Concrete threat


The feeling when something happened that could mean something bad will happen to you or someone else. You cannot stop thinking about this.

You feel worry when you are constantly thinking about something that happened (the ‘signal event’), which may be a signal that something bad will happen (the ‘possible event’). For example, you can feel worried when you are supposed to meet a friend for dinner, but she is an hour late and not picking up her phone (signal event), and now you are worried that something bad may have happened to her (possible event). Or you may have an unusual lump on your skin that is not going away (signal event), and now worry that it may be something serious (possible event). In both cases, the immediate cause, the missing friend and the mysterious lump, could be signals that something terrible happened, e.g., your friend had an accident and the lump turns out to be nasty disease. However, they could also turn out meaningless: the friend turns up late with an empty phone battery, and the lump is just a benign mole. However, until you are sure, the uncertainty is what triggers the unsettling thought process that characterizes worry.

Worry is essentially a type of fear triggered by a situation in which you only play a secondary role. This also explains why we often feel worry for other people: we have much less control over other people’s wellbeing than our own. This powerlessness can lead to several means of expression: waiting restlessly for an outcome, finding distraction in something else, or a relatively aimless attempt to do something to help. An example of the latter is when a parent of a missing child starts driving around the neighborhood, even if she knows the chances of spotting her child that way are slim. If people’s situations remain challenging and beyond their control, such as with medical or financial troubles, worries can extend over a long period of time.

In the comic, Murphy is assessing his future now that he has just been fired. He realizes his prospects are very bad, and he doesn’t know if he can do anything about it.

Movie clips

Typical expressions

“Why haven’t I heard from her yet?”

“I’m sure something bad has happened.”

Murphy's bad day

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Comparisons with other emotions

Worry & Anxiety

Anxiety and worry are both emotional responses to situations with an unclear outcome. In comparison however, anxiety also has an unclear cause, whereas worry is a response to a concrete sign. For example, new parents may have a general anxiety that something bad could happen to their child. If they are worried, in contrast, it is because there is a sign that they interpret as potentially bad, such as a rash, a recurring cough or a lack of appetite.

Worry & Pity

Pity and worry have in common that they are both emotions that can be felt towards other people (always, in the case of pity, and often, in the case of worry). The difference is that worry is felt towards events that have not yet taken place (or at least that you don’t about yet), but that you worry may happen. In the case of pity, you already know that something bad has happened to them.