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  • Steven Sutton, LCSW

Not every problem is pathological

It's common for people to face challenges in their lives that can be difficult to overcome. Sometimes, we may assume that there is something inherently wrong with us, that we have a "problem" that can only be explained by another underlying issue with us as a person. This tendency to frame our issues as pathological is common, but often not helpful. Not every problem we encounter in life is pathological, in fact very few of them are.

Take the example of John, a guy who has been single for a while after a string of unsuccessful relationships. He finds that he's now feeling a sense of emptiness and loss in his life, and wonders if he has a dependency on being partnered. Someone mentioned that he may be codependent and he worries this may be true. He wonders if he may need special treatment for the diagnosis. However, upon closer examination, he realizes that what he misses most are the natural rewards of connecting with women, rather than some dependency on being in a long term relationship.

John's realization is important because it highlights the need to differentiate between natural desires and pathological issues. While some people may have a pathological dependency on being partnered, most of us simply desire connection and companionship as a natural part of being human.

When we constantly frame our problems as pathological, we may overlook simple, straightforward solutions that could address the problem at hand. Instead, we may focus on trying to address the root cause, which is not always necessary or feasible. Over time, this approach can lead to a sense of victimhood and a belief that we are powerless to change our circumstances.

To avoid falling into the trap of pathologizing every problem, it's important to adopt a growth mindset. This involves recognizing that challenges and setbacks are opportunities for growth and learning. By viewing our problems as opportunities for growth, we are more likely to find practical solutions and take personal responsibility for our actions and decisions.

A couple of other issues that can stem from thinking there's something wrong with you:

  1. External validation: A label or diagnosis can provide a sense of external validation for a person's experiences or behaviors, which can be comforting in the short term. However, this validation can become a crutch that prevents a person from taking full responsibility for their own growth and development.

  2. Over-reliance on treatment: A label or diagnosis can also create a sense of dependency on external treatments or interventions, such as medication or therapy, rather than developing internal strategies for managing their problems.

Having a problem doesn't automatically mean you're damaged or flawed. Most of the time, it's empowering to normalize the issue and remember that there's nothing wrong with you. You may need to grow out of an unfortunate habit, or learn a new skill, or develop the courage to lean into something you've previously avoided, but those are natural parts of every human life.

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