We need help to face our elephants | Rich Elfers

Is there an issue in your life, in your job or in your family that you are ignoring? Are you hoping it will just go away?

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  • Wednesday, May 14, 2014 12:35am
  • Opinion

Is there an issue in your life, in your job or in your family that you are ignoring? Are you hoping it will just go away?

Most of us have an “elephant in the room” that, like the commercial for COPD, follows us around wherever we go. I have found it common for us humans to avoid dealing with difficult issues. These difficult, often unspoken problems are the ones we need to face. We can do that by asking ourselves some probing questions.

Question 1: What is the elephant in the room that you are avoiding in your life? Is it your eating, smoking, drinking, drug or exercise habits? Whatever it is, you have probably become quite clever at diverting your thinking from it. You’re in good company. Many of us do that. The first step to ending bad behaviors is to face the fact that you have them.

I have found that as I age, I see the effects of my past decision-making coming home to roost. It’s true for all of us. What we could get away with when we were younger begins to show up in late middle age. Just take a look at your medicine cabinet or in the mirror to see what areas you might have avoided facing. It’s a good start.

Question 2: Are you avoiding issues at your job? Many of us deal with difficult people or situations in our work that never seem to go away. We may have a boss who uses us to his/her advantage and we put up with it. A fellow employee may drive us crazy. If you are the boss, you may have employees who are thorns in your flesh that make your day miserable. There are any number of manifestations of work-related elephants in the room. The solution is to first face the problem and then work to figure out how to find solutions.

Question 3: What is the elephant in the room when dealing with your family? How’s your marriage going? If you’re not married and would like to be, what’s keeping you from finding that “someone special”? How are your children doing, either under your care or out of the nest and on their own? Are they living up to what you hoped and wished for them? If they’re already grown, there’s not much you can do, but perhaps you can rectify the parenting mistakes you made when they were young by becoming more involved with your grandchildren.

I have found we humans tend to go to two extremes when we finally are forced to face whatever problems beset us: we tend to under-react and give up on the problem, feeling that the issue is impossible to address, or we over-react and obsess on it, letting the issue take over and control our lives, pushing out other things we need to do.

Counseling is, of course, one good avenue for dealing with these issues of avoidance of the elephants in the room. In the past year I’ve learned a lot about another option – mediation – as I work toward becoming a certified mediator. I observe or participate in disputes at the Center for Dispute Resolution in Tacoma. Most of the disputes are related to divorce, particularly adjustment of parenting plans. Most couples have trouble talking to their former mates or partners. Because of their avoidance issues, their children are having problems.

As I observe mediations, I am amazed, over and over again, how mediation can change the behaviors of parents who finally muster the courage – or are required to come into mediation by the court – to finally look at their ex-spouse and discuss the differences between them that they have avoided for years.

It’s a sign of strength, not weakness, to admit that you need help to face your elephant.

Mediator services are available in Tacoma and the Pierce County Center for Dispute Resolution at 253-249-3657 or at the Dispute Resolution Center for King County at 206 443-9603. They deal with all types of disputes including: parent-teen issues, landlord-tenant, foreclosures and divorces.

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