​​The Life of Problems

by Kenneth Stewart, Ph.D.
The person is not the problem.

The problem is the problem - Michael White

Problems come in many forms:

  • Habits - of talking, fighting, forgetfulness,                                                                           messiness, overeating, laziness, beating up                                                                          on ourselves; avoiding responsibilities; . . .
  • Thoughts & Ideas - the persistent thought that                                                                    you are no good; that others are to blame; that you always need to fight back; that you are weak, unworthy, orugly; that the world is out to get you; and other specific beliefs about others - fixed beliefs about culture, gender, weight, intelligence or some other rigidly held belief that stereotypes and easily categorizes the other;
  • Moods - worries; fears; panic (which may also show itself as upset stomach, dizziness, lightheadedness, headaches, feeling weak in the knees, a sense of dread or impending doom); sadness; depression (which may also show itself as irritability; indifference, not caring, lack of motivation, low energy, difficulty getting started) anger; grief; apathy;
  • Behavior - picking on others; goofing off; getting distracted; fighting; avoiding; withdrawing; avoiding; procrastination; compulsions;

How they gain control:

They tempt us; sneak up on us; trip us up; control us; influence us; dominate us; make our life miserable, unhappy, or just dissatisfying; they may blind us to other possibilities; they may feel like internal "voices" that talk us into destructive ways of thinking, feeling, or acting.

They may have once been useful:
They have have originally been useful in some context, been our friend: to defend, protect, save or help us in some way. But they may no longer be useful . .they may now be a friend who has turned into an enemy, or a fickle friend. Now this "friend" gets us in trouble, makes us miserable, unhappy, or makes others upset and angry at us.

What they become: The can become part of the "story" we have or others have about us - part of our identity as persons. These "stories" circulate among those who know us. These stories may gain weight and become heavy. These stories may become so big they fill the room or the space around us.

What we can do:

Personifying the Problem

Some have found it helpful to personify the problem. The verb or adjective becomes a noun. So it is "anger" or "worry" or "fighting" or "depression" that has some degree of control over us, some degree of influence ­ is taking over our lives and relationships.

With children, you can draw pictures of the problem. Make a sculpture of the problem with clay. Paint pictures of the problem.

Our Abilities:

We use our abilities to resist, overcome, and control the problems and take back our lives.

Our abilities are anything we can do, think, or say. Our abilities may include our imagination. Abilities may also include our beliefs about ourselves, the confidence we have in our abilities.

Our abilities are to a large part, what we know. We all know some things - from living, from our experiences, from our observations. It is crucial to not lose track of what we know.

Its easy to overlook, take for granted, or discount our abilities. But they are there within us and within our experiences nevertheless.

Gaining back control of our lives from the problem:

We gain back control over the problem in steps, not all at once. We need to look for the slightest piece of evidence that we are slowly gaining back some control over our lives from the life of the problem. The slightest progress should be noticed and given credit. Speculation as to how that control was achieved, how that problem was weakened is very important: 

We might ask the person: "How did you manage to do that?" Persist until you get some kind of answer.

  • Question which abilities were used to gain that small amount of control. - "Might this be a step in a new direction?"
  • Recruit an audience: "Who else noticed your success?" Tell others. Spread the "positive rumor."
  • Who do you think is least surprised you could do this? What did they know about you, have confidence in about you that would have not surprised them? (I knew you could do it all along.)
  • What does this say about you? (Asking the person themselves.)
  • Is this a different picture of yourself than you had before? Which picture do you prefer, the old picture of yourself or this new picture of yourself?
  • Certificates, diplomas, rituals of recognition, becoming a consultant to others.