Why Ask Why?

Often I have clients ask me why people do things (to them) that are bad; or “Why do bad things happen to good people?” In other words, they want to know why someone has intentionally lied to, cheated on, stolen from, or hurt them in one form or another. With the economic crisis such as it is, this is becoming an increasingly popular inquiry here in Central Florida. I already know what I say, but how would you answer this question?

I decided to consult the all powerful internet, assuming there would be a consensus; which turned out to be more like playing around with a Magic 8 Ball. At answers.yahoo.com, I was told that the top three reasons why people do bad things were as follows: #1. Self-centered selfishness, #2. Original sin, and #3. Criminals assume they’ll get away with it. I found an article at PsychologyToday.com which suggested that “doing bad things” is a result of learned behavior that allows you to “act without thinking,” and it can never be fully unlearned (for example: addiction). On another site I found a really interesting article about the nature of suffering, where they pretty much said that “why” was not for us to know, but I digress…

Anyway, here is a list of things that I like to know before I tackle any “why.” Now, please keep in mind that I don’t always straight out ask this entire list of questions. People just tend to state the answers to most of these queries during the course of therapy.

1) Do you already know the answer, but you need someone to confirm/deny it so that you can make changes/reevaluate the situation?
2) Is asking “why” merely rhetorical, and what you really want is for someone to genuinely listen to your frustration about an incident or situation without judgment or interruption?
3) Do you already have a mythology created that explains the phenomenon in question (e.g.: I’m unlucky; All men cheat; Women are just after my money; Nobody will ever love me; Life is unfair; If only I were rich…, etc.)?
4) What do your friends and family say is the reason why (not saying they’re right or wrong; just saying this could mean something)?
5) What has been your response when this “why situation” has happened in the past?
6) Do you hope that knowing the answer will give you a way to help “fix” the person who has wronged you?
7) What if I give you a pretty good approximation of the right answer, but you’re not ready to hear it and you reject it immediately? Where do we go from there?

I know that tv and movie Therapists are notorious for answering a question with a question. I get it. Still, I have to wonder, if I were to give you a definitive answer as to why something is occurring, would it truly satisfy you? Would you cease questioning and work on changing your situation? Therapy is a co-creative process, whereby the Therapist and client explore possibilities. How can I unilaterally have the right answer for your question? For me to say that I have the definitive answer to your most important life questions would be akin to me playing god.

The truth is that sometimes we have a role to play in the circumstances we find ourselves in (like a failed relationship), and sometimes bad situations arise out of nowhere (like a pick pocket at Christmastime). If we are stuck wondering why these things happened, we’ll never get around to doing what we all have within our power to do about these things: to  choose and to act. Having said all this, I must confess that I used to be a big-time “why-er.” It left me paralyzed with fear and anxiety. Then I read a sweet little book by Louise Hay called You Can Heal Your Life.

I have two quotes for you (lifted from the lovely and brilliant Louise Hay):

1. You have exactly in your life what you think you deserve (which simply means that if your life isn’t working out like you planned, you need to start making choices that better honor yourself and your goals).

2. The universe is indifferent to your rules and loves you anyway (which means that it doesn’t really matter what SHOULD or SHOULDN’T happen; what matters is that you realize that you can only ever control what you do…and the universe still loves you while you figure this out).

So, why do bad things happen to good people? Well, I’ll tell you. Bad things and good things and just so-so things happen to every one of us. As my momma always said (she really did, and I used to think it was so corny), “Into each life a little rain must fall.” Boy, was she right! We must learn to be resilient (carry an emotional umbrella) and keep moving forward in the direction of our dreams. After all, as a good friend of mine and fellow Therapist often says, “What’s the alternative?”

Call us at Life Skills Resource Group in Orlando, if you’re ready to forego the “whys,” and get busy living a full, rich life-rain or shine. Our Life Coaches and Counselors are here to help you heal your life and pick out your umbrella. Fondest Regards. Kim

Kim