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Peel Yourself

Peel back the layers and then solve your problem.

I often wonder if I resumed being a therapist today, would I rely more on my college degrees or my wisdom from living 48 years? I know. That’s laughable.

There’s at least one concept I did learn in class that seems to have stuck. Here’s a jump start to solving your own (or someone else’s) problems.

If you’re a parent, friend, sibling, child, employee or boss, then it’s not just your own problems you have to tackle. You’ll solve the problem a lot faster if you really know what it is.

Allow me to demonstrate this technique that always begins with same question. “If {emotion} was off limits, then what would I be feeling?”

The key is to ask it twice.

Case #1: Frank

Frank found out his wife of 25 years is having an affair.

Layer 1:  Anger

Layer 2:  Sadness

Layer 3:  Anxiety

Once Frank works through the top 2 layers and realizes he has anxiety over being alone in his old age, he can take steps to prevent that outcome. If he stays in the top layer, he might start drinking more, become promiscuous with women, or be vengeful toward his wife.

Case #2: Rachel

Rachel is 50 pounds overweight and just failed on another diet.

Layer 1:  Disgust

Layer 2:  Frustration

Layer 3:  Hopefulness

If Rachel remains disgusted with herself, she is highly likely to binge and gain more weight back. Self loathing will ensue along with destructive self talk. “What does it matter anyway. I’ll always be fat.” Beneath the self directed anger, Rachel is frustrated. The good news about frustration is that it confirms Rachel knows she deserves better. Frustration with direction is key to progress.

When Rachel learns she is really hopeful that she can turn her life around, she can persevere, solicit help, and have the courage to stay on track.

Case #3: Billy

Billy is excluded at school and is starting to get bullied.

Layer 1:  Sadness

Layer 2:  Fear

Layer 3:  Anger

Who doesn’t feel sad when they’re left out? When sadness persists, victimhood is inevitable. Beneath Billy’s sadness is fear. Fear that he can’t stand up to his friends, for his safety, and of certain environments. Beneath the fear, Billy is ticked off he’s being treated this way. It’s undeserving and creates misery for him every day.

Anger can be turned into personal power. While bullying should not be tolerated by supervising adults, Billy needs his own tools at his disposal. If we spend all of our time comforting Billy for his sadness, we miss out on the opportunity to empower him to become part of the remedy.

Layer by layer

Just because two people have the same problem, doesn’t mean the solution is the same. It depends on their bottom layer.

Why waste time allowing ourselves to be miserable if we can speed things up? The faster we peel, the faster we find solutions.

Next time you’re ready to pull your hair out, peel off a couple layers and go for a run. You can thank me later for saving you thousands in therapy:)

"Deep inside you there's a person who refuses to be kept deep inside you." Cigna Ad in Runner's World


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  1. Just like my Mom used to say…..”pick yourself up, dust yourself off and try it again.” Susan, your lesson of altering ones Layer 3 into an optimistic action is the key. Thanks for sharing.

    August 1, 2012
  2. Andy O #

    We all accumulate lays over time for protection but those same layers can also hinder personal growth. Peeling back those layers can expose a more vulnerable you to new and exciting life experiences.

    August 9, 2012

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