Friday, March 12, 2010

Are you tormented by 'whys'?

"The only way to live is like the rose: without a Why."
~Meister Eckhart~

"Why?" questions have their time and place.  We all need to ask them sometimes.  However, in matters of the heart, psyche and soul it is often "why?" questions that are the source of suffering.

We agonize by asking ourselves, "Why me?", "Why now?" "Why him?" "Why did it have to happen like that?", "Why so much pain and loss?". And even if you find the answer will it bring you solace, hope, relief? Usually not. It may provide your mind with information that solves a puzzle, but it rarely offers balm or comfort to the soul - or ever fully explains human behaviours - or moves you beyond a predicament.

In therapy the people who suffer the most are usually the ones who ask "why?" the longest. The ones who insist on finding why it happened this way, or to them, etc. often remain stuck and blocked.  A lot of why questions could indicate you are having trouble accepting reality - what is.

 It is so much more peaceful and productive to ask questions (about the same subject) that begin with "How?" or "What?".  Such as:  

* How did I contribute to this dilemma? There may be an answer. Then the next question can be:

* What will I do next time to avoid such a dilemma? 

* Given that these are the circumstances, HOW do I proceed from here?

* With so many losses behind me, WHAT choices lay before me?

* What could I have done differently?

* How will I manage similar situations in the future?

How and what questions are oriented to the present and future, to action and hope. Why questions usually are oriented to the past and often have us banging our head against a wall - feeling hopeless and helpless.

Why questions are essential for scientists and research.  However, to heal our wounds, amend behaviours and embrace life, how and what questions are much more gentle and skillful for an individual.  How and what questions help us manage our situation, move forward and heal.

So, don't go to the extreme, and say you should never ask a why question.  Of course, we will all ask why questions at times.  But when you notice yourself asking one try not to get stuck there, and try a 'what' or 'how' question to see if it opens up more possibilities for you.

(Another thought about 'why' questions that come at you, instead of from you:  If friends or loved ones are always asking you why you do this or that, why you make the choices you do - they are basically asking you to justify yourself.  E.g.  Why do you always go to Mexican restaurants?  Why do you always wear that color?  Why do you always get your books from the library?  Why do you still hang out with her?  Why do you spend so much time volunteering?  Why do you wear the same old clothes?  Why do you have a brush cut?, etc. etc. etc.   Sometimes we should account for and justify our actions - but not ALL the time.  Beware of people who are always asking you to justify yourself by asking "Why?".  Someone who claims to care for you should be open and accepting - not judgmental and interrogating.)

(BZ 2010 photograph of a rose is layered with two textures courtesy of ShadowHouse Creations.)

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  1. I've never really been plagued by why. My understanding of the world sort of makes the question moot. But I suffered for many years from being asked that question all the time.

  2. I ask people "why" questions to get to know them better....or to help me undertand why I make the decisions I do. There is no judgement or interrogation in my questions....only curiosity and intrigue into human nature.

  3. Hi Bonnie

    these are good tips...substitute how and what for why...

    thanks my friend

    happy days

  4. How could I have missed such a simple reframe?
    What I will do, is be very aware of this from now on.
    Thank you very much. :)

  5. This is such an instructive post, Bonnie, and will be added to my list of re-reads. My mom used to be a 'why' person and it made life difficult for her at times - but that taught me not to pursue the 'whys' when there was no answer.

    What I appreciate about your approach is that you offer useful, concrete suggestions for dealing with difficult issues or unhealthy, ingrained habits. I have no doubt that you're very good at your job, dear Bonnie! :)

  6. I'm not sure if this is the exact same as asking "why" but when I can't "let go" of something that I did I find that I frequently go over the same scene in my head....

    Reenacting is something I still do (although not as often as I used to) when I think I may have hurt someone or made someone angry. I can't even be sure if I did something wrong but I easily "assume" that I did.

    So, thank you for the advice about asking "what" and "how" instead...I think this will help me with one "situation" I am dealing with at the moment!

  7. Interesting. When the Power That Be and I were conversing about a proposed change in my work life, I said, "As distressing as this is..."
    He interrupted and, smiling, said, "Right. 'Why me?' huh?"
    I hadn't even stopped to wonder WHY. Perhaps because I know why and perhaps because I learned a while ago that "Why?" has no answer.
    Very good advice here. Very constructive.

    BTW, I finished the sentence with: "...I'm glad to have this information."

  8. Ellen: Our world view really does play a part in whether we always ask ourselves 'why?'.

  9. luksky: You are so right - sometimes why questions are essential to help us learn and demonstrate interest and curiousity. That's why we hear so many why questions from children. They are learning about their world and just brimming with curiousity. You can hear a difference in the tone of a question coming from curiousity and genuine interest as opposed to a why question designed to undermine or get us to justify.

