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The Mindset Shifts (1/4): Internal Problems, External Solutions

Over the coming weeks, I'll be sharing some of the mindset shifts I had to make while supporting Nick through his mental illness. These mindset shifts ended up making me a more effective supporter.

Here is the first one: you can't solve an internal problem with external solutions.

"You can't solve an internal problem with external solutions."

When Nick first started suffering, we both started looking for any and every solution I could. I tried to get him to do things like meditate, exercise, try certain combinations of supplements, and take medications*. Nick turned to things like video games. He sometimes turned to marijuana. And while some of these things are healthy and can be supportive in the road to recovery, they were never the actual solution.

I define "solution" as something that will fully fix a problem. You may not agree with that definition, and that's okay. But in terms of this blog post, that is my definition. If he stopped exercising, stopped taking supplements, stopped taking drugs (medicinal or otherwise), or stopped playing video games, his problem was still there. So, I stopped defining these things as "solution" for him. Throughout our journey, we realized that his solution was this: changing his beliefs and doing his own internal work.

No amount of external solutions will fix an internal problem. Supplements were an external solution. Meditation was an external solution. Exercise is an external solution. Drugs were an external solution. Video games were an external solution. Alcohol is an external solution. Changing his diet was an external solution.

Again, some of these things are healthy and supportive of his recovery process. But, none of them cured or fixed the problem.

Once I realized you can't solve an internal problem with an external solution, a series of other realizations followed:

  • I was being an external solution by trying to "fix" it for him

  • It's not my job to fix

  • By "fixing" it for him, I am also robbing him of his own learning opportunity

Let's talk about each one individually.

I was trying to "fix" it for him: This behaviour was stemming from my codependency. I had started working on my codependency several months earlier. I realized, through my own therapy, that I gained a lot of my worth from what I could provide to other people. I would try to prove my worth to them, and myself, by "fixing" things for others. I would say yes to helping with something when I really wanted to say no. But my worth would suffer if I said no, so I'd say yes. When Nick developed OCD, this "fixing" behaviour reared its head.

It's not my job to fix: Once I realized this, it took a lot of the weight off my shoulders. It wasn't my job to fix. It was my job to support and hold accountable.

By "fixing" it for him, I am also robbing him of his own learning opportunity: This one was a particularly painful realization. Just like with children, kids eventually need to start problem solving on their own. If parents interfere too often, the child will learn to depend on the parent to solve their problems. I think a lot of us believe this learning process stops when you become an adult. It doesn't. New problems will keep arising, and you need to keep learning different solutions in order to adapt. By stepping in and trying to "fix" it, I was robbing Nick of his own learning opportunity. What's worse is I was also subconsciously sending him this message: he can't handle his own problems. If I keep sending him that message, then there's a chance he will start to internalize that belief as well.

I wish I could say that having this mindset shift was all I needed in order to be a more effective supporter for Nick. It wasn't. There were a series of mindset shifts I needed to have, which I'll be discussing in the coming weeks. Next week, I'll talk about Albert Einstein's definition of "Insanity".

*This is not intended as medical advice. For some, medications can be extremely helpful while on the road to recovery. Please discuss your personal case with your healthcare provider.

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