The Problem with Problems: solve or avoid?

Oct 20, 2022

Photo Credit: Christopher Lemercier via Unsplash

Problems can pester, persist and plague. They range from short-lived to chronic, bothersome to heart-wrenching, resolvable to unalterable. Problems cause what Jungian analyst and author James Hollis refers to as the three As: ambiguity, ambivalence, and anxiety. Ambiguity arises when a problem is complex and confusing, demanding action without certainty. Ambivalence is a state of conflicted feelings, often related to immediate versus long-term gratification. Anxiety is worry and doubt about whether we can meet a challenge or achieve a desired outcome.

Problems confront us with a basic choice: action or avoidance—but action without analysis can also be a form of avoidance. We must accept the situation, tolerate the tension, and observe external and internal factors before identifying options. Jung says, “The most intense conflicts if overcome, leave behind a sense of security and calm that is not easily disturbed. It is just these intense conflicts and their conflagration which are needed to produce valuable and lasting results.”

Here’s the dream we analyze:

“I was pregnant, and I went to a cafe with my husband. I went away and had my baby. I went to a party where some family and friends were welcoming the baby. I cradled a small plastic box with a transparent plastic lid. There were about six spaces pressed into the foam of the box and my baby, which was a tiny bee, was in the right bottom corner of the case. As the party was ending, family members encouraged me to let the bee out of the case. My husband said to do what I thought was right. I opened the case, and we left the party hall, the bee flying above us. When we got outside, it flew away. I ran to keep up with it, and it flew to a huge wooden and plexiglass hive on the lawn. My baby bee flew to a bigger bee, circled it, and was imitating it, even getting onto the big bee’s back while it flew. I wanted to catch my bee but was intimidated by the bigger bee. They flew off in a swarm with others. My husband told me it was time to go. I walked away, and we drove away with my in-laws. When we were alone again, I couldn’t stop crying. My husband took me to the same cafe, but I could hardly walk because I was crying so much. The server said I looked good for just having had a baby. I went to the bathroom, sobbing and feeling very swollen all over. I looked at my puffy face in the mirror and felt like I looked new.”


W. Edwards Deming: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/W._Edwards_Deming

Video: It’s Not About the Nail: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-4EDhdAHrOg


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  1. Tosca

    Oh the worst of all for me has been the person (someone close to me) who complains, suffers and is obviously in deep pain, will do nothing to resolve it and blame everyone else for the problem. Others understand his pain, and try to work with it, but it is so hard when every suggestion is totally rejected, so difficult to keep trying to help when we are continually blamed.

  2. Max Reif

    I appreciate this episode, as I do most of them! Really appreciate, Lisa, your little discussion about “keep trying”, chipping away at the problem!
    My comment is about the recitation of Jung’s quote, “Neurosis is always a substitute for legitimate suffering,” in the context of the guy who always complains about his job. My question is whether a job that’s “not perfect” might BE part of a person’s legitimate suffering, rather than something neurotic! Few things in life turn out to be perfect, right?
    Thanks! Keep up the great work!

  3. Mamie Allegretti

    Thank you for this episode. You could probably do a whole podcast on middle aged people who lose energy and interest for their jobs! It’s so hard because in many situations one’s earning power is at its zenith in middle age. And what to do? It often feels like a kind of crucifixion between where your spirit wants to go and what you have to do to survive. I’ve thought a lot lately about crucifixion and it seems to me a good symbol of the tension of the opposites. It’s a nice symbol for many issues that we have to deal with in life and the intersection of the material and spiritual and the misery it often creates. Thanks again for your work.


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