  10. Hi Delwyn: Thanks. Wondering if you are in Hawaii, Australia or flying between right now?

  11. Natalie: That's the key to so much - awareness.

  12. Deborah: Thanks - as I know you are at yours.

  13. I_Am_Tulsa: What you describe sounds like 'what ifing'. What ifs are a fabulous question for brainstorming sessions, or reevaluating our behaviour - just don't get stuck in the later. I'm glad you found this helpful.

  14. June: That certainly is the healthiest, most mature response - taking all of life's events as information gathering that help you evaluate, decide and proceed.


    I think the "whys' are part of the process of accepting/surrendering - so the whys have a purpose - and then comes the action-direction of what next and/or how.

    Love Gail

  16. thank you...i needed this today...

  17. Hi Gail, That's interesting. Are you saying that you can only surrender and accept once you understand why? Sometimes there is no good answer to why - then what? It is a powerful thing to surrender to what is even when you do not understand why it is ....

    Thanks - food for thought.

  18. Very good advice to remember and pass on to family and friends, when there may be a need of it. Why-How-What or Bonnie's W-H-W Rule!

  19. Sage advice here, Bonnie. I usually ask myself "why not me?" I think if we can take responsibility for how we respond to a situation, instead of trying to figure out why it happened, we can see things differently next time, and feel more in control. Does that make any sense? You always say it so much better...

  20. I never thought about it this way, but WHY questions tend to put people in a never-ending victim mode, and that is probably why they can't get past whatever it is that is making them dwell on the negative. Excellent post Bonnie!

  21. Good post. For some reason, I don't ask Why? - except when it's my husband who has left a paper wrapper on the counter just above the waste basket.

  22. Hi Wanda: Not my rule, just my observations - and I was tickled to see it was already Meister Eckhart's conclusion too.

  23. Nancy: You articulate your points beautifully. Now, that is a helpful why question: 'Why NOT me?'. Thank you.

  24. Jayne: Thanks for that additional thought - it can put us in victim mode, as you say.

  25. Ruth: You made me laugh. I have caught myself doing exactly that many times as well!

  26. Such simple brilliance. Usually there is no answer to why that makes everything all right. Isn't it interesting that we don't dwell on the whys when good things happen? We generally feel deserving of good things, even if we don't admit it. It's the bad stuff that we think we should be sheltered from.

  27. hello bonnie -sage advice. steven

  28. Bonnie, I've seen you around and never met you. I dropped in from Tessa's, and I'm glad to read your post this morning.

  29. Meri: So true. Sometimes we have to ask it, when life seem cruel and unfair - the idea is not to get stuck there. It must be part of being human to have this deeply ingrained idea that we should not suffer ...

  30. lakeviewer: Thank you for dropping in and for following. Excuse me now while I drop in on you!

  31. You know, I think what has helped me survive intact from some of the ...bad things... that happened to me is because I don't ask why.....when I was a kid, I had no choices, we just don't, so when something...bad...happened, it was internalized as "my fault" - I didn't ask "why" because I was a kid and kids have to just "accept" and go on -

    as an adult, when the ...bad things...happened, and I finally was able to get myself out of the ....bad things...I decided to ask myself those questions: what part did I play, etc...and to know I did have choices, even if I didn't think I did. To ask "why" is to keep me back there in the bad stuff. To instead be grateful for where I am feels so much better.

    The hardest part is when I think "I wasted *this many years* of my life in *that situation* - " It seems a huge hunk of my life; however, the older I get, and the more years that add up where I'm not in the situation, the balance is shifting!

    WHew, I'm babbling!

  32. Kathryn: Well, it sounded like relevant, useful, interesting 'babble' to me!

    It's true - I think children ask 'why?' to learn about and discover their world ... not as a sort of statement about the injustice of any plight.

    I, too, found based on feeling I had no choices as a child - that even as an adult I did not ask why much - unless I was in a new situation and needed to learn something. My self-recriminations were also more about why I didn't act sooner, or speak louder, etc. What I discovered is that once I developed more compassion for the person I was, and the predicament I was in -- I stopped castigating myself for my seemingly slow responses.

    I really appreciate this input Kathryn. Your comments always demonstrate a life lived with awareness and insight.

  33. This is such an interesting post and the more thought I put into this theory the more I believe it true. I only have to look back at my own life events to know the longer I asked why the more time it took move forward.
    Of course we will always search for answer but finding the knowledge that will prevent us making the same mistakes in future will serve us much better.

  34. great to read a like minded post :)

    it's my first time here and i've arrived via a link.

    i too am a great believer in the how over the why :)

    best wishes

  35. Great post and so very true.


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