I was recently speaking with a client who was having problems at work and during social life. The problems were a symptom of some severe anxiety and constant self-consciousness regarding her physical appearance. She had built up several issues in her head and allowed the problem to fester for several years, without seeking therapeutic or pharmacological assistance.
Before we could begin to focus on her relational problems (which is what she came to mediate), it was clear she needed to do a self-inventory and take care of her personal problems…or else the same relational problems would pop up. I simply asked her a line of questions that helped her understand why she was so focused on resolving the relational conflicts before solving her personal conflicts. She was using her relational problems to mask the internal problems.
When people are in conflict, they want to focus on problems, including where they came from and who contributed to them (of course they NEVER personally contribute to problems!). In this case, however, the woman was taking all the blame and was trying to hide her real problems behind some minor relationship issues. It was obvious that she needed to talk with a professional therapist, so I subtly pointed her in that direction without telling her she needed mental help. Part of my job as a conflict management practitioner is to “channel” clients to the appropriate professionals, because many issues are outside of my repertoire (i.e., marriage counseling, therapy, social service, religious advice).
People need to first focus on their self, their personal problems, and their own self-image before they can discuss outside problems in an effective manner. All of our actions, successes, failures, relationships, and mistakes are a reflection of our “self;” and having an accurate self-image is an important part of leading a balanced life. Having honest and candid conversations about personal issues is paramount to overcoming the obstacles that social and work life will throw at you. When a person completely focuses on others, on problems, and on the past, that is often an indication that deeper issues are dwelling inside that probably need to come out.