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Separate yourself from your problems

Everyone has problems of one kind or another, even though it may seem like the people around us are living a trouble free life. There are a number of ways to begin gaining some perspective on the things that are making it difficult for you to live life to the fullest.

Sometimes a change in the way you view a problem can be tremendously helpful in opening up new possibilities or options for dealing with its effects. A particularly helpful concept is that of “separating yourself from your problem”.

Often people let the problems they face define them as individuals. Instead of seeing “anger," for example, as a problem to be dealt with, you may just see yourself as an “angry person."

When defining yourself in this way – as the problem – it becomes much more difficult to have agency and to see the possibilities for change that may exist. This type of one-dimensional view can be demoralizing, which in turn makes it all too easy to write yourself off as unredeemable or to see your situation as hopeless.

On the flipside, acknowledging that “anger” has somehow rooted itself in your life is a different take on the problem. From this angle, you may begin to discern the ways that anger enters into your interactions with others in unhelpful, destructive, or even dangerous ways, which in turn opens up the possibility to change your relationship with this sometimes undesirable emotion.

It may help you to figure out how you feel about the anger you experience and the havoc it invites into your life. It also helps you to acknowledge other often overshadowed attributes or characteristics that could be useful in standing up to the problem.

Separating yourself from the problem also helps you to figure out which of its aspects, if any, are worth hanging onto. Staying with the same example, I would argue that everyone experiences anger and that it is never wholly negative. For instance, anger can be an indication of the passion you may feel for a certain cause. Significant positive changes in our society have been borne out of anger.

Anger also tells us that something is not OK in our life or that changes need to be made in relationships. Seeing your problem as separate from who you are as a person allows you to make decisions about what you think is worth hanging onto (e.g. your passion) and what you prefer to let go of (e.g. lashing out).

The idea that a problem should not define you is a foundational premise of Narrative Therapy developed by Michael White. When you work to separate yourself from your problems you are changing the way you see yourself, others, and your experiences. This change in position allows previously neglected stories and experiences in your life to emerge and take on meaning. This process can be an enlightening and meaningful journey for many people.

Jennifer Pepper is an Individual, Couple and Family Therapist in Fergus. She can be reached through her website: www.jenniferpeppertherapy.com.

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