What’s on your back burner?

Posted by Michael Dale Kimmel in Columns 03 Dec 2018

Some of us are used to living in an ongoing state of crisis; we don’t know what it’s like to have a calm, peaceful life. And when we begin to feel more peaceful, it can actually be scary. We’re not used to it; it makes us anxious to feel good.

Ironic, isn’t it?

When things start to settle down in our lives – and the crises subside – we may realize that there’s a whole bunch of stuff that we’ve been avoiding: problems that didn’t felt like a high priority, so we just put them on the “back burner”.

What’s on the back burner may not feel important, but, often, it’s stuff that doesn’t seem to have a “solution”. So, we’re been avoiding it … for years.

I had a client I saw for several months, we worked on her high priorities (relationship, work, family) and made real progress in those areas. I thought we were about ready to complete our work together when she said to me, “There’s something I’ve put on the back burner for a long time: it’s my relationship to food.”

I had no idea. She’d never mentioned it.

It turned out that she thought her relationship with food was so unsolvable that she didn’t even want to talk about it…so she put it on the back burner. It was only when all the stuff on her “front burner” had been handled that she decided that it was time to address her long-unresolved back burner problem.

Let’s be clear: we all have back-burner stuff. No matter how well-adjusted we are, there are always some problems that just don’t seem workable, so we delegate them to our mental back burner and don’t pay any attention to them until they threaten to blow up.

I encourage you to take a minute and ask yourself: “What’s on my back burner? What problems have I been avoiding for so long that I gave up on them?”

It’s never too late to move that “pot” of problems from the back burner to the front burner. NOW you can see just what’s back there…and it may not be pretty. There may be stuff there that you tried to forget about, wishing that it was “handled” a long time ago. But, you knew, in your heart, it was still unresolved.

Here are some examples:

I had a client whose main focus in therapy was his marriage and his high-stress job. We worked on these issues and, one day, seemingly out of the blue, he told me, “You know, I drink too much.” He’d seldom mentioned this before – but he decided that since his marriage and job were now humming along pretty smoothly, it was now time to go to his back burner and look at his long-troubling relationship with alcohol.

Another client came in because he couldn’t maintain a relationship. He said he that he kept picking “the wrong kind of guy” and didn’t know why. We addressed that and he, slowly, began attracting and dating the kinds of men he’d long wanted to get to know and fall in love with. Once he had a solid, healthy dating relationship underway, he told me, “You know I think I used to push good guys away because I was afraid that, once they got to know me, they’d see that there was really something wrong with me.”

This was his back burner issue: he’d avoided it for years – decades, actually – because he didn’t think there was anything he could do about it. And, of course, it was related to the kinds of men he used to date: he picked guys who wouldn’t get to know him because he was terrified that someone WOULD get to know him and see how flawed he was.

These back burner problems have a way of messing with our lives. We hope that they’ll work themselves out; they rarely do.

As 2018 draws to a close, give yourself the gift of taking a good look at what’s on your back burner. Every problem, no matter how seemingly big or awful, is workable.  

Don’t leave stuff on the back burner, bring it to the front burner and start to deal with it. That’s a great holiday gift to yourself!