“What is my problem?”- 4 September 2016.

This is the most common question we deal with as a professional psychologist. ‘What is my problem?’ ‘I am not okay- something is wrong with me’. ‘I don’t know what my problem is’.

These are perhaps the most positive questions that are asked to us about which we feel hopeful about. When a person is seeking an answer to some presenting symptoms there is scope for therapy and solution. But if a person who actually has a problem denies the problem by saying ‘no problem’ it is like a closed door which cannot be entered. One type of mental illness manifests itself quite starkly with this state of mind ‘I am okay, the world is mad’. Hence asking the question ‘what is my problem’ is a good sign. A person with complaints of several symptoms which are manifested either physically or mentally which have been persisting for several weeks or months, creates disequilibrium in his/her life. Many such people are searching for ‘the core problem’ which they are unable to identify.

A young girl was constantly unhappy and grumpy with the world and felt that there was nobody who understood her problem. She also felt at one point of time that nobody will ever be able to help her out and she will continue to live a life of misery. Into several long sessions the realisation began to dawn on her that she had two major problems –one was her childhood disability which she was trying hard to hide from the world as her parents had advised her to and the second was her total sense of isolation because of her introverted nature, coupled with her disability and her commitment to secrecy. Once the problem was identified she experienced a huge sense of relief and a hope that she could work towards a solution and hence find some happiness somewhere.

A highly educated and competent professional realised a decline in his functioning at work as well as a decline in his social connections and friendship. It happened very slowly over months and years until he decided that ‘he had a problem’ but what was the cause he had no clue. The ‘talking therapy’ helped him gradually acknowledge many truths and fallacies in thought. The emotions were all messed up and distorted. There were multiple emotions buried in the depths of his mind which he never shared with anyone and had almost forgotten. As the emotions poured out in a vengeance the catharsis took place which brought relief and peace of mind.

Identifying the problem is a huge task and a major exercise at that. The problem lies hidden behind layers and layers of past experiences and memories, half forgotten, half distorted and many of them repressed. If the repressed experiences go back to childhood the problem becomes complex and more difficult to unravel. The process of therapy, the unravelling the mind, is similar to unpeeling the layers like that of a large sized onion whose centre is invisible. Since the process is dynamic in nature and not mechanical the obvious difficulties are there. Emotional obstacles, resistance to explore and expose, painful memories, forgotten experiences, distortions in perceptions, inability to articulate the problem clearly are part of the difficulty. Most people come with several symptoms with no clarity of the core problem. Identifying the problem is in fact half the solution.

A bigger problem is with people who say ‘no problem’, or an alternative theme is ‘I have no problem’ have indeed a big problem on hand. Again there are two different things which need to be seen in a context. When a person says ‘I have no problem’ whereas the family sees it as one, indicates a bigger problem at a deeper level of their psyche and acts as a severe obstacle to solving the problem. It could indicate a state of mind that is ‘sicker’ than it believes it is. Since the sickness is not visible to the concerned person it indicates a high order blind spot in the mind. On the contrary a person who seeks help by accepting that ‘I have a problem but don’t know what’ is less ‘sicker’ in mind than the other. In an interpersonal situation, let’s say a marital one, if one spouse has a problem it actually belongs to both of them. If one spouse denies the problem and says, ‘it is not my problem or I don’t have a problem’ the problem gets compounded. Denial means refusal to cooperate, or refusal to make common cause and stay aloof instead which damages the relation further.

If one person in a relation or in the family has a problem the entire family atmosphere is vitiated and normal life is disrupted. Accepting that there is a problem that needs to be addressed is a necessary exercise that families should engage in. Solutions may not seem to be visible and may not be easy but the effort must go on. It should not be considered a waste of time and effort. The tendency to brush the problem under the carpet, to deny the problem, pass it on to the other, blame the other or minimise the problem may lead to compounding the issue. Many problems do not vanish with time as most might think but might grow into a monster difficult to handle.


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