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Problems, Puzzles or Paradoxes: How Do You Define Life’s Challenges?

It’s amazing how powerful words can be. For language is not only a kind of tool to help us communicate and describe, it also – sometimes inadvertently – helps shape our whole world, both internal and external. It sets our definitions. It highlights what we see. (And it can mask what we don’t…).

So how do you use yours?
Your language.
Your words.

When life’s challenges come your way, how do you find the words to respond to them?
Which words do you choose?
Could that choice, itself, sometimes help or hinder you?
And what might a different choice invite?

For instance, take the word “problem.” It’s a pretty popular word. And it often comes up a lot in therapy, both in the theory and the practice of it.

But what else might the word “problem” sort of silently bring with it, for you? Are there other meanings that it envelops? Or maybe possibilities it screens out? 

Maybe it brings a sense that something’s gone ‘wrong’. Or that something’s not ‘right.’ That it ‘shouldn’t’ be this way. Or that it’ll be ‘hard’ to get through it. Hard to live with.

Perhaps it even starts to blend with all the other things that have been ‘problems’ before, and builds up until it has a ‘not again’ or ‘why me?’ feeling about it.

Where might all this leave you?
Does it enrich or deplete you?
Does it help you face the situation at hand?

How else might you define things?

For sometimes a therapeutic re-frame, a re-definition, can open up a whole new approach that was hidden before. It can reveal all kinds of strengths you have that were previously camouflaged.

So what happens if you choose a word like “puzzle” instead?
What does that word bring with it, for you?

Maybe there’s more of a focus on ‘solving’, of working out a solution (maybe the sense of there even being a solution feels stronger). Perhaps you’re more inspired to apply different kinds of thinking to ‘out-fox’ it or ‘out-wit’ it. Or to experiment with it. Maybe there’s even a sense of fun that sneaks in… a sort of mystery to be resolved… or something to play with (a bit like the giant Rubik’s Cube in the photo). Maybe there’s suddenly a feeling that the very process of grappling with it is part of the whole point.

Or perhaps something like “paradox” is more your style? A riddle to be understood. Something that holds a deeper meaning for you than it might first appear to. Something that seems contradictory, or difficult, but that holds a profound truth if you look long enough to see it.

What might those kind of thoughts unleash for you, that ‘problem-saturated’ thinking might not?

And what other words might you use?

Feel free to share some of your own definitions and re-frames below, so that, together, we might add more words – more possibilities – to this lexicon of life…


Photo: Gabrielle Gawne-Kelnar
Gabrielle Gawne-Kelnar (Grad Dip Counselling & Psychotherapy) is a writer, blogger and Sydney psychotherapist in private practice at One Life Counselling & Psychotherapy. Gabrielle also co-facilitates telephone support groups for people who are living with cancer, for their carers, and for people who have been bereaved through a cancer experience. She was the former editor of a journal on counselling and psychotherapy and she provides regular therapeutic updates on facebook and Twitter @OneLifeTherapy.
Problems, Puzzles or Paradoxes: How Do You Define Life’s Challenges?

Gabrielle Gawne-Kelnar

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APA Reference
Gawne-Kelnar, G. (2011). Problems, Puzzles or Paradoxes: How Do You Define Life’s Challenges?. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 20, 2018, from https://blogs.psychcentral.com/therapist-within/2011/04/problems-puzzles-or-paradoxes-how-do-you-define-lifes-challenges/


Last updated: 19 Apr 2011
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 19 Apr 2011
Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.