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Exercise: Externalizing Your Problems

In a recent episode of Restorya, I talked about the importance of separating our self-identity from our problems. This is a narrative therapy tool, but also one that we can implement in our own lives. Leaving to see our problems and conflicts as separate from our identity gives us space to get clear around the issue, not see it as something located within us, and also reimagine possibilities for resolution. I have written down this short journaling exercise that can help you get thinking about seeing any life issues from a new angle.

Maybe you are feeling overwhelmed by a romantic relationship, you are feeling stressed or burnt out because of a job, you have general feelings of depression or anxiety. Try this exercise as a way to separate yourself from these conflicts and to present new possibilities and solutions.

1. Give your problem/crisis/issue a name. This is important you want to make sure to give it a name that YOU choose. Maybe you are feeling isolation, loneliness, overwhelmed, burdened, confused, bored… whatever it is name it! And get specific, you can use phrases if you want, it doesn’t have to be a single word.

2. Imagine your problem (depression, anxiety, guilt, shame, stress, loneliness) as something you can see. Give it a persona, a character, and make it sit across from you. What does it sound like? How does it talk to you? Is it loud or bold or does it whisper? What can you say about the way it makes your feel? How does it move? Is it forceful or sneaky?

3. Weigh the impact. Try to dig deep into the ways that this problem has been affecting your life. Is it impacting your relationships? Is it affecting your sleep, your self-esteem? Can you explore all of the hidden ways that this might be having a negative impact on you? Write them all down. Sometimes it is difficult to see until we put it on paper.

4. What is missing? If you could describe it, what is absent from your situation? How would you like things to be different? Are there ways you can imagine feeling or behaving different? When have you experienced this or accomplished this in the past? What would it take to shift your mindset? What can you see yourself doing in the future to have this feeling?

5. Memory and connection. It is helpful to try to remember times in your life when this was possible. If for example, you wish that you had more freedom or you felt more independence, imagine a time in your life when you had this. What made it possible? Are there people from your past that have seen you this way and who could tell a story about the way you once were? Consider some ways of being that might seem foreign now but were once part of your history? Can you think of ways to imagine this possibility going forward? What would it look like? Is there a small step you can take today to accomplish this?

This is just a short exercise that might have you thinking creatively about how conflicts and situations are impacting your life. It can also be a gateway to understanding what it is that you really want. Maybe you've been so focused on the problem that you haven't actually considered what the solution would look like or what it is that you need.

If you have more questions about this externalization practice, feel free to contact me. This is an abbreviated version of some of the methods used in narrative practice and I would love to help you dig deeper through conversation and therapy sessions.

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