On the other side of any problem is the preferred.
The preferred means hope.
This is such a simple concept with amazing ramifications.
Think of a coin, classic, right? Just flip it over and you have its opposite. And it is in such close proximity, a question or two away.
As a therapist, I ask a person to describe a problem. And then I ask, “what is this problem getting in the way of that you prefer?”
Simple, right? Their response generally leads to a description of their understanding of what they want in the problem’s place. And in this space, further questions can be asked, evoking other narrative principles that elicit how this preference fits with their values, their experiences, and their relationships.
Further questions can be asked that can explore how they relate to society’s norms and the implications on how they live their lives day to day. And these wonderful conversations start by asking a simple question of “what is this problem getting in the way of that you prefer?”
In Narrative, the principle that informs this is called the “absent but implicit”.
I don’t know why terms need to make concepts sound more complicated. But this phrase is easier to understand if stated a bit differently. When a problem is identified and externalized (another way of saying named), a person can relate to it differently. And when it is identified, its opposite is absent but implied.
In other words, to state something as a problem, you have to have an idea that something can be better. You don’t have problems otherwise.
For instance, you wouldn’t have worry if you didn’t have something you cared about. You wouldn’t have anger if there wasn’t something you were protecting. You wouldn’t have grief if you didn’t have something you loved.
If you disagree, it’s about the opposites I chose. You may have different ones that fit better with your experience, but the idea that you don’t have a problem without an awareness that something could be different is hard to refute. And taking it one step further, this awareness that something can be different leads to hope.
Let me give you an example. Someone comes in and they describe experiencing anger.
Generally they have their own name for it called, “pissed off”. In Narrative, we prefer words that are closer to the person’s experience rather than being general. This way the words are connected to the person’s lived experience.
The person starts describing pissed off and how it affects their life and relationships. They get detailed about how miserable it makes them and how it is pushing people away. It’s not enough to stay general, I get to know the specific people it affects most, examples of the pissed off in action.
From this place, connected to the effects, I ask the question, “what is the pissed off getting in the way of that you prefer?” or something like that.
All of a sudden, the person is talking to me in a very different way. They are talking to me about how much they care about their specific relationships and how much they miss them since the pissed off has been more influential. (This is how we narrative types talk, a bit strange but we refer to things as nouns, but it really is effective).
I ask for example about their relationship to one of the friends they identified named Rick. I learn about the history of their relationship and how they have shared some great times.
Again, evoking some other narrative principles, I hear from the person about what Rick would say about the pissed off and how it doesn’t fit with the person’s typical stance of kindness. I also hear how much Rick is worried and the steps Rick has been taking to connect, even with the pissed off present. This opens up several dimensions to our conversation, and while it references the pissed off, the conversation is not consumed or dictated by the pissed off.
These conversations allow the person to step away from the problem, gain a realization (narrative would call this agency). This leads the person to be able to take control back from it, make plans to prevent it and include others to support them in this process.
Hopefully, you have seen the amazing shift that can happen within a conversation from a simple question based on a basic idea. This idea again is that on the other side of any problem is it’s opposite, what the person wants instead of it. And while still respecting the problem, the entire conversation can shift away from the problem, to building the preferred.
Want to try it out for yourself? Click HERE to download a FREE exercise that walks you through this very process in a simple, step by step workbook.