Letter Composition

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When you are the problem, the remedy requires that you change who you are – or else; which implies that you are somehow bad or inadequate resulting in blame and shame. But, when the problem is seen as separate and not equal, you’re given permission to investigate, to assess and renegotiate your relationship with it and life, in turn. For prompts to suss out and/or to engage in externalizing conversation with a perceived problem, read on. If you’ve already prepared a letter and wish to add it to our collective library, please complete the respective entry form.

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Questions and Prompts for Externalization

In externalizing conversations, where the problem is treated as separate from the person experiencing it, the goal is not only to name it but to know it.

If you have yet to name the problem, start here:

  1. Make a list of problems – or problem areas – that are likely interfering with your health and happiness.
  2. With the list in front of you, consider: Which of these problems feels most alive in my life right now? Which is most persistent?
  3. With your answer in mind, see if you can’t name it. You might choose to use a label manufactured by society or verbiage that feels most authentic to your experience. If helpful, you might consider – still – personification of the problem. Does it feel as if it has a gender? A personality of sorts?? Does it remind you of a person from my past or present? How big is the problem? Is there a color, shape, texture, and/or quality that comes to mind when you think of this problem? Click here for a list of example problems with select links to original works in-spired elsewhere by this very technique.

Once named, to know the problem as a living, breathing entity with its own backstory, its own needs and wants, its own drives and motivations, its own personality; try fleshing it out by exploring any number of the following externalizing questions:

  • When did the problem first appear? Were there factors that contributed to its arrival/emersion/onset?
  • Who named this problem and what was that process like? Is there a diagnosis story to tell??
  • What sorts of feelings, beliefs and/or judgments have emerged as a result of this problem? Has the problem tried to convince you of things about yourself? About others??
  • How has the problem influenced the way in which you think? How has it influenced the way in which you talk?How has it got you acting??
  • What effects has the problem had on the lives of others? How has it impacted your relationships??
  • In what ways has the problem impacted your life choices? How has the problem interfered with your hopes and dreams??
  • Would you say that these effects are positive or negative? Both or neither?? Does it add to your life or subtract from it? Do these effects support your life or the problem’s life??
  • Has the problem anything to do with our healthcare systems? Is it impacted by and/or entangled with your ability to access any other socially constructed systems (e.g. school-, legal-, financial-systems)??
  • Might this problem exist for a reason? Perhaps, instead, you expect that it’ll exist only for a season? What if the problem is – more likely – here for your lifetime?