Narrative Therapy

Situate The Problem Outside Of The Person

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When we situate the problem within the skin of the person experiencing that problem, the response is always going to be guilt, defensiveness, denial, combativeness, hurt, and other aversive thoughts and feelings that will interfere with productive outcomes. In narrative therapy the granite sentence is “The person is not the problem, the problem is the problem.”

When we situate the problem outside of the person rather than within the skin of that person avenues for change and growth immediately open up that just aren’t available when we feel compelled to continue to point our fingers at the person with the problem and claim that he or she and that problem are one and the same thing.

Probably one of the most profound changes that occurs right away is a realignment where suddenly it’s us and the person on the same side, facing the problem together and working to find productive solutions for overcoming it rather than the usual combative situation of us on one side and the person on the other side facing off against each other and vying for control of the narrative.

It can feel odd at first, and almost like letting someone off the hook for their destructive words and actions, when we start thinking in terms of separating the person from the problem. But the fact is that all we need do is look back over our own life histories with this person to find many times where the problem was not rearing its ugly head and the person in front of us displayed desirable traits and behaviors. So there really are two entities. The first is the real person. The second is the person under the sway of the problem who is not the ‘real’ person but more like a host for a disease.

This sort of framework allows us to stay positive, it allows us to isolate all the productive, desirable traits and behaviors that have their chance to shine when the problem isn’t getting in the way. It also helps the person with the problem to stop projecting responsibility onto people or entities in the external environment, (a strategy taken to protect Self) and instead place responsibility where it really belongs, which is onto the problem itself.

Often the problem doesn’t feel like a problem to the person at the center of the storm because despite the destructive consequences that follow this problem around it usually also provides important emotional and psychological benefits. So again externalizing the problem and fleshing it out to see it clearly for what it is assists the person in coming to the realization that this problem is not a friend and is not allowing for self-actualization or healthy interpersonal relationships but interfering with them.