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    Problem Solving 101

           Growing up, my models for emotional problem solving and interpersonal conflict resolution were virtually non-existent. On every level, conflict in my home environment was something that you tried to avoid at all costs, because the result was usually mayhem. But even trying to avoid conflict was problematic, because virtually anything and everything was fodder for chaos. Like a road that detours into another road, that detours into another road, that detours into a disheveled road rife with unavoidable pot holes, divots, and other obstructions, tension and crisis were the way of things. They were unavoidable.
            And when interpersonal and emotional problems did arise, as they always did, constantly, they didn’t get worked out. In fact, they just got worse. Nobody ever apologized, or had any skills to resolve issues and deal with how each other felt. I quickly learned not to share my emotional problems or have any hope that they would ever get resolved. The only tactics were to avoid these types of problems or get angry. Basically shut off and shut down or get totally pissed. Because anger is power, and that's how you "won". Either way, don’t really engage. That way, I could limit my problems. And if I ran into one, anger would "fix" it.
            My dad, like most men, looked at a problem as something to fix. An overriding male social archetype is the male as problem solver. Men who are able to effectively solve problems are highly valued in our society. Kick ass problem solvers, in virtually every field, get paid well. The bigger the problems they can solve, the more they are “worth”. And thus it’s no shock to see how as a society, we’ve internalized this dynamic as it applies to careers and placed much of our internal self worth and self love on how much we get paid.
            So for most of my life, I’ve never seen myself as much of a problem solver, even though I have have plenty of evidence to the contrary. Because internally, when it came to emotional issues, I had the mindset that my problems couldn’t get solved. So if a part of me bought into the societal archetype - and a part of me did, a bigger part than I was even aware of - my self worth was very small indeed.
            My dad was a civil engineer. A builder. A developer. Problems in this context were constant, and you had to be a great problem solver to be a good builder. My dad was a very successful builder, and therefore also a very successful problem solver. My dad loved to solve problems. As with so many men, it made him feel purposeful. Useful. Needed. So much so, that in his personal life, my dad would unconsciously make something out of nothing and actually create problems so he could solve them. I also believe many other men do this, mostly unconsciously, as well. I know I certainly used to.
            While this ability to solve problems serve us very well in our careers, this propensity to create problems to solve, or more insidiously, to look at emotional difficulties as things to “fix”, don’t serve us well. The general male perspective of looking at feelings being hurt, or the creation of intense feelings at all, as a “problem” that need to be “fixed” is not a useful approach. Because it means trying to “fix” the way someone feels.
            In my experience as a kid, that usually meant trying to convince me that I didn’t feel a certain way, or that what I was experiencing was not what I thought it was. Basically, trying to “fix” an emotional “problem” entailed trying to deny my experience so that I wouldn’t feel sad or lonely or scared or hurt or whatever. It’s all my dad knew how to do. He was a very deep feeling man who struggled with his own feelings. So trying to teach me how to deal with my feelings was not something he was capable of. Not a ton of men are. But that’s changing.
            Denying my experience as a way to get me to not feel what I was feeling never worked. All it did was not allow me to trust myself, because I was always being told by a trusted adult that I shouldn’t feel a certain way, or that what I was feeling wasn’t real. And unfortunately, if I resisted the denial route, as I usually did because it didn’t ever feel good, my dad would get frustrated and eventually get mad at me. So then I would feel even worse. Much worse, because now I was shamed for feeling at all. It was a total mind fuck. And a heart fuck as well.
            I say this with absolute compassion for my father. It must have been as hard for him to see his son in pain as it was for me to be in it. The big difference, of course, was that he was an adult and I was a child. My ability to make any sense of this wasn’t developed yet. So I got taught some very bad lessons about what it was to feel.
            My dad died at age eighty-six, no more aware of how much difficulty he had dealing with his emotions than when he was a younger man raising his son. I would love for my dad to be alive today, and more importantly, for him to be able to hear me when I tell him about the lessons I’ve learned about emotions and feelings and the depths of the heart. In typical father fashion, my dad had a hard time hearing me on lots of things, because I was his kid, and damn it, he knew more than I did about everything, even things he had absolutely no fuckin’ clue about. I was aware of this dynamic, and he was not. So I could roll with it.
            But if I could magically bring my dad back from the dead, and sit him down, and magically have him hear and believe every word I say, I would tell him this:

    “Dad, I know you are a deep feeling man. You feel so much, so deeply, that most times, you don’t know what the hell to do with it. So you either explode, or you stuff. That’s what you taught me to do.

    But I found a better way, dad. Because, just like you, I feel so very much, so very deeply. And, just like you, I used to not know what the hell to do with it all. But I do now.
    Guess what dad? It’s kinda simple. I just feel it. I just allow myself to feel it. I don’t run from it, or stuff it. Or turn it into anger. Or turn it against myself. First , I just honor it. I honor how I feel. I honor myself, and I feel it. As deeply and as much as I need to.

    And then, something amazing happens. Just by truly honoring how I feel, embracing it, feeling it all the way in, I somehow know what the hell to do with it. Don’t ask me how, but I do.

    Sometimes I express it, right then and there. Sometimes I hold it in and express it when it’s more appropriate. Sometimes I write about it, or let it out in some other form of art. The options are many, but I do SOMETHING with it dad. I eventually release it. I don’t let it sit inside of me anymore and let it eat at me from the inside out.

    I know this about me dad. I know it about you. I know it about many.”

            My dad would hear me. Because his heart would now be wide open. Like mine. And, because he’s a guy, and because he’s a builder, he would be thrilled that I exhibited some good old problem solving.

    ©2009 Clint Piatelli. All Rights (and nine pages of change orders) Reserved.

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