Problem Solving #1: Roadblocks

by Tony Schirtzinger, LCSW,

All personal and interpersonal problems CAN be solved. When they aren't solved, it's often due to these roadblocks.

Maybe You Don't Want To Solve The Problem

One common roadblock happens when people think they want to solve a problem but they really don't. This happens when:

  1. The costs are too great.
  2. They think they "should" solve it, but they don't really want to.
  3. They think they'd be untrue to themselves if they solved it.

When The Cost Is Too Great:
The cost is only too great when a resource you need to solve the problem (usually time, energy, or money) is being used for something more important, something that brings you more of what you want in life.

When You Only Think You "Should":
Advertisers have a vested interest in making us think we want things we really don't want.   Friends and relatives might also tell us that we "should" want what they want.

How To Tell If It's A "Should" Or A "Want":
Imagine that you actually have what you think you want. If having it makes you very happy then you really wanted it all along. If you are only a little happy - mostly because someone else is pleased with you - then it was only a "should."

When You Would Be Untrue To Yourself:
This one is more complicated. The concept of being "untrue to yourself" has to do with your self-image - and your self-image can be good or bad, right or wrong for you. If you would think more of yourself after solving the problem, go for it! If you would think less of yourself after solving it, think it over first. Sometimes being untrue to yourself can even be a good thing! (Like when you are uncomfortable about giving up something that's bad for you.)

Blaming Yourself And Others

  • People raised to feel guilt and shame are usually sure, deep in their hearts, that all problems are their fault exclusively. Their solution is to blame themselves and try to change their own actions. If that doesn't work they don't know what else to do.
  • People raised to think they never make mistakes are usually sure that all problems are someone else's fault. Their solution is to blame someone else and tell them to change. When this doesn't work, they don't know what else to do either!

Don't confuse blaming with problem solving!

  • Blaming is about past events: it tries to answer the question: "Who made this happen?"
  • Problem-solving looks to the future: it tries to answer the question: "What are we going to do about it?"
  • If you are so angry about something that you want to blame someone else, go ahead!   If you do it in a safe way, it might be a necessary first step (because you use up your anger energy). But don't think it will solve the problem!
  • If you are so angry, fearful, or ashamed that you want to blame yourself, don't do it! There is no healthy way to do this. Talk to someone who loves you, or to a good therapist, instead.

When You Really Can't Solve The Problem

These people can't do problem-solving well:

  1. Those who are physically unable to think clearly (mentally disabled).
  2. Those who are so terrified of blame that they can't participate in the give-and-take of problem solving. (These people were usually physically abused as children under the guise of discipline.)
  3. People who have been told they are stupid so much that they believe it. They fear problem-solving because they think they will always lose. (They say things like: "I can never explain myself well" or "Nobody understands me" or, saddest of all, "I just freeze up.")
People in each of these categories need professional help. Those in category #1 need help to maximize the abilities they have. Those in #2 and #3 need psychotherapy to overcome the affects of emotional or physical mistreatment.

When You Only Believe You "Can't"

[This is discussed more thoroughly in another topic: "Life's Craziest Beliefs."]
You Can Solve Any Problem That Anyone Else Can Solve:
The only unsolvable problems are those that are physically impossible to solve (like flying without wings, or feeling safe when you spend your time with scary people). If you think you "can't" solve a solvable problem, ask yourself: "Why do I want to keep this problem?" Your answer will show a great deal about how well you know yourself.

Other articles by Tony Schirtzinger, LCSW:

Tony Schirtzinger LCSW Basics 1: Your Needs And Wants
Basics 2: Your Natural Feelings
Basics 3: Your Unnatural Feelings

Problem Solving 1: Roadblocks
Problem Solving 2: Defining The Problem
Problem Solving 3: Six Aspects Of A Problem

Tony Schirtzinger, LCSW, is a psychotherapist and a trainer of therapists and counselors. He has over 35 years experience working with depression, anxiety, adults who suffered abuse in childhood, delinquency and criminality, parenting, teenagers, and dissociation. He offers email advice and telephone counseling, as well as in-person appointments in Milwaukee, WI. More of his articles can be found at