What If You’re the Problem?

Every now and then, I have these big aha! moments where I start to see things really clearly, like someone turned a spotlight on them, lit them up in neon, and added a bunch of people with jazz hands to grab my attention. Look over here! Here’s my clarity:

What if I’m the problem?

Now of course, I don’t mean in general. I don’t think that in general, I’m the problem. I do think, though, that more and more, in every conflict I find myself in, the first step I take, before responding, before reacting, before pitching a hissy fit and posting on Facebook about it, is I ask myself how I’m contributing to the current issue.

It’s a moment. A calming breath. And it helps me refocus on the issue at hand, without laying blame on those around me, which is, usually, both our most common kneejerk reaction, and the path of least resistance. If it’s everyone else’s fault, then of course I can’t fix or change anything. It’s out of my control. I don’t need to bear any responsibility or hold myself accountable. It’s the ultimate adult form of “Not it!”

I was reminded of this yesterday because an old article on the challenges that stepmoms face to getting their stepkids to like them was posted in a group I’m part of. When I had read it the first time, several months ago, I remember it didn’t sit well with me, but I wasn’t sure why.  Yesterday, on rereading it, I realized that my issue was how it presented five issues that were completely external to the stepmom herself – there was no consideration of how her own actions, or her partner’s actions, might contribute to issues in her own household. Now let me clarify – we all have external factors, completely outside of our control, that influence our lives. But they aren’t the only reason we ever struggle with something. Usually, it’s a unique, confusing blend of things both external and internal, mingling together and making things all wild and crazy.

My kids have a stepmom, and they adore her. I’d be lying if I told you that early on, I didn’t think mean things about her, and say a good number of them outloud to my friends. I’d be lying if I told you that I didn’t entirely blame her for all my problems for a while. I’d be lying if I didn’t tell you I still do it sometimes.

The reality, though, is that peace, for me, came the day I realized that maybe, I was the problem. The things I chose to argue about. The things I chose to be hurt over. The days I rolled my eyes or made a sarcastic remark to a friend. The more committed we are to victimhood, the more we buy into this idea that the problem lies with everyone else but ourselves. The more helpless we feel. The more we struggle to grasp for more control by digging our heels in and insisting that it’s not our fault and the other person should change their actions to fix it. NOT IT!

So, consider a problem you have in your life, and picture yourself like a house. Inside that house, you’re cold. There are two reasons for you being cold – one is that there is a blizzard raging away outside, and the other is that you haven’t turned the furnace on. Both factors are making you cold. You can control one. You turn the heating on after the furnace repair man gets the job done. It gets a little warmer in the house.The blizzard is still doing it’s thing, and it’s making a mess, totally. There are snow drifts to the eavestroughs and no one can drive in this weather, but you’re warm. Now, maybe this blizzard knocks out the power, because this blizzard is a serious pain in your ass. So, you get a blanket. Or, you lay there, shivering and hating the blizzard. Which makes more sense? The blizzard is not going to stop, but you can change how you react to the blizzard.

This level of self awareness takes time to build. It takes practice. The more you take a deliberate, conscious moment to examine your role in your conflicts, the more you’ll start to do it by habit. And the best part, is when you do that, and start acting from a place of intention instead of reaction,  you start to really feel good about the handle you’ve got on things. Big drama feels smaller. Small drama barely blips your radar.  You’ve got this, no matter what it is.

Photo by Klearchos Kapoutsis via Creative Commons 


Stephanie Ostermann

I’m the sort of girl who you meet for coffee and end up pouring your entire heart out to. The friend you come to when you need someone to call it straight. No bullshit. No extras. Just truth.

I’m a communicator. That’s a PC way of saying I like to talk, but I also spend a lot of my time listening, and over the years, I’ve developed a sense for subtext – how one or two words can change your entire message, what people are really trying to say and how to weave the varied layers of your story into one cohesive brand message that your clients fall in love with.

When I'm not acting as editor in chief for Vivid & Brave, you can find me geeking out over words here.

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