During my four decades in psychological practice I’ve helped many clients deal with problems using this simple rubric:
1. Fix it.
Some problems can be fixed or solved. For example, if your vehicle has a mechanical issue, you can take it to a service facility and have it repaired (assuming you can afford the bill). If you had a misunderstanding with a family member, you could sit down with them and talk it out.
While some problems may be fixable, many others are not. The key issue is control. I have often seen clients who were, for example, urging their spouse to stop drinking or smoking, insisting their teen earn better grades or desiring that their boss treat them better. In such cases, it was pointed out that these clients were attempting to fix a problem about which they have essentially no control.
2. Leave it or avoid it.
Some problems are so noxious or dangerous that it is probably best to avoid it or leave it. For example, if the boss is regularly harassing you or making (unwanted) sexual advances, it is probably time to look for another job. (You can decide later whether to file a lawsuit.) If your partner is abusive emotionally and/or physically, you should leave the situation, until it improves. (Obviously, you are not going to abandon your teen, if they fail to earn better grades.)
If you cannot fix the problem and choose not to leave it, the remaining healthy option is acceptance. Acceptance is a choice. You recognize you are unable to correct the problem due to lack of control, you have opted not to leave it, so you make a conscious decision to tolerate it and calmly live with the issue. The often-quoted “Serenity Prayer” speaks to this issue:
“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change. The courage to change the things I can. And the wisdom to know the difference.”
4. “I can’t stand it!”
This is the unhealthy option—which, unfortunately, many people default to. This is what I refer to as the “I can’t stand it” position. This occurs when the individual recognizes they cannot fix the problem, they choose not to avoid it, are unable to or refuse to seek acceptance, and thus are left with anger, resentment, and frustration. This final position is emotionally painful and unhealthy.
Occasionally, when an individual finds acceptance and stops pressuring someone to change, the other party moves in their direction. Life does not run like a fine Swiss watch. To find peace and happiness one must be able to seek and find acceptance.
Larry F. Waldman, Ph.D., ABPP is a licensed psychologist who recently retired from over 39 years of practice in the Paradise Valley. He worked with children, adolescents, parents, adults, and couples. He also provided forensic consultations in the areas of family law, personal injury, and estate planning. He continues to speak professionally to laypersons, educators, corporations, and fellow mental health professionals. He teaches graduate courses for the Educational Psychology Department for Northern Arizona University. He is the author of “Who’s Raising Whom? A Parent’s Guide to Effective Child Discipline,” “Coping with Your Adolescent,” “How Come I Love Him But Can’t Live With Him? Making Your Marriage Work Better,” “The Graduate Course You Never Had: How to Develop, Manage, Market a Flourishing Private Practice—With and Without Managed Care,” and “Too Busy Earning a Living to Make Your Fortune? Discover the Psychology of Achieving Your Life Goals.” His contact information: TopPhoenixPsychologist.com.