Many of us find that we are wired to jump in to immediately solve problems — our own, others’ and those of the world at large. If this is a compulsive tendency, it could stem from a need to avoid discomfort. Like guilt of not being useful or efficient, or fear of not being looked upon kindly or not finding belonging, or shame for not having all the answers. This is especially true if being useful or productive or being the problem solver was a way to be seen, loved and to belong in your family.
Compulsive problem-solving denies us the experience of growth and change that discomfiting emotions present. Given that problem solving is a way of our world, our rush to fix things may have us forgetting the art of sitting with problems. An art and practice that is essential in solving the quiet, internal difficulties of our minds, that asks for something else.
While the outer world exists in polarities — problem and solution, this or that, trouble or relief — matters of our internal world call for exploring the vast middle ground, or finding a meeting point between the two.
Carl Jung called this a “third thing” in which opposites can unite. He says;
Here the logic of intellect usually fails, for in a logical antithesis there is no third.
He likens it to the intangible, fluid space in which:
a waterfall visibly mediates between above and below.
A few questions you could ask yourself, to check for your true intention, or where the need to solve problems may be coming from:
- Are you a compulsive problem solver?
- Are “problem” states uniformly uncomfortable?
- Does problem solving assuage that discomfort?
- Does being “useful” to others make you feel good, give you a sense of worth?
- Are you inexplicably “drawn” to feeling responsible for any and all problems?
- Do you feel that every problem you encounter, whether yours or others’ is your burden to carry?
- What purpose is solving all problems serving for you?
In rushing to find solutions, you may be blocking/bypassing a potent channel for healing that’s present in holding the tension a problem presents. This is often “sitting with discomfort” in therapeutic practice is all about. Or what therapists mean when they say “befriend discomfort”.
Sometimes, sitting with our discomfort, or being able to watch others sit with theirs can be a powerful healing experience. Not all problems need solutions in the way we imagine they do. Simply sitting it out can be medicinal. It is important to develop the capacity to tell the difference.
One good way to do that is to learn to take a beat, to pause and check your intention when drawn to fix a problem. If the choice comes from avoidance, that discomfort will not go away, instead simply find other spaces through which to emerge again.