This is one of my favorite tools for discovering what’s really going on. I use it with my clients and on myself often.
Judith is upset that her teenaged daughter, Gloria missed out on getting a High Honours grade point average by ½ a percent.
Leo is stressed about having to downsize from his current home to senior housing.
Phyllis is angry with her siblings for not helping out with her aging mother.
When Judith tries to discuss the grade average with Gloria, Gloria dismisses her and Judith is frustrated. When I ask Judith why are you upset about the average? She replies: “because if ‘she’ would just work a little harder she could have gotten High Honours, it was right there!” Why should she work harder and get High Honours? “Because, it bothers me that she doesn’t care more.” Why should she care more? “Because if she does better, she’ll have more opportunities.” Why should she have more opportunities? “So she can make something of herself.” Why should she make something of herself? “So she doesn’t fail at life and end up living at home forever and making me look like a bad parent.” Ah.
Leo, what is stressing you out about downsizing? “I have too much stuff and I don’t know how I’m going to get rid of it all.” Why do you have to get rid of it all? “Because it won’t fit in the smaller place.” Why do you want the stuff with you? “Because I might need it.” Why can’t you borrow or rent if you need something you don’t have? “Because then I will need others to help me.” Why is that a bad thing? “Because it means I’m old and others have to take care of me.” Why don’t you want others to take care of you? “Because then I’m useless and I might as well die.” Ah
Phyllis, why don’t you ask your siblings to help more with your mother? “Because they are all busy and have no clue what’s going on here.” Why don’t you tell them what’s going on here? “Because they should ask, and care and want to help out, it’s their mother!” Why don’t you tell them what’s going on here and ask them to help? “Because they will probably ignore me and not help anyway?” Why don’t you ask them to help you? “Because if they do come and help they will probably upset mom and change things up.” Why will it be upsetting? “Because they probably won’t do things the way I want them and then when they leave, I’ll just have to fix everything. It’ll be more trouble than it’s worth.” Ah.
Judith laughed at herself once the ‘ah’ came out. She was able to step back and realize that Gloria was doing just fine and that once Gloria found something she really wanted to pursue, she was well equipped to succeed. The strain was taken off their relationship so they were both able to enjoy each other once again.
Leo and I were able to discuss further all the things he feels he would be giving up and then move into talking about the things that were good about the upcoming changes. Leo would enjoy not having to worry about the responsibilities of home owning. He was also going to enjoy the activities and community in his new senior neighbourhood.
Phyllis realized that she was stressing herself out with her anger at her siblings. We were able to make a schedule around here mother’s care that would fit into her routine and work out a possible script for informing her siblings and asking for help in such a way that was specific, manageable and comfortable for Phyllis.
When we find ourselves in a situation where it just seems that there is continued frustration with no solution, asking the ‘why’ question, over and over puts us in the position of observer giving us some distance from the issue or problem. You know you have an ‘issue’ when you feel that stuck feeling and you catch yourself repeating the same thoughts with no resolution. You’ll know you’ve gotten to the ‘real’ reason behind your frustration when you feel the ‘ah.’ Once the ‘ah’ has been identified it is much easier to move forward.