In my over thirty years in clinical practice, I have run into many challenging problems and issues. These challenges included severe treatment-resistant depression, debilitating obsessive compulsive disorder, and extreme cases of borderline personality disorder among many others. In the vast majority of cases, most clients eventually manage to get much better. But the most vexing issue I have ever dealt with did not involve a diagnosis at all–in the usual sense. It has nothing directly to do with anxiety, depression, eating disorders, or behavioral problems. It is not listed as a symptom of any particular personality disorder.

However, before I tell you what it is, I’d like to ask therapists, counselors, and clients what problems they have found to be the most difficult to deal with in their lives. What issues put up the greatest fight when you’ve tried to confront them? What, if anything, has confounded you and left you feeling stuck over and over again? Did you finally manage to move ahead?  If so, how did you do it?

I’d love to know!

As a psychologist, I have found that the most challenging issue has been helping people overcome what I call “victimhood.” You can think of victimhood as a role that people adopt, usually after some unfortunate events have occurred to them–such as sickness, financial loss, rejection, injustice, or whatever. In fact, I believe that most people adopt the role of a victim at least for a while after setbacks like these hit them. However, some folks settle into the role of a victim for a protracted length of time–stretching into years if not decades.

But there’s a problem in taking on the role of a victim. Here’s what results when the role of victim settles in for a long stay:

  • Other people burn out, pull away, and no longer want to help you.
  • You feel helpless, weak, and hopeless.
  • You stop looking for solutions and merely focus on how unfair life has been to you.
  • You feel angry and resentful that no one does enough for you.
  • You feel stuck.
  • You may even feel that you deserve your plight.

But there’s an alternative to the victim role if you choose to go there. That role is what I call the role of a “coper.” Copers have had bad things happen to them too; else they wouldn’t have anything to cope with. Sometimes these setbacks are unfair, undeserved, and even downright horrible. But copers eventually find a way to dig down deep, release their anger, accept their circumstances, and find a way to work their way to a better place. Copers usually discover that the process of coping is difficult, yet doable. Sometimes they lose their way, but they eventually come back to trying to move themselves ahead. They feel considerable satisfaction from letting go of complaints, whining, and begging others to save them. And paradoxically, those who care about the coper usually find themselves more willing to help out. As they say, it’s easier to help those who help themselves first.

So when bad things happen to you, keep trying. Eventually, you’re likely to find a way to a better place. Copers find that tough situations have much to teach them when they listen.

Again, whether you’re a therapist or a client (or both), what has been the most difficult problem you ever faced and how did you finally manage to cope with it?