When having a stressful day, or when a lot of things go wrong — perhaps seriously wrong — all at one time, many people ask themselves the question, “Why me?” Or, “Why is this happening?”
To me, the interesting thing about the question is not the question itself. The question is: To whom or what are you addressing the question?
In other words: Who are you asking?
In my experience, people usually answer, “God.” Or, if they’re only semi-religious or agnostic, as many people are, they’ll simply say, “I’m asking some kind of God-like entity. Or maybe the universe.”
In nonreligious, psychological and philosophical terms, what people usually mean by their answer to this question is: “I’m asking reality, or existence.”
Of course, however understandable a question this may be when under stress or duress, it really doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. The universe — or all of existence — does not have a will and consciousness of its own. There is no celestial entity dividing up and handing out good days and bad days, good fortune and bad fortune. None of it is personal. While it is certainly true that some things happen outside of our control, it doesn’t follow that somebody is responsible for those things happening.
Yet our minds, especially under stress and duress, seek out answers. It’s reasonable to seek out answers, but it’s important that we ask questions for which there’s an answer.
Here’s how I put it in my book, Grow Up America!
Accept the absolutism of reality. What is, is. Merely wishing something to be different cannot make it so. Use your intellect to distinguish between what is certainly outside of your control (e.g., the weather, death, others’ choices) from what is potentially under your control (e.g., good school/work performance, achievement of a goal with persistence and practice.) Focus on that which is under, or at least potentially under, your control.
Remember that reality does not have a will and consciousness of its own. Reality is not a person. Reality is not a conscious entity. Contrary to what you were taught, no invisible hand governs the universe. Planes crash because pilots make errors, and because of faulty engine parts. Car accidents happen because of inadequate roads, faulty cars, or poor judgment by drivers. Coincidences happen because coincidences happen. People get diseases because of bacteria, viruses, and other causes not yet discovered, but potentially discoverable. Things happen for a reason–but for logical reasons, not mystical reasons.
Rational people understand, intellectually, that existence does not have a will or a consciousness, but nevertheless experience conflicting premises on the emotional level. Example: “Why me? Why did my train have to be delayed? Why is everything going wrong for me today?” (Do you ever, by the way, ask such questions when everything goes well on a given day?) The implication of such a feeling is that some unseen force is acting against you, trying to make your life miserable and to block you in your goals. Now that’s a stressful way to think.
To a lot of people, it probably sounds absurd to talk in these terms: “Reality does not have a will or consciousness of its own.” But this is what’s really implied by the question, “Why me?” When you ask such a question, it’s quite frankly a bit crazy. Who are you asking?
Some of us are fervent religious believers. My intention right now is not to argue for or against the existence of a God. But if you do believe in a God, I’m sure you’ll agree that this is a faith-based conclusion. You must rely on your faith, and your faith alone, to get you through life’s problems. Neither the fields of psychology, nor even philosophy (outside the context of religion), really need to concern you. All the major religions, to my knowledge, teach that “God has His reasons for allowing what He does.” If that’s what you believe, then that’s what you believe. From a psychological perspective, I will tell you that there’s no point torturing yourself over a question that you’ve already accepted, via your faith: If it’s God’s will, then that’s that.
If you’re not religious, or are otherwise unsure or uncommitted, then it makes sense to consider the possibility that directing the question, “Why me?” (or some equivalent) to the Universe or existence as such isn’t especially productive, nor all that conducive to a state of serenity and mental health. You’re basically asking the question of nobody in particular, and of everything in general. In your mind, subconsciously, you’ve “made up” reality and turned it into some kind of mommy, daddy or authority figure from whom you’re demanding an answer.
But you won’t be getting an answer. And you already know that, from repeated experience, if nothing else.
Try to shift your thinking and reactions away from the victim-oriented mindset of “Why me?” towards solutions: “What makes the most sense to do next?” Answering this question is not always easy or obvious; but it’s the only question you (or anyone) is capable of answering.
I realize it’s frightening to many people to consider that we’re alone in the world, in existence or the universe. But if you have your self-esteem, your mind, your thinking, your reasoning, your freedom and liberty (hopefully), your capacity for choice and for mastering at least some area of your existential universe … you’re really not that alone at all. Get on with the task of living, celebrating, loving and even, at times, enduring. It’s all worth it, and you’re never as alone as you think you are. You’ve got yourself, and you always will.
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