What would happen if you stopped looking for solutions and check to see if there was actually a problem?
More and more, I have people coming to me believing that they have a problem when they only think they do. Maybe they’ve lived their life being told by others that they are not good enough, need to shape up or get with the program, are too sad, too anxious, too happy, too calm, too fast, too slow, too distracted, or whatever. What if they were actually doing a great job of being “perfectly themselves?” What if they’ve only been led to believe there is a problem by others who are different from them and therefore find fault in them? If everyone realized this, I’d be out of a job. So, shhh!
Typically, I humor these people as they tell me all about the problems they think they have. One new client recently lamented how he noticed he was isolating himself lately and didn’t have a lot of friends. Upon hearing this, I asked, “And is this a problem?” The person responded with a story about how he had heard that depressed people isolate themselves and so he was worried he might be depressed. I explored his isolation with him and he discovered he actually prefers to be alone most of the time. This actually energizes him and he finds great happiness in solitude.
I asked him again, “So, is this a problem?” He grinned and said, “Well, I guess not!” My purpose was not to talk him out of his problem or discount his situation. I just wanted to ensure that he, as opposed to others, saw his situation as a problem. In the end, he did not. His only “problem” involved other people complaining that he was not as “social” as they thought he should be.
Yikes! There’s that word: “should.” I cringe whenever I hear it. I just know there’s going to be trouble distinguishing between what the person’s really all about and what others (friends, family, spouse, employers, teachers, clergy, TV, movies, Madison Avenue, etc.) want them to be. This tends to happen when someone else has something to gain from the person being a certain way. It could be that someone else needs to validate how they believe people should (cringe) be. Somewhere along the line, they’ve picked up a belief about this.
“You should really smile more.”
“You should be more outgoing and talk more.”
“Why aren’t you more excited about this?”
“Don’t you just love it?”
This is just a small sampling of what I heard as I grew up. OK, so I’m an introvert. So I don’t demonstrate strong emotion very often. So I have an opinion that differs from theirs. What about it? Who really has the problem here? What is going on with them that they don’t accept me just as I am? This last question kills many problems instantly by making it none of my business what someone else thinks of me. That’s their business! Let them figure it out.
So, when I sit with someone in my office, I’m really only there because the person thinks there’s a problem. I rarely see a “problem” because the person is simply being who they are. What more could I ask? Why do I need to find fault or diagnose or call anything a problem? It doesn’t bother me! Why does it bother you?
Yes, I agree that I should (cringe) step in when working with a serial killer or a suicidal person or an abuser or someone who hurts others or themselves in some way. If someone is truly depressed, we can explore the problems they think they have that are “making” them feel depressed. Otherwise, the best medicine may involve helping the person decide for themselves whether they really do have a problem. If that’s what you want to do, I’d be happy to sit with you as you do this.
Copyright 2016 Daniel J. Metevier