Wouldn’t it be nice if solving personal challenges and issues were as simple as just deciding to do so? That simply making a change in ourselves because someone told us we should? That a positive affirmation written on a post-it note attached to a bathroom mirror was all we needed to create permanent change? If all of this were true, there would be no need for therapists, life coaches, mental health medications, and self-help books. Life is messy and wonderful all at the same time. This duality makes permanent and meaningful personal growth in need of more than just a positive mantra.

Why does the root cause matter?

In my therapy practice, one of the assessment techniques I use is to look for the root cause of what is causing the issue or dysfunction. For example, couples will often seek therapy saying they need to learn to communicate better or fight less. These are both important goals for a healthy relationship and there are ways to help couples learn how to use empathic communication and conflict management skills to improve their relationship. Challenges with communication and conflict in a relationship, however, are also often symptoms of deeper issues. The question becomes, “What is the root cause of the symptoms that are triggering distress, sadness, anxiety, depression, loneliness, etc.?” The same thing applies to individuals. Learning how to address issues which are adversely affecting our personal journey and quality of life is good. Processing the feelings and triggers underneath these issues provides a more long-term solution.

Dealing with the symptoms and not the root cause is like putting on an emotional band-aid.  It might do the job for a while but underneath there is still a scar.  And, sometimes, scar tissue hurts again without warning.

Identifying the root cause applies everywhere.

Finding the root cause applies to other situations as well.

  • In the workplace, leaders and supervisors who address issues with employees without looking for the root cause haven’t really solved anything. For example, an employee who displays behavior which is out of character is sometimes experiencing some kind of unsettling change in his/her life. You could just order that employee to act better. Or, you could find out if there is something else going on to explain the behavior. Emotionally-Intelligent leadership has huge payoffs.
  • In families, family members often make assumptions about the reactions and behavior of others. Sometimes this generates rumors, alliances designed to exclude some family members, unwarranted criticism and even betrayals. What if family members approached each without judgment and with an open-mind to the other person’s experience? We would have a society filled with emotionally connected families.
  • In relationships, finding the root cause is critical to creating empathic attunement and deep vulnerable connections (critical components of long-lasting healthy and functional intimate relationships). If we address the “why”, we are more likely to find permanent behavior change.
  • With friends and strangers, considering the root cause can minimize frustration and hurt. Looking at situations with a compassionate-lens can help us with our perception of how we are being treated. The driver that just cut you off, isn’t necessarily trying to hurt you. Maybe the driver just received some bad news and needs to get home. Your neighbor who you think just glared at you? Maybe they are feeling overwhelmed by life and trying to generate a smile is simply too hard right now. 

Everyone has a root cause. Courage and compassion can help us see it.

Be well, my friends,