Problems Can Actually Be Solutions

“Sometimes,” he said, “the problem becomes the solution.”

It hit me right in that way at that time.

I knew it was true for me, and I knew in that moment, that it was true for others, too.

And I remembered a story that illustrated it.

In the 1980s, Dr. Vincent Felitti, stumbled on the relationship between obesity and sexual abuse. He was putting overweight women through a fasting protocol that helped them drop substantial amounts of weight in a very short time.

His patients were shedding weight like crazy. He thought he’d hit the jackpot, until a few of the women left the clinic.

They put weight back on again faster than they’d lost it.

Why? Well, the rational answer that immediately comes to mind has to do with the relationship between open access to food and physical dependency.

But as it turns out, that wasn’t the answer. The answer wasn’t “rational” in the scientific sense. It had to do with a deep emotional dependency.

Eating, for these women, many of whom Felitti eventually realized were survivors of sexual abuse, was not just a coping mechanism, but a mechanism for survival. The extra pounds that come from extra calories served as a buffer between them and the predatory tendencies of any member of the opposite sex.

Once these women processed their respective emotional traumas (which is much more difficult than this sentence suggests), the weight stayed off.

We all have our own equivalent of this, most of us less severe (on both the problem and solution end).

We all find our own ways to “cope” and “survive” with the stories of our past and the shadows of our present. I’ve heard therapists say that the most difficult part of treating patients is helping them unlearn their own self-soothing techniques.

It’s okay to cope and survive any way we can when the worst, unknowable thing has happened. It’s the best we can do with the knowledge and information we have—cope and survive.

But to really move forward, to thrive again, we need to train ourselves to pay attention to why we are doing what we are doing.

The answer is never to beat yourself up for the drinking, sleeping around, drugging, or overeating.

If you have a habit that you aren’t proud of (I have many), it’s likely that the habit itself is not the problem.

The problem is something else. The habit, the thing you call the problem, is the solution.

The question you need to answer then is: what’s it solving?

Kate Ward