How we avoid solving problems

We all have situations in our life that we are not sorting out. We might have jobs that need doing, projects we need to complete (or start!!), issues that need solving or relationships that are not working for us. For the purposes of this piece I will lump all these situations together by calling them – problems that we want to resolve. There are many reasons why we put these things off –  we might be scared of the consequences, feel overwhelmed, be concerned about failure or even success. It might be that when we think them through- the price is too high or they are not that significant enough, to us. Sometimes we are aware that we are avoiding these problems and at other times it is an unconscious process.

Reflection: Take a moment now to think about what needs addressing in your life.  Be really honest with yourself.  What are you putting off sorting out?

Let’s look now at how you might be avoiding the solution to the problem.

Passive behaviours (Shiff et al, 1971) are behaviours that we adopt to unconsciously avoid solving problems. We can engage in any or all of them and sometimes we shift through them.

I will use an example from my own life to illustrate this.

I have recently been away on holiday (it was very nice thank you ;-)) and while I was away I had some building work done. I was very specific about what I wanted but when I got back – the builders had not stuck to my brief.

The Problem: I do not have the fireplace I wanted.

The Solution:  Get them back to sort it out.

It seems so simple when we put it in black and white, but of course, other issues can get in our way. Do I want a confrontation?  Maybe I was wrong. What if they mess up again? What if they charge me a lot more money? What if they don’t like me? What if I wasn’t clear in the first place? What if….

For a couple of days I engaged in some passive behaviours and avoided solving the problem.

Do Nothing – This is exactly what it says. We have some awareness that there is an issue that needs solving but we don’t do anything about it – we ignore it – and nothing gets resolved. I got home from holiday – I saw the fireplace – I was shocked – I did nothing.

Over Adaptation – This is when we do what we think the other person wants us to do.  We go along with things that we don’t really want to. We ‘put up with’. I shifted into this passive behaviour by saying to myself –  it’s not that bad – I can live with it – maybe I will learn to like it – the builder is very busy he won’t want the hassle.

Agitation – Agitation comes in many forms. We might obsess about things; we might pace the floor or chew our finger nails. It involves agitated energy that we release in a repetitive way. It might be around the issue or it might be a displaced agitation that has nothing to do with the problem. I started to think over the conversation that I would have with the builder. Not just once – but again and again and again…..

Incapacitation or Violence are the most extreme passive behaviours and can sometimes be dangerous. These are ways in which we incapacitate ourselves – for example – get a migraine, make ourselves ill or unconsciously have an accident. These are ways in which we turn the energy in on ourselves. Violence is when we turn the energy outwards onto others. We might get into a row or be nasty to someone; we might even get into a physical fight with others. This was not an area that I went to with my situation

Think about yourself. Which of these passive behaviours do you most often use to avoid addressing situations? Do you sometimes progress through them?

There are two problems with passive behaviours – one of course, is that we don’t solve our problems – but go into a passive state.  The other is that these behaviours are often unconscious or on the periphery of our consciousness. With awareness (which I hope this piece helps you with) of what we are doing, we can make conscious choices to change. If you know how you are avoiding doing things, you can stop – engage your thinking – think about what the situation is, decide how important it is –  work out what the consequences are and what your strategy is for addressing the issue. You can then implement your plan and deal with the outcome.

My example was a relatively easy situation and the builders are now booked to come back, however many of us engage in passive behaviours around a whole range of issues in our life.

Go forth and problem solve 😉

These are my random ramblings today tomorrow I might change my mind.

If you want to understand yourself and others better you might be interested in our two day Introduction to Transactional Analysis (TA101) – see for details.

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