When something goes wrong, do you (or does someone you know) get fixated on asking “Why?”, “Why me?” or “Why now?”. Is it driving you nuts?
Well, you’re not alone. It’s something I see a lot, and it’s easy to get ourselves stuck in this line of thinking. We double our suffering by analysing and keeping ourselves stuck in an endless and painful loop.
Of course asking, “Why?” CAN lead us to fruitful inquiry. A NON-judgemental analysis of “Why?” can help us learn from our mistakes and move forwards. But when the reasons “Why?” are out of our reach or belong to someone else, we need to let go and move on.
Let’s start by understanding why we get stuck asking “Why?”
It’s so easy to get caught up in trying to understand “Why?” – for starters our brains just love to solve problems.
But although this may sound surprising, asking “Why?” is actually a great way for us to avoid feeling our pain…
Instead of acknowledging our painful thoughts and feeling our difficult emotions (rejection, abandonment, shame, I am a failure, worthless, unlovable) – we can instead jump into analysis or ‘fix it’ mode:
- Why did they cheat on me/end our relationship?
- Why didn’t I get that job?
- Why aren’t people coming to my party?
- Why did that happen?
- Why didn’t it go the way I expected?
“As long as we keep analysing and searching for answers,
we get to avoid experiencing our ‘unpleasant’ thoughts and feelings.”
So the seeming pointless circling around “Why?” does actually serve a purpose.
What can we do instead? Well, I’ll share some exercises to do instead of asking “Why?” in a moment. But there’s a couple of steps before that:
STEP 1: Gently Explore What You’re Really Feeling Around This Topic
- Ask yourself, “What do I get to avoid looking at or feeling by asking ‘Why?’ “
What are you feeling? What are you saying to yourself? You need to acknowledge what’s going on underneath, what’s really going on for you. Because it’s only when you’re aware that you can take the steps that really help you heal.
STEP 2: Then, next time you notice you’re headed out onto the “Why?” or “Why me?” Spiral”
It’s great to have something to do when you notice you’re headed down the why spiral. Here are two great questions to ask yourself instead:
- “How is this helping me move forwards?” (generally it won’t be helping, but it’s good to genuinely ask the question and explore it so that you can see that clearly)
- “What do I need to do to take care of myself right now?”
Self-kindness is especially important. Be kind and gentle with yourself, take “care” of you while you face the painful thoughts and feelings.
And a couple of things to remember:
1) Just because you think or feel it, does not make it true.
2) Remember that life is (while painful sometimes) a game – we win some, we lose some. This is normal, everyone experiences this – and you CAN handle it.
STEP 3: Five (5) Fun Exercises to Move Forward from “Why?”:
Once you’ve got the hang of the first 2 steps, the next step is to do something constructive rather than being stuck in the brain loop of why? why now? why me? etc. Here are 5 exercises you can do instead:
- Boost Your Strengths: Ask yourself, “What are my Top 3 Strengths?”. Then ask, “How could I use these strengths to move myself FORWARDS from this situation?” Identify 5 ideas for each strength and pick the best action/s to move forwards with (or try our free “Boost Your Strengths” exercise here).
- Build a Bridge. First, identify a goal for yourself. It could be to work through the painful feelings, find a new job, let go of a friend, get a loan. Whatever it is, now you have a bridge to cross. You can’t see the other side YET, but you can ask, “What are the next 3 steps you could take to move forwards?” Do those 3 steps, and then from those 3 steps you will have more information to move forwards and pick your next 3 steps.
- Identify Your Secondary Benefits. Grab a piece of paper and divide it into two columns. In the first column make a list of 10 things you gain by holding onto this issue. Ask yourself, “What do I GAIN by holding onto this issue?” (these are your secondary benefits!). Then in the second column ask yourself, “What do I LOSE by holding onto this issue?” and identify 10 ways that holding onto this issue is slowing you down, draining your energy and negatively affecting your life. (you could also try our free “What Do You Need to Let Go Of?” exercise here)
- Ask your Kind, Wise Self: “If I had a kind, wise self or mentor, what would they suggest I do about this issue?” This is a great question to journal around, meditate on or ponder over while walking outside in nature.
- Break Your State. Get yourself out of your thinking fog and break the ‘state’ you’re in by asking yourself, “What Makes My Heart Sing?” List 20 SMALL things you LOVE in life. Think, running barefoot in the grass, a walk in nature/the park, watching the sun rise/set, climbing a mountain, watching children/dogs play. Then plan to do one every weekend (or one evening a week), or even right now…
If you liked this article about breaking the “Why Me?” Spiral – you may also find these helpful:
- [Do Anywhere] Easy 3 Step Calming Meditation for You!
- 5 Easy Ways to Brighten Up Your Day!
- What Does It Actually Mean to Allow Painful Feelings – And How Do We Do It?
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