How to Figure Out Why

Why?  It’s one of the first questions I hear when someone walks through my door.  Why am I depressed?  Why does so much have to happen to me?  Why did he/she do that?  Why….?  It seems that almost as important as fixing the problem is figuring out why.

Here’s my most common answer: “The why will come with time.”  Of course, there are always some answers we won’t receive.  But in counseling with me, the initial focus will be on the how.  How do we change this?  How do we get to a healthy place?  When a person starts dealing with the heart of the problem they are facing, over time, the answers to those why questions often start flooding in.  “Ohhhh, I learned to respond with [fill in the blank] to find comfort when my parents [fill in another blank].”  Or, “I am afraid of intimacy, so I behave and think in ways that will keep me from it, even though I crave it so much.”

Beth was a lovely, pig-tailed 7-year-old.  She loved to watch mommy and daddy “rule the world.”  Favorite: tea with frogs.  Dislikes: boys.  She used to look up to her mom, but then the yelling started when Beth got on her bad side- “Why can’t you mind your own business?”  “Can’t you see that I’m busy?”  Over time, Beth started to realize that people didn’t like having her around.  Grandpa was always working on projects; Dad was gone a lot.  Clearly, she knew she was not wanted.  When she became a teenager, she just “felt bad” about herself.  Teenage years are tough, but she seemed to take criticism more personally and retreat into her shell.

Later down the road, she finds herself married to a wonderful man and having a beautiful little girl.  Yet, she still feels worthless and empty and hollow; she knows she is not wanted.  When Beth finally reaches out for help and a friend recommends a counselor, she goes, asking, “Why do I seem to repel people?  Why am I depressed?  I have everything that I thought would make me happy.”[1]

The story of Beth is a good example of how a lot of people first ask why before anything else.  In this story, some of the factors of the depression and disappointment she feels will take some time to uncover.  More likely than not, she has some of these details tucked away- because they hurt to think about.  She will find many of the answers to her why questions surrounding her problems, but answering the how of combating the depression will come first.

Having a certain inquisitiveness is a basic foundation of being you, an individual, self-actualized.  It can, however, keep a person from really dealing with an issue.  Don’t let your why questions get in the way of making change.  But as you change, keep asking your why questions.  You will be surprised how much you discover.


[1] This story is fictional but does contain a composite of real life examples.

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