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DON’T ALLOW LIFE’S “LITTLE” PROBLEMS TO BECOME MOTHRA*

As a clinical therapist for the last 13 years, I’ve seen many clients seeking help for the first time, for long-standing problems that have led to full blown chaos. Whether it is an affair that is discovered, a DWI arrest, or a major health diagnosis, often times they are now being forced to deal with an issue that has been nagging for their attention for months, even years.

They may talk about symptoms that they have been aware of for a long time but failed to grapple with (a relationship disconnect, for example), opting to put off dealing with the symptoms directly. By the time they arrive in therapy, the problem has grown exponentially and there are consequences that they wished they had been able to avoid. Once some progress is made in therapy, most people express regret about the time they wasted avoiding the problem.

Sarah’s children had been warning her for weeks there were moths in the house.  She’d seen a few flying around, but she failed to recognize it as a problem that needed fixing right away.

For most women, multi-tasking is a survival mechanism. Sarah is no exception. Juggling and discerning priorities is a constant in her busy life:  “If it’s not on fire or biting the children, then I don’t have to deal with it now.”  Triage.

Finally one Saturday, Sarah found the time to look into her “little problem” of moths.  How bad could it be anyway?

She bought a few traps and began looking for locations to place them in order to capture her unwelcome interlopers efficiently. This meant looking into places where moths like to hide–closets for starters (moths love dark, undisturbed places). But when she began rummaging around in the back of her closets she discovered, to her dismay, more than just a few pesky moths. There were hundreds.  While the few that had come into the light were flying around getting noticed, the others had been silently chowing down on her possessions.

The further she dug the more damage she discovered. Over the weeks and months she had been ignoring their presence, the adult moths had been burrowing into warm, protected places (in between the stitches of her sweaters) and laying eggs.  When the larvae hatched they began their feast in earnest. Even though they weren’t biting the children, they were biting, munching and destroying her clothes….and the lining of her purses, socks, gloves, scarves, pillows, blankets and rugs.

Problems are like moths.  Initially they make their presence known in a random, sporadic fashion–flirting with our attention so we might deal with them. The problem with dealing with our problems only when they force themselves into our field of focus is that they’ve been growing in a dark closet–out of sight, and mostly, out of mind.

Whether it is a health-related problem, like an addiction, or a relationship issue or financial crisis, most of my clients have been aware they have a problem brewing. However, they don’t feel as if they have the time or energy to deal with it, so the problem simmers until it boils over; what began as a small annoyance becomes a catastrophe.

Tackling a problem head on can feel overwhelming, which is another reason (besides the urgent sirens of time management) that we put it off or avoid it.  But waiting to address a problem can be the worst thing to do.  If Sarah had explored the moth issue at the first sign of them, it is likely she would have discovered more of a problem than she anticipated–but less of a problem than she ended up with.

Just beginning to talk about a problem, especially with someone who has no emotional connection to it or you, can help change your relationship with it. Once you get unstuck from an avoidance pattern, your brain and energy can stop suppressing the problem  into the closets of your unconscious, and move into a new relationship with the issue.

Dealing with a problem doesn’t mean you have to know what the solution is going to be. But it does mean that you have to open your closets, pull out your possessions, and take a good hard look at them.

I encourage you to find strength in the stories here at Talking Umbrellas, which gives voice to the concerns that many women share–from the uncomfortable to the (so called) unspeakable.

“Choosing with integrity means finding ways to speak up that honor your reality, the reality of others, and your willingness to meet in the center of that large field. It’s hard sometimes.”

Terry Tempest Williams, When Women Were Birds:  Fifty-Four Variations on Voice

*Mothra is a 1961 Japanese horror film featuring a menacing monster moth.
Dr. Chris Lawrence
Dr. Chris Lawrence
Dr. Chris Lawrence is a licensed clinical psychologist and professor of psychology at the University of Missouri-Columbia and Stephens College. She is co-owner of Lawrence, Oliver and Associates, a private practice clinic in Columbia, Missouri. To learn more go to www.loacounselingandcoaching.com
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