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  • Alison Peak

Understanding “Why?”

The “Why” Question . . . Why is it so Devastating?

Since childhood, all of us have been fascinated with “why?”  Remember the questions you asked as a child, and those asked of you now by your children or those you are close to: “Why is the sky blue?”  “Why is milk white and not chocolate?”  “Why can’t I have that toy?”  The inquisitiveness of “why” is fun in children but may become difficult for adults during conflict or in relationships.

There is a part of our being that feels like if we know “why” something happened or someone said something, “instant logic” will appear and we will find a sense of peace and calm.  On the other hand, when we cannot know “why” it may drive anxiety, anger, and fear.

When upset with another, the “why question” often leads nowhere.  “Why did you speak to me that way?”  Even if the person has a response, it is often not the one we want to hear and opens further conflict.  When there is no answer to “why”, we remain frustrated – with the person and the situation.  Worst of all, to be asked “why” places the person being asked on the defensive, which may cause them to avoid further discussion or to evade the “why question” altogether.

A Better Option . . .

When frustrating moments arise in relationships and we find ourselves confused and overwhelmed, consider another response rather than “why?”

“Help me understand . . .”

  1. Help me understand your feelings.

  2. Help me understand how this situation happened.

  3. Help me understand what you need.

  4. Help me understand how we might work through our disagreement.

The “why question” is a static statement that places one on the defensive and does not invite discussion.

“Help me understand” removes emotion and judgment, invites dialogue, and is solution-focused on the topic or situation being discussed.

Next Time . . .

If you find yourself in a difficult emotional spot in the future and your mind is telling you to ask “why”, take a deep breath, gain self-control, and rephrase your concern with the words “help me understand.”  You will be surprised at the positive difference that will result from the conversation as well as the care that the other person experiences from you.

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