“You’ll see, the ice cubes will still be there tonight.”
The summer weather is sultry when I show my friend my new water bottle. Boasting state of the art technology, it can sit in the heat all day, while the ice cubes barely melt at all. He and I will be spending the day together, so I fill the bottle with ice, and I plan to amaze him.
At first, I interpret his lack of enthusiasm as skepticism.
So, as the day progresses, every hour or so, I pick up the bottle, rattle it, and the sound of ice cubes fills the air. Each time, I look at him expectantly. Each time, he remains nonplussed. I figure it’s only a matter of time. How many hours have to pass before he is astounded?
Finally, dusk is descending. I pick up the bottle. Shake. Rattle. The ice cubes are alive and well. I look at him once again, expectantly. And finally, he responds, but it’s not the response I’m expecting: “It seems like a solution to a problem that never existed.”
I have to admit, keeping ice cubes from melting all day is not a problem I’d ever thought about solving until this company told me it was a problem and they had a solution. After all, what’s the point of keeping water cold all day if you’re not going to drink it? It makes you wonder, how many of the solutions we seek are solutions to problems that never existed? Sort of like pre-lit Christmas trees, electric nose hair trimmers, and spicy mocha lattes.
You see, as a therapist, most clients come to me searching for a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist. They want to know how to become more worthy, more acceptable. They feel like something is broken inside of them and if they could only fix that thing, then life would start to work the way it is supposed to. They believe they are fundamentally flawed and if that flaw was corrected, they would finally find the peace they have been longing for.
In other words, they’ve been sold a bill of goods by their shame.
Shame—the belief we are not inherently good enough and must do something or prove something or fix something to be worthy of love and belonging—begins convincing us from a tender young age that our worthiness has gone missing. It comes from every angle and eventually gets inside of us, and it pitches all sorts of solutions to our worthiness “problem.” It whispers, “You will be worthy if…”
You win the most trophies.
Hang out with the right crowd.
Get the best grades.
Work the hardest.
Fabricate the most flawless persona.
Find a love like in the movies.
Buy the right house in the right neighborhood.
Go to the biggest church.
Vote for the right candidate.
The problem is, none of these solutions ultimately work, because they are solutions to a problem that doesn’t exist. Our worthiness has not gone missing. It is alive and well. Forgotten, perhaps, but quietly humming away at the center of us. Once upon a time we knew this. Then, once upon a time, shame caused us to forget it.
So, here is a real solution to a real problem: The 80% Rule.
For the vast majority of us, eighty percent of what we think is problematic about us is not a problem at all. The real problem is the thought that we have a problem. We’re tortured by this thought. It keeps us longing and searching and striving and doing and achieving and reading blogs and buying self-help books and paying for expensive therapies for many, many years.
As a therapist, my first job is not to help you fix all of your problems; it’s to help you discover that the bulk of them are not problems at all. In therapy, our first task is to help you to embrace who you are, including your flawed but perfectly acceptable humanity. It means confronting the lying voice of shame in your head, which you began accepting as truth so long ago. It means listening for a different voice within.
The voice of grace.
Once you’ve heard it, then we can deal with the other twenty-percent of life and pain and brokenness and grief and loss and disappointment and disorder. Then, we can starting figuring out, together, how to redeem all that mess. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
First, let’s shake who you are,
let’s hear the thirst-quenching worthiness splashing around inside of you,
no ice cubes required,
and let’s rejoice at a problem that never existed in the first place.
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Latest posts by Dr. Kelly Flanagan (see all)
- What No One Ever Told You About How to Live a Loveable Life - February 24, 2017
- The One Simple (But Not Easy) Solution to 80% of Your Problems - December 16, 2016
- How Therapy Helps You Find the Hero Inside of You - October 21, 2016