Problem-colored Glasses – “Talking through the problem”

Gestalt Psychology provides us with a means of organizing our experiences into a spatial location. Because NLP likewise takes an interest in where we locate a problem, this post may seem to indicate an overlap between those fields – you’re right, it does.

Notice that successful couples manage to filter their partner through a lens of love, respect, passion, or some combination of very positive emotions. That is, when person A looks at person B, their partner, person A first sees excitement, arousal, passion, tenderness, love, respect, or some combination of these or similar emotions. Like looking at a person through sunglasses, successful couples look at their partner through “rose colored glasses”, and see something wonderful, even before they see the objective truth of their partner.

However when solving “problems”, most of us do something quite different. This can pose a conflict when speaking with our partner.

As always, NLP asks us to examine the language we are using when speaking about an internal experience – it will give us clues as to what’s happening on the inside. We actually tend to verbalize literally what we are experiencing. So when we say we “face a problem head-on”, we are indicating that we view the problem space directly in front of us. Picture that for a moment – person A viewing the problem directly in front of him. Now if his partner does the same thing, views it “head-on”, person B is also looking first at the problem.

Couple this with language that tells us culturally to face someone we respect, to look them right in the eye when speaking, and no we have an interesting dilemma. Person A is going to look at the same time at Person B and the problem. The question that remains is which is in front, and which lies behind… Until we look at language like, “We are both facing the issue, talking through the problem.” This indicates that Persons A and B have agreed to place the problem between them, and view one another through that filter. So instead of seeing each other through “rose colored glasses”, they do so through the lens of the problem itself.

NLP has a concept we will mention briefly known as “anchoring”. Imagine a conditioned response, though installed in less time. The “anchor” metaphor means that we have a conditioned response that is triggered every time that anchor is fired off. So if you anchor a particular song to feeling sad or melancholy, you can hear it and emotionally “go there” without actually having a reason to feel sad or melancholy. Anchors are dangerous because they are very easily installed and do not require the repetition we expect for a classically conditioned response. One time is all it takes, provided the subject is at a point of peak emotion.

So now picture this couple, viewing the problem between them, “talking through the problem”, and seeing each other through that lens. We’re not being nitpicky here – language so often describes exactly what we are doing internally. So as we talk through the problem, we are in many ways actually using that problem space as a lens through which we view our partner. If the problem inspires intense emotion, as such conversations easily can, it would be easy to anchor feelings of frustration, anger, fear, and the like to our partner. The example we often use is that of a colored lens. Viewed through one lens, your partner may seem blue, through another lens, green, yet another, red. Yet another…the color of the problem. That is, we necessarily color how we view and connect with that person depending on the lens we choose. When the lens is that of a problem, it is just too easy to begin attaching feelings we had reserved for the problem itself to our partner. This is not a very useful association, and can easily reduce the amount of interest, empathy, concern, and positive feelings in general, that we attach to our partner going forward. Even if we manage to contain that effect in the moment, it still can easily impact our resourcefulness as we attempt to deal with the problem.

The greater worry, of course, is if the effect is not isolated to that moment. If we find the negative associations anchored to our partner, we can find our relationships damaged long term by a simple behavioral choice we made – thinking perhaps it had no real effect. It does. It does it all the time, and if you are tempted to underestimate the risk with this, you may as well continue to view rattlesakes as cute, harmless pets.

So what’s the alternative? Simple! Instead of “locating” the problem space between the two of you, simply imagine it in a neutral position. That way, you’re both able to view it from a similar–if not identical–perspective. And certainly not viewing one another through problem-colored glasses.

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