It is natural to think that who we are is the result of what has happened to us, and to try to get to the bottom of what makes us tick, or why we feel the way we do. This project lies at the heart of the spiritual quest – epitomised in the injunction carved into the temple at Delphi: “Know Thyself’.
But is it then true to say that by knowing more about the past – or about the apparent cause of any difficulty we might be experiencing – that we will be more equipped to solve our problem? Most people would probably now think this is so, thanks to the popularity of psychotherapeutic ideas, ever since the time of Freud. The wisdom of trying to solve the problem of why we might be suffering by looking into our past is challenged here in this latest blog post from Barry Winbolt. Once you’ve read this, you might want to ask yourself “Has understanding my past contributed to solving my problems?” There is much food for thought here – and for disagreement! I would love to hear your opinions on this!
When faced with a problem it seems to be in our nature to explain what caused it. It is as though, in asking “Why?” the solution to the problem will magically reveal itself.
Conflating lines of thought like this is an example of what I call ‘dodgy thinking’. At best it confuses and distracts us, at worst it makes us feel worse.
When we get into a tight spot, say, with the way we are functioning psychologically, or in a relationship, many of us turn automatically to searching for an explanation. “It’s natural”, you might say “to want to understand the reason.”
It may be true that we have a natural inclination to search for meaning and understanding, but it’s false to assume that such understanding will light the way to solving a problem.
Shock! Horror! I’ve seen the reaction to this idea for years. Think about it though, it’s all to do with the difference between cause (why something happened), and effect (the impact of what happened).
The cause is always located in the past. Even if we could identify it and provide an explanation for our problem it doesn’t necessarily follow that we’d also know how to fix it.