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I saw the word, “Please work on your issues” in Time magazine’s article (October 3rd) titled, “Playing favorites,” which introduces several academic studies proving the fact that most parents have definite favoritism toward their children. It gives the following episode:

“A mother of two wrote a candid post on a website under the headline, “I think I love my son just a little bit more.” The mom went on at length describing the greater warmth she feels for her baby boy compared with her toddler girl. She was, predictably, blowtorched, “Please work on your issue lady!” said one typical response. “I feel absolutely horrible for your daughter!” read another. The hard truth is most parents do.”

I don’t understand what “Please work on your issue" means. It must be an expression for condemning the mother who was candid enough to admit her favoritism to one of her two children, and it should be more than “It’s your own business.” How can I interpret and rephrase this phrase?

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3 Answers

up vote 2 down vote accepted

Issue in this context means a condition which has caused a person (in this case the mother) to manifest an undesirable behaviour or mental state. It is an informal term from psychoanalysis.

"Please work on your issue,lady!" is an admonition to the mother to seek out the root cause of her behaviour, which the speaker clearly feels is inappropriate, and to reconcile herself with whatever this experience was so that she can stop the undesirable behaviour.

In contrast to Irene's answer, I would argue that "issue" used in this context is not that the mother has a problem, but rather that the mother, or more particularly her inappropriate emotional response to some past experience is the problem.

For example, a child who is not this mother's favourite could be said to have a problem, but you wouldn't tell this child to "work on their issue". Issue in this context is internal to the person with the issue. The mother's inappropriate response to some past experience is her "issue" which can in turn cause "problems" for her offspring.

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I think 'admonition' is the exact word I was looking for to represent the concept and manner of "Work on your issue, lady!" –  Yoichi Oishi Dec 27 '11 at 1:00
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Issue here means problem. The reader clearly believes that the mother in question has a problem, which is discrimination between her two children in favour of her son. The reader is inviting the mother to do something to deal with this problem she has. So, an alternative sentence would be: Please, make an effort to tackle this problem of yours.

EDIT upon comment: The sentence suggested above as an alternative is more polite than the original one. "Please work on your issue lady!" is better rephrased as "Lady, you've got a problem, do something about it!"

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So, it’s not condemnation, but a suggestion? –  Yoichi Oishi Dec 26 '11 at 11:45
    
@YoichiOishi actually, it's both. –  onomatomaniak Dec 26 '11 at 12:27
    
@onomatomaniak: Thank you. I've edited my answer to express the meaning of the original sentence better. –  Irene Dec 26 '11 at 12:49
    
@onomatomaniak. Because ‘Please work on your issue lady!’ comes right after ‘She was blowtorched,’ I thought it’s either sarcastic or harsh comment, rather than a simple suggestion. –  Yoichi Oishi Dec 26 '11 at 22:09
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I think this is a fairly modern idiom, meaning, as the others have said, a problem. But I would agree with Joel Brown, that this is usually an unresolved problem left over from some bad experience or other, often because of somebody else.

I think it is usually used in the plural, as in the song 'She's got issues', by the Offspring, which is full of modern expressions relating to relationships. This video includes the lyrics:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6dvVeAhbTB4

I thought that the language was so interesting that I wrote a lesson on it:

http://random-idea-english.blogspot.com/2011/03/song-lesson-shes-got-issues-by.html

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