It turns out I had not misheard—this was one of them. 

She smiled and clarified for my aged brain, “A ‘U.P.’ is a ‘you problem.’” 

UP 1.jpg

We shared a laugh and I silently tucked away the nugget of gold for later use. 

What I found in wielding my new slang (and I certainly practiced it as much as possible because I am obviously edgy and relevant) was that there are actually TONS of opportunities to consider whether a problem is, in fact, a U.P. or not. 

Consider the following:

Your boss comes into your office appearing angry and upset and informs you that the report that was due yesterday was never received.

Is this the boss’s problem or is it your issue as the employee currently being verbally reamed? 

Regardless of whether you actually turned in the report on time, it seems like a “P” that “U” (the employee) would need to smooth over in order to stifle the smoke spewing out of your boss’ ears and keep your job. So, you might call this an M.P. (yeah, I just made that up—spread the word). On the other hand, if you are searching for a way to drive your boss into an early grave or to give the metaphorical middle finger and say, as the old country song goes, “Take this Job and Shove It,” then you would go with a “U.P.” approach and just let that foul mood roll off you “like water off a duck’s back.”

Side note: Wow, I really have lived in Nashville a long time.
The point being, the same situation can lead to different approaches depending on what your goal is.


Let’s try another:

You are walking down the hallway at school and see a group of bullies picking on another student.

Depending on your personality, you may be one of those “justice-seeking” people who will stand up for any person being wronged, hurt or unfairly treated. It may go against your morals, ethics, and/or values to do otherwise. Alternatively, you may recognize feeling sad or upset for this peer and not experience a strong urge to make a stand in the middle of a busy hallway to defend a student you don’t know personally. At least in part, it depends on what is important to you. 

There are a few things to consider if you’re still on the fence as to whether something is a “U.P.” or an “M.P.” A few of the questions to think about actually come from the type a specialized therapy that we do at our office, Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT). These questions may help you shed light on what is your (metaphorical) “dance space” versus what is your friend’s. 

  1. Does the situation directly involve you? Will the outcome impact you?

  2. How will you feel if you did or did not intervene or assist?

  3. Can you manage your feelings about the decision you make?

  4. Do you feel comfortable enough with the person to make it a U.P.?

  5. Does the person (or you) have the CAPACITY to handle the problem?  

  6. Do you have the AUTHORITY to deem the problem a “U.P?” 

  7. Are you REQUIRED to intervene or solve the problem?

  8. What is the worst thing that can happen if you don’t or do intervene? 

  9. Are you going to resent the other person (secretly maybe just a little) if you do intervene and, thus, will it cause LONG-TERM problems in the RELATIONSHIP?

  10. Are you just assuming the person is asking you to solve the problem? Is it possible they just want to vent?

Overall, the best way to develop the skill of setting boundaries is to practice, practice, practice and see how things shake out.

But (you say) “I know the answers to the questions and I’m still scared to set limits!” Sorry friend, unless you’re my client, it sounds like a “U.P.” to me. 

blogStephanie VaughnComment