There are different ways of talking about problems.
We can talk of ourselves as having a problem. We hear this a lot.
“Jean has a problem.” “Neil has a problem.” “Arnold has a lot of problems.”
Or we can talk of wrestling with a problem.
“I’m wrestling with this problem at the moment.”
The way that we talk about problems is important, because it changes how we think about them.
When we talk of having a problem, it expresses the idea that the problem is part of us.
Deborah has a problem. Deborah has a belly button. Deborah has a nose.
With this way of thinking, wherever we go is our nose, our belly button and, of course, our damn problem.
It can seem like we have to turn in on ourselves to move on. We have to destroy part of us to overcome things. It’s a violent mental image.
Yet a problem is not like a nose or a belly button. There are not times during the day when my nose is smaller, or disappears completely.
I’d know. My glasses would fall off!
Problems work differently.
At some times they are present. At other times not. At some times they interfere with life. At other times they seem small and manageable.
So I prefer the other metaphor. Problems are something we wrestle with.
The mental image conjured is of wrestling, not with oneself, but something external.
It allows us to think of the problem as separate. A third party. We can think of it like a person or creature that shows up sometimes.
We are no longer problematised. We don’t “have” a problem. We are okay.
We don’t have to do an act of partial self destruction to get better.
Instead, we can get curious about the character that represents the problem.
We take the role of investigative reporter doing an exposé.
What does it look like? How does it sound? Does it have a gender? A name? What does it believe? What lies does it tell you? What are its favourite tactics? What plans does it have for your life?
When does it show up? When is it not there at all, or with reduced powers? What situations are its allies, and give it more power? What give it less?
When did you first notice it? What was life like before that?
What effects does it have on your life, your friendships, your future? And are you okay with that, or are you not? If not, why not? What is important to you, that this creature is getting in the way of?
We get to know this character that represents the problem. Once we understand it, we are better equipped to overcome it.
Even the act of exposing it, and separating from it, can result in it feeling weaker and us feeling stronger.
We begin to understand its tricks and tactics. We know when it is powerful and when it is weak. We see through the lies it tells us about ourselves.
We use that information to increase our own power over it. We do indeed wrestle with it. We get stronger and it gets weaker.
And then we win.