bowen therapy

When Questions Help More Than Answers

We live in an answer-focused society. There’s no shortage of experts telling us how to make money, lose weight, get more sleep, have a better marriage, or just be happier.

Answers are a convenient way to manage anxiety. You might feel calmer when you get a diagnosis. A family calms down when they have a scapegoat to blame.  And it’s reassuring when your therapist hands you a worksheet and says, “Just do this.”

I think answers fail us when they shut down our thinking. When they don’t allow us to be curious. These are answers like:

  • My relationship will only get better if my partner stops doing X.
  • I’m an anxious person and there’s no changing that.
  • I’m burned out because people expect too much of me.
  • I have low self-esteem because my father was too critical.
  • My relationships have failed because I’m unlovable.

Cause-and-effect thinking fails to capture the complexity of human relationships. We’re quick to slap labels on ourselves and others, because seeing the bigger picture, the patterns of actions and reactions, takes a lot more effort and discomfort. It’s easier to ask, “Why?” and fill in the blank with the most obvious answer.

Here are some non-why questions that can jump-start your thinking.    


Understanding Your Siblings

11-bobs-burgers.w700.h700Washington, DC is full of oldest children. This is no surprise, as “oldests” usually value power and responsibility.  They are also more independent. In therapy, they tell me stories about younger siblings who just can’t get it together. They resent the time, money, and attention a brother or sister has leeched from their parents. They get tired of playing mediator during family squabbles, or solo caretaker when parents grow old.

You don’t have to be an oldest child to wonder how people who grew up in the same family can be so different from each other. But siblings aren’t born into the same families, nor do they grow up in the same family. You may have lived in the same house for many years, but each of you experienced a very different family.


Being an Inside-Out Person

downloadHumans have a very special skill. In addition to sensing real danger, we can also imagine potential danger. It’s an evolutionary advantage to be able to predict how people will respond to us. I’ve never stood on a table in a restaurant and thrown my food at someone. I’ve never watched anyone else do this. But my anxiety tells me that this would be bad news for Kathleen. So I avoid embarrassing myself in public or getting arrested.

Sometimes, however, we rely too much on this adaptation. By being outside-focused, all of our actions orient towards preventing rejection, failure, or awkwardness. Have you ever stressed yourself out because the house didn’t look perfect for company? Did you not pursue a potential friendship because the other person might not be interested? Have you failed to share a belief because everyone in your friend group will disagree?