The Upside of Your Problems: Some Surprising Benefits

Woman skips with rainbow umbrella while strom crosses the skyWe all likely have our favorite personal qualities that we secretly (or publicly) admire about ourselves. While many of these characteristics are probably universally positive, it is possible that something we love about ourselves—for example, assertiveness—might be perceived by someone else as bossy or overly forward.

Similarly, when discussing perceived “flaws” in counseling, people in therapy are often surprised to discover the very things they dislike about themselves can be reframed as beneficial in some way. Coming to my office gives people a chance to see themselves from a new perspective. This doesn’t mean they always agree with my viewpoint, but as I’ve mentioned in previous posts, being able to see yourself in a compassionate manner is always the first step toward behavior change.

When seeking out solutions to problems, it is worth noting that most problems have some benefits to them as well. In therapy, we call these secondary gains.

Here are some upsides to common complaints brought to individual counseling:

The Upside of Anger: Sometimes anger is easier to deal with than not allowing yourself to feel anger. A person in therapy might feel worried that the anger is uncontrollable, but the positive side to feeling anger is just that—the person is actually feeling something and can do something productive with that anger. Anger can relieve stress and prevent runaway anxiety. Anger gives a therapist a lot of opportunity to help.

The Upside of Loneliness: Someone with loneliness has already advanced past many of us who fill our days trying to prevent this feeling; he or she is experiencing something we fear most. A lonely person seeking companionship has already been figuring out how to structure the day, soothe the quietest moments, and engage in solo activities. Plus, someone who has learned how to live through loneliness can be well prepared to be an independent and self-sufficient partner. A person in therapy who expresses loneliness gives the therapist a chance to help him or her build a life around the most permanent relationship: the one with him or herself.

The Upside of Anxiety: A person who is anxious may want desperately to soothe the physical feelings that accompany anxiety. What that person doesn’t realize is that the flip side to the anxiety is the concerted effort the brain is making to soothe him or her. The person is tuned into life and cares about something; otherwise, anxiety would not be present. Therefore, we can reframe anxiety as a normal response to something that has just gotten blown out of proportion. Anxiety is an extreme measure of self-care.

The Upside of Depression/Pessimism: People who have worst-case scenario thoughts about their lives are usually very good at predicting and overcoming potential obstacles. This can turn anxiety and brooding into action, which is empowering. A person who is depressed usually has positive aspects to life that have been downplayed or haven’t been tapped into. This is one reason why depression is so difficult to tackle without professional help; there are immense blind spots with regard to positive qualities that a therapist can help someone in therapy see and use.

Solution-Focused therapy, in my opinion, is better than any other therapy when it comes to helping someone reframe their problems and see opportunity and choice. Find a therapist to learn more about how it may help you.

© Copyright 2010 by By Lindsey Antin, MA, MFT, therapist in Berkeley, California. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Buzzturning

    Buzzturning

    July 8th, 2010 at 1:23 AM

    A common way used to control anger is learning assertive communication techniques. Assertive communication according to Wikipedia is the appropriate use of expressing feelings and needs without offending or taking away the rights of others. It is typically started with the use of “I statements followed by a need statement. For example, “I feel upset when you don’t take my feelings into consideration when you talk about your past relationships. I hope you can be more thoughtful and know what you should and should not say the next time.”

    Empathy is very difficult when one is angry but it can make all the difference in the world. Taking the other person’s point of view can be excruciating when in the throes of anger, but with practice it can become second nature. Of course, once the angry person is in conditions of considering the opposite position, then the anger based on righteous indignation tends to disappear.

  • meredith

    meredith

    July 8th, 2010 at 4:31 AM

    framing things in a more positive light is such a wonderful way to go through life, much more than always projecting such negativity onto everything baout yourself and others.

  • Alister

    Alister

    July 8th, 2010 at 6:49 AM

    I have a problem of over-sleeping and I just can’t seem to get over it.It is very embarrassing because I always end up late at office and also at any meeting that is scheduled in the morning.I use an alarm but it just doesn’t work.I just don’t hear the alarm go off when I’m asleep.I need help regarding this,please.

  • luke b

    luke b

    July 8th, 2010 at 11:29 AM

    I am someone who is very frank and open to people and not everybody likes this and some of my friends even suggest that I tone it down a little because many people like others to be pleasing and nice and not everything about truth and honesty and openness.I never agree with them though.But this very frank nature of mine has helped me a lot of times in the past and I hope will continue to keep rewarding me to be so frank and open to others.

  • wings2fly_1day@atime

    wings2fly_1day@atime

    November 6th, 2010 at 4:54 PM

    Like Alister, I too have dealt with issues of oversleeping. I am very interrested in any helpful ideas anyone, especially Lindsey, has to offer. I have found that having my husband help me keep a routine, and waking up/completing several activities before it is time to leave for work, does help. However, the oversleeping, and my obstinence to simply getting out of bed, remains a challenge 1-3 mornings per week. It is very aggravating and I would be ecstatic if I could rid myself of this annoyance!!

  • Kathi

    Kathi

    December 29th, 2016 at 6:30 AM

    Would Solution Focused therapy help me deal with my lack of confidence, my husbands depression and my adult daughters ocd & germaphobia?

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