Ignoring Problems is Not a Solution

Written by Rida Tahir on May 15, 2020 (5 minute read)

A year back, I started having sharp toothache, so I went to the dentist and it turned out I had cavities in my teeth. The dentist filled the cavities and advised that I should get my wisdom tooth extracted because it has started to decay. But I didn't bother.

In other words, I knew there was a problem but I ignored it and CHOSE to do nothing about it.

Life went on. One year later, I started to have pain in the same wisdom tooth that I was supposed to have gotten rid off by now. So I went to the dentist again and found that the tooth had decayed to an extent where it could not be saved and had to be extracted as soon as possible.

No wonder I was to blame for this. I knew about the problem but still did not take any action, which only made things worse for me. I could have solved the problem there and then when I found out about it instead of ignoring it. 

My choosing to ignore the problem did not make the problem go away. It made it worse.

You Are Not an Ostrich

When ostriches are frightened, they bury their heads in the sand to evade danger. At least that’s what the legend says. Even though it’s not the truth, the legend illustrates a very common human behavior i.e. humans ignore problems hoping that the problem will go away if they don’t attend to it.

Isn’t this what we all do in our first attempt to solve any problem i.e. ignore it, pretend it doesn’t exist and brush it away under the rug because we don’t want to deal with the mess right now? 

We ignore physical health problems. Frequent headaches, weight gain, lack of sleep, unhealthy diet, sedentary lifestyle, etc. 

We ignore mental health problems. Increased stress, anxiety, anger, low self-esteem, poor body image, depression, eating disorders, sleep disorders, addictions, hoarding, loneliness, aggression, etc. 

We ignore relationship problems. Lack of communication, constant bickering and fighting, lack of respect, violating personal boundaries or lack of boundaries, constant interference from parents or siblings, verbal abuse, emotional abuse, psychological abuse, physical abuse, aggression, anger, resentment, grudges,poor conflict resolution skills, etc. 

We ignore work-related problems. Low motivation, lack of job satisfaction, overtime, harassment, discrimination, negative attitudes, performance issues, hostile work environment, etc. 

We even ignore everyday problems like leaking pipes or faucets and piling clutter that shouldn’t take too long to solve.  

But ignoring a problem is an irrational behavior, because you cannot avoid or solve any problem by burying your head in the sand like an ostrich. When you ignore any problem, the problem doesn’t go away. It doesn’t auto-resolve. It continues to grow at a steady rate, and even though you may be able to brush away a problem under the rug for now, that problem will resurface eventually in worse possible ways.

Why Do We Ignore Problems?

We ignore problems because we don’t realize how these problems can be detrimental to our quality of life if left unresolved. Most of our problems may not be threatening at the moment, but if left unresolved, can wreak havoc on our lives.

Sometimes we do understand the seriousness of the problem at hand, but fear keeps us away from facing the problem head-on. 

We are afraid of problem solving because the process of solving a problem can be messy, difficult, time-consuming, energy-draining, and anxiety-provoking. 

Ignoring the problem and pretending it doesn’t exist, on the other hand, is easy, quick, energy-saving and stress-free, at least in the short run. 

But ignoring the problem means you are part of the problem, because you are not dealing with the problem or trying to solve it and in doing so, you’re making it worse.

A Stitch in Time Saves Nine

Problems are like trees. It is easy to uproot a plant because its roots are shallow and fragile. You can do it easily and quickly with your hands. But if you allow the plant to grow and become a tree, the roots will grow deeper and stronger, making the tree more and more difficult to uproot. Once a plant turns into a tree, you cannot uproot it with your hands anymore. You now need specialized equipment like a tree spade to uproot it. 

Problems are no different. When problems are small and in early stages of growth (like plants), it is easier to stunt their growth and strike at the root of the problem to solve it. You need less time, effort and resources to solve small problems.

When you let small problems grow big (like trees), they become deeply-rooted, making it difficult to get to the root of the problem and solve it. Problems that have been ignored for long enough need more attention, more time and more effort than problems that have just arisen.  

Which do you think is easier? 

Getting an asymptomatic decaying tooth extracted?
Or letting it show symptoms like bad breath and sharp persistent toothache before deciding to get it extracted? 

Bridging the communication gap in a relationship by having an honest, open conversation right now?
Or letting the gap get wider and irreparable before taking action?
Managing stress without delay?
Or letting stress cause physical problems like high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity or diabetes before deciding to do something to reduce stress levels?


It is, indeed, easier said than done, but facing the problem head-on is clearly the best course of action to deal with any problem in life and the ultimate method for getting through challenges.

The longer you ignore and live with problems, the more difficult they will be to tackle. So if you want to be happy, it’s important that you tackle problems as soon as they arise, instead of letting them become too difficult and costly to solve.

Facing problems head-on empowers you. It is an achievement in itself and the first step to finding solutions. It is way more effective than dodging the problem, running away and pretending it's not there and, in the long run, facing a problem head-on will save you time, energy and stress.