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Dr. Bill Austin

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The Worst Beating I Ever Took

"It's my fault!"

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Cooling the brain

Life's Puzzle-Box Top

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You Lost That Loving Feeling

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Professional Columns -
Relationships by Dr. Bill Austin


A group of us experienced an amazing interpersonal exercise during a seminar. What we learned from it was an eye-opener. A Navy chaplain gave each of us pieces of a puzzle along with a blank sheet of paper. We were told to study our puzzle pieces, looking for clues as to what the larger picture was on the puzzle box.

When each of us had completed our tasks, the chaplain organized us into small groups. We pooled our pieces and drawings. As a group, we searched for clues that would reveal the larger picture.

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After much discussion, our group drew the picture of what we thought was on the puzzle box. I was convinced that our small group had drawn the correct picture because I believed we had discovered the right clues.

When all the groups were finished drawing, each presented their picture and told why they thought they had the correct clues. Then the chaplain showed us the puzzle box picture.

We were shocked! We had completely missed it! How could we be so wrong? It was obvious that we had misread the clues; consequently, we had an inaccurate understanding of the big picture. Each of us may have the wrong picture of life because we misread the clues! If we have a distorted view of what life is, we may be missing a happy and satisfying life.

Each of us
may have the wrong picture of life
because we misread the clues!

Leaving the seminar, we were wondering if we had an accurate picture of life, ourselves, and others. One insight gained from this seminar was that not only can individuals be wrong about life's puzzle box top, but so can whole groups of people!  So, the question that challenges us is: How do we know if we have the right clues?

If we have chosen the wrong clues, there is a huge chance that we have misread the actions of others towards us and have formed a false picture of who they are. The danger is that we are letting a hurtful action toward us say everything about that person. We mistakenly believe that harmful action is their life's puzzle-box top.

When we focus on how someone has hurt or disappointed us, we can be tempted to think of them as being evil with the worst possible intentions. By focusing on our hurt, we may be missing the other clues that point to good things the person has done.

We could have the wrong clues about others, about ourselves and about life because of our insecurities, our unrealistic expectations, and prejudices. These things can cloud our ability to select the correct clues. The result is that we will draw the wrong picture of life's puzzle-box top.

And so, we come back to the original question: How do we know when we have the right clues?

Dr. Austin has decades of experience dealing with relationships. He charges clients on a sliding scale according to their ability to pay. His first book, Creating Our Safe Place: Articles on Healthy Relationships, was published in 2004. His second book, Keeping It Safe, was published in 2009 and can be purchased through,, and at the Parrish Book Store in Virginia Beach.  He is also a sought-after speaker at meetings and seminars.

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