How “why” can hurt us

06 Sep

I recently worked on a CE course that discussed stress and the nature of stress. According to this course, one of the types of stress that people experience is called “psychological stress”. This type of stress is largely internal- you know, the chatting of the brain, the mental turmoil and strife that people experience. One of the coping mechanisms that the speaker suggested to people who suffer from psychological stress is to stop asking “why”.

Now, this doesn’t mean to stop asking questions. In fact, the speaker also listed that maintaining a healthy sense of curiosity (and thereby asking questions) is also useful for coping and leading a happy, less stressed life.

But what she means is specifically- to not ask people, or yourself, “why”. Such examples would be:

  • Why are you doing that?
  • Why are you late?
  • Why can’t you do this properly?
  • Why do I constantly fall short?
  • Why did I eat a whole pie in one sitting?

When you start a question with the word “Why” you instantly make the person that you are addressing defensive. This is because the question comes from an angle that the person has to defend their actions and it invalidates their choices all in one blow. This is equally true when you ask your parent or kid “why” as when you ask yourself “why”.

So why am I bringing up asking why? Because I think there are two lessons to be learned from this concept. The first stems within ourselves, the second involves how we interact with other people within our community (because, you know- I’m a boat paddler and everything comes back to community).

Let’s first address ourselves- the practitioners who actually make up the community of Kemetics.

As can be seen by a variety of posts over the years, many of us feel inadequate. And this inadequacy seems to not be a Kemetic-only phenomena- lots of Pagans and polytheists that I’ve met feel like they aren’t doing a good enough job. Because we feel inadequate, we start to ask questions of ourselves, “why can’t I get it right?” “why am I no good at doing this?”. These types of questions instantly invalidates our actions and choices and reinforces that we are being overly critical of our actions and choices which leads to a cycle of self-depreciation and usually lands us into a fallow period or depression and anxiety (or all three).

It’s not a good place to be, and its not helpful for any of us.

So how do we combat the “why”?

According to the speaker, you need to rephrase your questions. Asking “why” shuts down all possibilities and opportunities to really reflect and grow from the situation. “Why” is merely criticizing the actions and nothing further. Instead, make use of other active words such as “who, what, when, where and how”.

For example, instead of asking “Why can’t I get it right”, perhaps ask yourself “What is it about this situation that I might not be doing as well as I could?” and from there “What actions could I take to better the situation that I find myself in?”

Instead of “Why can’t I hear the gods?” try “What methods could I try to hear the gods?” or “What other parts of my practice could I focus on instead?”.

Or perhaps instead of “Why does my practice suck?” try “How could I expand my current practice” or “What about my current practice makes me feel so unhappy? How could I change that? What could cause me to feel that way?”

By removing the “why”, you are being kind to yourself and allowing yourself to be okay with your decisions and choices. You’re not making subconscious judgement calls on how you do things, and it allows you to reflect in a safe manner on where you are currently at with your situation and emotions. I think it’s a very useful tool for all of us with problems with self-depreciation.

I also think that this could translate into how we talk to others within the community. By being aware of how we phrase our questions and how those questions effect us (and others) on a subconscious level can allow us to use language that opens up avenues for discourse as opposed to instantly shutting down a conversation for being “too harsh” in your language.

So when someone pops up with some random fact about Aset being the Mother, Maiden and Crone- instead of saying “why on earth would you think that?” ask them instead “Where did you read about that? Do you remember the book or website you got it from?” That way, the person will hopefully remain more open to discussion and perhaps both sides can learn a little bit of something from one another.

Perhaps if we were to work on how we use ‘why’- both on a singular personal level and on an interfaith community level- we could all be a little bit happier.


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6 responses to “How “why” can hurt us

  1. Setsu

    September 6, 2013 at 10:05 am

    Actual why is useful. Rhetorical why is guilt-ridden, surely.

    • von186

      September 6, 2013 at 10:16 am

      May I ask how you differentiate btwn the two?

      • Setsu

        September 6, 2013 at 10:31 am

        The types of answers the why elicits. Rhetorical why is meant to bring up guilt about what you’re doing without any intent to do something about it. Actual why examines the problem with an intention to find a solution — much like the ‘what’ you suggested.

        “What were you thinking” can be as harmful as “why did I do that” if that’s where the thought ends. Often, the problem informs the solution.

      • von186

        September 6, 2013 at 10:34 am

        I think I see what you’re getting at. I think in that case, tone would definitely play a factor. Unfortunately, I don’t have enough knowledge to say much either way XDD From what the speaker had said, though, ‘why’ seems to be programmed to insta-judge *shrug*
        Obvs, like most things- it might not work for everyone.

  2. SpidrGoddess

    September 11, 2013 at 11:47 am

    Excellent reminder!

  3. moonfire2012

    September 22, 2013 at 3:54 pm

    Reblogged this on Tried by Fire and commented:
    I’m taking this to heart to try to break a bad habit I’ve had for years, especially when something is perplexing. This way a person can go from feeling victimized to empowered.Instead of staying mired in helplessness, you can take steps to DO something about it.


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