The central concept behind externalizing conversations in narrative therapy is that “you are not the problem, the problem is the problem.” It’s at once a simple and profound statement, a liberating way of looking at your life where you’re allowed some much needed space to breathe. You’re given permission to go about changing your life without this meaning that you have to change who you are.
This framework doesn’t claim that your problems are any less of an issue or in any less need of attention, only that our Western way of seeing the world centers these problems within the physical body of the person experiencing them while the narrative way of seeing the world centers these problems further out in space, related to you but not one and the same thing as you.
When you think this way you suddenly have more options for how you’re going to face up to and get some relief from a problem. The biggest reason why is that you’re able to create a detailed profile of this problem, to see it as its own entity apart from you, which helps you understand it a lot better. This is what happens during externalizing conversations. Something that was once ephemeral all of a sudden has a name, a personality, a common set of behaviors, a way of being in the world. You start thinking about what your relationship to this entity is and how you would like it to change.
When you are the problem it’s change who you are or else, which of course implies that who you are isn’t good enough. When the problem is the problem, you can activate to improve your situation without this meaning that you are somehow bad or rotten, without it meaning you have to change the person you think you are.