Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Resolving Unresolved Issues – Part One

Lately I have had a number of conversations with people who have long term unresolved issues in their lives. These issues are often a result of broken or unhealthy relationships with people from the past, often a relative or very close friend. Regretfully, those unresolved issues from the past have interfered with numerous other relationships so that the result is layer upon layer of unresolved issues.

In my experience, people seem to deal with unresolved issues in one of two ways. It seems that the most popular method of dealing with unresolved issues is to pretend they do not exist. The problem with this is that such issues cause a significant amount of pain in our lives and pretending that the pain is not there does not make it go away. And since past issues continue to impact current realities, then the list of unresolved issues grows longer and longer with each passing year, stealing the joy from life.

The second way that I have observed people address unresolved issues is by “self-medicating.” Normally that means using alcohol or drugs to numb the pain. Though such tactics might numb the pain in the short term, at some point the person has to come out of that stupor and deal with reality. Since reality is seldom fun to deal with, the temptation to abuse alcohol or drugs can become too great to resist and life simply becomes one long fuzzy string of numbness. There is no joy in such a life.

I would like to suggest that there is a third way to deal with unresolved issues. My suggestion may sound radical, but here it is. How about, RESOLVE the issues!

For some people, this seems impossible. But it can be done.

First, we can start by making a list of all the unresolved issues we feel like we have. It may be depressing at first, especially if we have a life time pattern of not resolving things. But the first step to overcoming any problem is to admit the problem exists. So we should swallow our anxiety and make the list.

Once the list is made, look over the list and circle the items that will be most EASY to resolve and begin to work on those first. Often we do the opposite. We try to tackle the hardest issues first. The problem with that approach is that the really difficult issues may take a long time to resolve and if we do not feel like we are making progress, we may quit before the process is complete. So instead of tackling the hardest issues first, start with the easiest issues and work through them. As each issue is resolved, cross it off the list with a big black marker so that there is no mistake that the issue has been resolved.

Once that first round of “easy” issues has been resolved, a person will have learned some skills and gained the strength needed to tackle some of the moderately difficult issues. It may take longer to work through those more complicated issues, but because we have been successful at dealing with the smaller issues, we are more likely to persevere until we resolve the moderately difficult ones. As we resolve each of those moderately difficult issues, we should get out that big black marker and cross it off the list as well.

By now our list will be much shorter, but the issues left on the list will usually be more significant and challenging. Though in the first two rounds we may have worked on two or three issues at once, since the issues that remain are more challenging, we should only focus on one issue at a time. It may take a few months, or even a year or two, but we will eventually get one of those issues dealt with. Then we will start on the next one. Over time we should be able to resolve all the messy issues from our past, which will make our present more joyful and our future better than we could have ever imagined.