When The Problem Isn’t The Problem (“What?”)

Problems come and go like so many sunrises and sunsets. But the problem is, when it’s time to fix a problem; we often don’t address the real problem. And that can definitely become an even bigger problem.

How ’bout a story (I love ’em)?

A man who’d endured generalized anxiety and panic disorders for decades emailed me last week. He shared buckets of distress, telling me a car problem was at the root of it all. And it was a major car problem, indeed, because he didn’t have one.

He’d lost his job two months ago and had financial obligations to tend to. So he sold his car, believing he’d have a clunker for a replacement in short order.

Well, the search for a replacement was more difficult than he’d anticipated. Finally, he found just the right car on craigslist. After several phone conversations he was convinced the seller was a trustworthy sort. And the crushing blow came when he bought the car. A half-hour into his drive home it began to make a disturbing noise. And he ended up having to start it three times to get it into his garage.

The next day he drove the car to a shop, thinking (praying, actually) it was a minor cooling system issue. But the mechanic broke the stunning news that a head gasket had to be replaced – at the very least – and the repair would cost close to $2000.

The man went home, knowing he couldn’t afford the repair, and sold it to a wholesaler within hours – taking a sizable financial bath. So not only was the man, again, without a car – he was unable to buy another for weeks. And, by the way, he was to start a new job in five days.

Well, the man cabbed, railed, and walked for the previous two weeks; so he had no choice but to do so again. But others relied on him. His teenage daughter had to get to her driver’s education class three nights a week. And, of course, she wanted to drive as often as possible to accumulate the required hours for her license. The man wasn’t always able to come through, which caused him great angst.

He’d written me several hours after paying yet another ridiculous cab fare. Seems he’d finally blown a gasket (in addition to the one in the engine). “God, I can’t take this anymore,” he raged to himself. And he sat in his living room for about an hour emotionally and mentally blank.

And suddenly he felt and thought – “Damn, I feel absolutely trapped – stranded! I can’t go where I want when I want! People need me – I need me! What if something goes wrong – how will I get help?”

End of story.

Let me ask you a question. What is the man’s primary, bottom-line, distress-generating problem? The inconvenience of not having a car? Getting ripped-off? Letting his daughter down? Dishing-out hundreds of dollars in cab fare? The prospects of not being able to get to his new job?

Hmmm – come on back tomorrow and let’s talk about it. In the meantime, any feelings or thoughts regarding the man’s true problem? Why not share them in a comment?