Maybe the Problem is You

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Jon comes into my office, clearly frazzled.

“No one appreciates me. I do everything for everyone else and no one cares.”

There’s an angry tone to his voice.

Jon works for his father-in-law, who is happy with Jon’s performance. In just a few short months, Jon has transformed a chain of local convenience stores and profits are soaring. But Jon’s employees are disgruntled, his kids avoid him, and his wife is usually frustrated with him.

“I don’t understand,” he says, “I’ve given my family a good life. I do everything for them, but they avoid my company.”

I ask probing questions. What frustrates them? What don’t they like?

Jon’s frown deepens.

“They say they are too afraid to tell me because I’ll just be angry for the rest of the day, like I always am.”

He shakes his head.

“I don’t get it. I don’t raise my voice. I don’t swear. I go to church every Sunday. I don’t understand what they mean about being angry. Sure, I grumble and sigh, but who doesn’t? It’s not a serious offense. And I work all hours, just for them, and they’re still not happy!!”

He looks down at the floor.

“It’s the same with my team at work. I put myself on the line for them over and over again. They’ve all received a pay raise since I joined but it’s still not enough.”

He sighs heavily. “No one appreciates me.”

Jon is looking for validation. And yes, some validation is necessary, for all of us. He’s clearly shouldering a lot of responsibility, and  his heart is in the right place.

What Jon doesn’t realize is that he is creating his own misery through his passive grumpiness, and he is suffering from a low grade depression that is fueling that grumpiness.

As we began our work together, I asked Jon one simple question.

What if the problem is you?

It was a suggestion he was reluctant to consider, but as I was only working with him, not his family or employees, he agreed to work on that premise. He also consulted a psychiatrist who prescribed him a mild anti-depressant.

We worked on the messages Jon was sending to others on a moment-to-moment basis, beginning with greetings and goodbyes. Here’s what it looked like:

  • When he arrived at work or home, Jon greeted everyone positively, and checked in with people. Most importantly, when he asked questions, he listened to their responses
  • If there were issues, he managed them firmly but in a centered and caring way.
  • When he left work or home, he said his goodbyes without his habitual last-minute jabs

Change like this doesn’t happen overnight, and Jon often got caught in what Stutz and Michels call “the maze.” To support our work together, I recommended he read The Tools by Phillip Stutz and Barry Michels. We focused on the triggers of the maze and used the tools to escape its labyrinths.

It was a gradual process but after a few months of working together Jon noticed a change. Peoples’ faces lit up, rather than turned away, when he entered a room. He’d finally allowed the other side of his personality to emerge, the bright, hard-working side that genuinely cared for others. And people responded with warmth.

He also started to feel more loving toward his wife and kids and enjoyed getting to know them in a real way, not just as a provider. He also began to respect his employees, especially the ones who were going above and beyond.

But there’s more.  Life became enjoyable for Jon.

So, I invite you to look deeply into the pain in your life and ask yourself – what if the problem is you?

If you’re convinced it isn’t all you, can you change a difficult situation by working on yourself? This level of self-honesty takes guts and courage, but it’s where the most effective work happens.

What can you work on to change your life for the better?



Nicole C Weiss LCSW

Nicole WeissMaybe the Problem is You

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