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The Problem is Part of the Solution

Why do we resent having problems?

Scott Peck began his classic The Road Less Traveled by saying that life is difficult and the sooner we accept that, the sooner our lives will improve. So why do we so resent and reject that notion? Why do we feel like failures when problems pop up, especially those that have no ready solution?

Where did we get the notion that life should be easier and problems fewer? Are we born with rose-colored glasses? Is this notion peculiar to our American culture?

The resentment seems to come because we\’ve made other plans that seem to be continually disrupted by life. And certainly our culture in this day and age dictates that the individual should be at the center of his/her own universe. We are encouraged to be independent, self-reliant, with good self-esteem and ambitions for ourselves. We draw our life plans from the media, from our parent\’s admonitions, somewhere from outside ourselves.

We sometimes miss out on early lessons on how to deal with adversity, particularly if we have enough to eat and a roof over our heads. We come to expect that life will go along swimmingly.

When it doesn\’t, when the car breaks down, or our spouse dies, or we lose our job, or we get multiple sclerosis, we blame a cruel capricious world or even a cruel capricious Higher Power. Didn\’t we learn early on that we could be in control of our own lives if we worked hard enough, obeyed the law, and said our prayers?

How can we begin to see problems as naturally occurring events?

Anyone who has had the privilege of having a problem that brought them to their knees and into a Twelve Step program of recovery, learns that admitting we are powerless over persons, places, and things, is the beginning of hope. Even people that come to therapy are there because they are sick and tired of being sick and tired. Although they may think that they will receive lessons in mastery, they know on some level that just addressing a problem, admitting that it exists, can be a starting point.

I think of how many times I saw new patients who said they started feeling better after they made their appointments, even before they were seen for the first time. They had no idea how therapy might help them but making an appointment for it seemed to bring new hope to their horizons. Initial appointments are often devoted to simply normalizing their symptoms. They learn that their sleeplessness and agitation, their loss of appetite and panic symptoms are all normal reactions to the particular events or problems in their life. Just knowing that the problems can resolved over time, particularly when those problems are shared with another person, is quite helpful to many. However, once they\’ve worked through one set of problems, they still have the expectation that now life will be okay, as if solving one problem wards off future ones. In a way, if one learns new, healthier relationship skills, then future relationships can benefit from the experience. But life doesn\’t often deal us the same cards over and over. A relationship problem is followed by a health problem by a financial problem by a spiritual one.

What can help is to see problems as naturally occurring events, as normal as our next heartbeat, as vital to our wel lbeing as our next breath. Moreover, seeing an even more challenging problem as an opportunity for even more exciting growth is even more profitable. My mother always told me that facing and solving problems builds character. At the most difficult times in my life, when problems were heaped upon each other into an erupting volcano of grief and fear, I found myself telling whomever would listen that I don\’t need any more character!

Building gratitudes out of problems.

Again, if you\’ve been in a Twelve Step program of recovery, you are familiar with people introducing themselves as Sally or Bob, a grateful member of AA or Al Anon or Overeaters Anonymous.

The problem of addiction, to substances or to trying to change others, is a spur to becoming part of a program of recovery that becomes that person\’s spiritual guide and source of support for the rest of their lives. Continuing problems, relapses and slips, all push the participants to delve deeper, to work their programs more assiduously, and to use all of the tools of their programs. And, as they do so, their spiritual growth and physical and emotional recovery advance tenfold.

Homework Assignment:

Write down a list of your current problems—maximum of ten or else you\’re your cheating and delving into the past or anticipating the future. Then rewrite your list preceding each item with, “I am grateful for… (fill in the name of your problem).” You may not yet know the exact nature of the benefit you are to receive from experiencing this problem, but putting yourself in a grateful state of mind may be the first step in finding a solution or learning to entirely accept the problem and its impact on your life.

A SAFETY REMINDER: If you feel you have a psychiatric emergency, go directly to a family member, a friend, your physician, your pastor, or the nearest hospital emergency room and tell them you are in crisis and in need of immediate help.

Or Call 911 or one of these numbers:
• 1-800-SUICIDE or 1-800-784-2433
• 1-800-273-TALK or 1-800-273-8255
• For a Suicide Hotline in your state: www.suicidehotlines.com

Suicide is a permanent and tragic solution to a temporary problem. Get help.

Next Month: The Difference between Worry and Concern

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