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A Problem Shared Is A Problem Halved - Or Is It?
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A Problem Shared Is A Problem Halved - Or Is It?

It’s something I remember my mother saying to me a lot when I was growing up that “ a problem shared is a problem halved”.  I have to say that as a child I never quite got it, because if I did talk about a problem I had it was generally met with disbelief or ridicule.  It rather put me off sharing anything that was troubling me and I preferred to stay silent. But I did develop into a very good listener and enjoyed hearing about other people’s problems.  I had quite a large group of friends who said always felt better after talking to me.  I didn’t think about whether that was true or not – I was just flattered by what they said.

However, as I grew older I was conscious that however much I listened to some friends, occasionally offering them advice, they generally carried on with life just as it was and next time we met they would complain about the same thing all over again.  I have to admit there were times when I wanted to scream – and just say ‘change, don’t change – but stop moaning about it!’  Of course I never did, but looking back perhaps I should have done.

A recently published study from the University of Missouri, reports on their research in which the researchers conducted a series of tests on teenage girls and found that their habit of talking through their problems with each other actually made problems seem much larger and more serious than they really were. And because they didn’t then let the problems go, but kept on talking about them, they ran the risk of suffering from increased stress and depression.  Clearly not a case of a problem shared being a problem halved.

So is it true that we can’t feel better after sharing a problem?  Of course we can, and we often do.  When women initially talk about a problem they experience a chemical reaction in their brains which gives them a ‘high’.  However, many women don’t stop at that point.  Rather like some of my friends, they go on discussing and dissecting the problem which can lead to them to being stuck in a cycle of negative self-talk, feeling miserable and leading to some spiralling into depression. 

According to psychologists men tend not to talk about their problems in the same way and look for something that may distract them.  That of course doesn’t make them superior because there are many examples of men being depressed because they haven’t wantedto talk about their problems.  But it's interesting to note the gender difference in dealing with problems and is probably partially reflected in more women than men suffering from stress and depression.

So should we not talk about our problems?  Of course we should, but there has to be a middle ground.  Constantly rehashing a problem without looking for a solution is not sensible. If you want to share a problem with a friend tell them you really want some help in finding a solution.  And if you don’t, don’t waste their time and indulge in a load of negative self-talk or bang on about how awful things are – do something to distract yourself and have some fun.


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