What is My Problem?

Human Beings are Like Oak Trees
When people come to therapy, they usually have two basic questions: “What is my problem?” and, “Will I be able to fix it?”

To answer these two questions, you have to understand a word that sounds fancy, but is really simple. This is a word that the ancient Greek philosopher, Aristotle, invented. The word is entelechy. (This is pronounced en -tell – a – key.)

Entelechy is that which something is meant to be. What does that mean? In the acorn is the mighty oak. If the acorn gets the proper sunlight, soil, and water, it becomes the tree. The oak tree is what the acorn is meant to be. The oak tree is the acorn’s entelechy.

Now people are more complicated than oak trees. But the same idea applies. If we get the proper nourishment, we will become what we are meant to be.

What is it that we are meant to be? What is our entelechy? Obviously, we are meant to be human beings, people. But what does that mean? To be what we are meant to be means developing five human capacities to their fullest:

  • We are meant to think well.
  • We are meant to feel well.
  • We are meant to act well.
  • We are meant to imagine well.
  • We are meant to love well.

What does it mean to think, feel, act, imagine, and love well?

To think well means we can learn, understand, and make wise decisions.

To feel well means two things. It means that we are meant to be happy, confident and strong. It also means we are passionate. We can feel fully and freely, so our world is full of color and depth.

To act well means we are able to do what our well thinking minds and our deep feeling hearts tells us to do.

To imagine well also means two things. One is that we can envision a better future. The second is that we can be creative.

To love well means we treat ourselves and others with care. It means that we feel compassion. It means that we are able to connect deeply with others. It means we don’t feel lonely. It means that we experience being a part of the great weave of the universe.

If we can’t do those things as well as is humanly possible, generally speaking, it means we, in some way, did not get the proper sunlight, soil, and water growing up. The truth is, that is the case for all of us.

What is sunlight, soil,and water for people? It is emotional nourishment that comes from a loving connection. We know this to be scientifically true. When mothers gaze at their infants with love, neurons grow in their brains that will help them think better and feel better.

When we don’t get the proper emotional nourishment growing up, the result is shame. Shame is the feeling that goes along with the belief that there is something wrong with me.  It isn’t that I did something wrong, it is that I am something wrong.

Shame comes in many colors and sizes. You might believe that you are unlovable, stupid, ugly, or all three. But whatever your particular core negative belief is, at root, the feeling of shame is the same.

Most people are not even aware that they live in a state of shame all the time.

They might know that they feel too anxious to go to parties because they are sure that everyone will hate them.

Their wife may complain about them because they are always getting angry and will never admit they did anything wrong.

They may find that no matter how hard they try they don’t go to the gym, or can’t quit cigarettes, or have a problem with alcohol.

But these are symptoms. For most of these kinds of problems, the underlying cause is shame.

In most cases, the answer to the question, “what is my problem?” is that you did not get the proper emotional nourishment in your upbringing, and so you have a deep layer of shame. As a result, you don’t think, feel, act, imagine, or love, as well as possible.

To become what you are meant to be, to achieve your entelechy, is a natural process. Just like with the acorn, it will just happen under the right conditions. So what psychotherapy is meant to do is free your natural ability to become what you are meant to be. The way to do that is heal your core shame.

Will you be able to fix it? The truth is, there is nothing wrong with you, and nothing that needs to be fixed. The problem is that you believe there is something wrong with you.

Once you are given the proper nourishment, and your shame is healed, your problems will naturally dissolve. You will be able to be the smart, passionate, wise, feeling, confident, courageous, creative, loving, giving — beautiful — person that you are meant to be, and that deep inside, you are.

Dr. Glenn Berger is a psychotherapist, relationship counselor, business and artist’s coach, and young person’s mentor. He sees patients in New York City, in Mt. Kisco, NY, and around the world by Skype.

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