Chapter 30: It’s okay to have problems
Here’s another incredibly harmful lie we tell ourselves: we must be perfect to be desirable. If we’re flawed, we feel like no one will want us around. This fear makes us do what we can to hide our flaws, our pain, our troubles, our problems, and try to show the world a perfect face. This lie is powerful and insidious.
We have bought into this lie so deeply that we will often hurt ourselves internally rather than deal with the situation that’s bothering us.
Pace’s Story: Pace Needs More Alone Time
One random autumn day, I noticed that I felt a little antisocial and jittery. After some introspection, I realized that this was bubbling up because of a deeper issue: I wasn’t getting enough time to myself.
“Damn! I have a problem,” I thought to myself. I worried about the discomfort and potential conflict it would cause to bring it up. I worried about the stress of rearranging various logistics in our lives to fix my problem. Was it worth all the trouble?
I considered the alternative. “I can just pretend this isn’t bothering me. I can get over it by myself without troubling anyone else. I’ll be okay. I don’t want to bother anyone. After all, it’s me who woke up today with a problem, so I might as well take the responsibility for it.”
I sighed, tried to ignore the problem, and returned to my regularly scheduled life.
This attitude is very harmful. We’ve learned this the hard way. We bought into the myth that it’s not okay to be flawed, but the truth is that it’s okay to have problems. If you ignore your problems, it not only harms you, it harms everyone who cares about you. You have friends or family who love you and want to help you, but by keeping your problems to yourself, you’re denying them the opportunity. When you’re on the same team and everyone shares the same goal, it doesn’t matter who happens to have the problem this time. We each take turns having problems, and it’s okay! The fact that you have a problem doesn’t mean that you are a problem. If we think of problems as a fact of life, a fact of being a person, and a fact of all interpersonal relationships, we can escape from this harmful attitude.
Sometimes we don’t feel safe talking about our problems. Sometimes, you know full well that bringing up what’s bothering you will require a long, difficult conversation, and you don’t feel up to it yet. You may be tempted to squelch, to delay, or to ignore, but remember that the only way out is through. The best way of dealing with this reluctance is to remember that it’s okay for you to have problems and it’s okay for your partner to have problems too.
It’s okay to have problems communicating, too. When people miscommunicate, they rarely react by saying, “Oh well, miscommunication happens, let’s move on and try again.” Instead, they feel that they have been wronged, they react defensively, and conflict ensues. If you remember that it’s okay to have problems, that it’s okay to miscommunicate, then you can move on and try again.
It’s okay to have problems! It doesn’t make you a burden, it doesn’t make you bad or wrong or stupid or annoying. Having problems is part of being human. We have triggers that spark emotional responses and set us off. We get hurt. We get scared. We get angry, upset, worried, and nervous. We cry. We yell. We make up, we talk, and we work through things. It’s beautiful!
Pace’s Story: Pace Needs More Alone Time (Reprise)
One random winter day, I noticed that I felt a bit jittery and antisocial. After some introspection, I realized that these feelings were coming to the surface because of an underlying issue: I wasn’t getting enough time to myself.
I thought to myself, “Crap, I have a problem! I had hoped this would go away, but here it is again. Oh no! This sucks.” I stressed out about the conflict that might arise if I brought it up with Kyeli. I worried about logistics. I berated myself for failing to successfully get over the problem last time it came up.
But then I remembered a conversation that we had a couple of weeks ago. We said that it’s okay to have problems. “Yeah. It’s okay!” I shouted excitedly inside my head. “It doesn’t mean that I’m bad or wrong; it doesn’t mean that I am a problem. So let’s work it out instead of ignoring it!”
I talked to Kyeli about the problem. There were stressful moments during the discussion, but she reminded me that we were on the same team, working to solve the problem together. In the end, we figured out a good schedule that met both of our needs and a good system for remembering the schedule.
Now the problem is solved and we’re both getting what we need. I’m glad I remembered that it’s okay to have problems!