Sometimes problems move into our lives like obnoxious family members. They burst through the door, raid your fridge, and make themselves right at home on your couch. As you sit there and witness this happen, you might be wondering to yourself, "Why in the world did I even open the door?"
You drop subtle hints, "So... How long will you be staying with us?"; followed by an ambiguous answer indicating that it has no intention of leaving on it's own accord.
This is one way of thinking about the variety of problems that we interact with on a daily basis. Anxiety as an overbearing and needy mother-in-law, setting expectations for you that you cannot reach and spitting messages of inadequacy at you. Depression as that friend of yours who always wants to stay inside and dwell on "the good old days", one of those friends who sucks the energy out of you with their ideas about life. Stress as a demanding older sibling reminding you of all of the things you're obligated to do, all the while making you feel like you can never live up to their expectations. Maybe it's not the case that you experience with specific relatives or friends like this, but I'm sure if you're familiar with anxiety, depression, or stress you can at least picture this person in your mind.
The reality is that these intrusive guests are often unwelcome and difficult to get rid of. Often we feel powerless as we watch them sit on our couch and consume all of our food and energy. We think of things to say to it, "Have you looked for an apartment yet?", "Do you plan on leaving any time soon..." but we choke on the words. We don't want to offend them! After all, didn't anxiety remind you that it might not be such a good idea to get close to the edge of that cliff on the hike you went on recently? That was kind of a nice gesture.
So the question is, how do you gain enough power in this situation to tell these problems that they are no longer welcomed in your home? It takes courage to do this, and it is often not something you can do without support. This is how I hope to support those who come to therapy. I seek to be a witness to the process of gaining power over these problems and help you understand how they operate in your life.
Often we view problems as inherently ours. We've somehow created this problem-monster and it lives inside of us like a parasite. We cannot let it go because we are fused with it, and it has completely consumed us. We feel guilty to have let something so sinister take over our life. And now guilt has found a way to fuse to us too, and the spiral never ends. When we think of problems as "our own problems", we can lose the ability to confront them. When we assume our problems are our own fault, we lose the voice to tell them to leave us alone because after all, they are here because of us.
The truth is, you have more power than you think you do. You have more voice than you ever could have known. These problems don't come out of nowhere! We can track their path, and learn exactly where they came from. Maybe you feel that you are not a good enough friend or partner - is that because you really are not and it's something wrong with you? Or is it because you are having troubles fitting into society's understanding of what friend or partner is? This is the difference between a "problem within" and a "problem without".
The "problem within" continuously convinces us that we are the problem, it's in our DNA, and we must learn to manage this. If we cannot manage this, we are the failure.
The "problem without" is different. It is something we interact with, that we can learn to track where it came from, and understand what it is communicating to you. By separating you from your problem, you can find ways to gain power over it and discover your voice. Then the question boils down to this: Do you want to write your own story, or do you want the problem to write your story?