The Question That Keeps You Trapped

Whether you have kids yourself, or you’ve spent any amount of time around small children as they make their way through the world, you’re definitely equipped to answer the following question:

What is the single question that kids are constantly, annoyingly, asking about everything?


Why is the sky blue?

Why is that man talking so loudly?  

Why can’t I have another popsicle?

From a young age, children begin the quest to seek and attach meaning to the things that happen to and around them.  They wonder about things that adults take for granted, or don’t even think about.

The dark side of this natural process of discovery is that a lot of things can’t be explained simply to a child.  In many situations, the true cause of something is not obvious, and is far more complicated than a simple answer to a simple question.

It’s hard to explain to a 7 year old child that the reason that Jimmy, the bully at school, is so mean is that his father had a narcissistic mother who caused him to create a narrative for himself that he was unloved and of no value.

So Jimmy has to do upsetting things and say terrible things just to get noticed, because he feels useless and invisible.

Children are smart, but they don’t have the context or knowledge to understand cause and effect like this.

When a child’s simple question of ‘why’ doesn’t result in a simple answer for them to understand, they begin crafting their own meaning around things. 

This is especially true when it comes to things about themselves and their relationships with other human beings.

As children grow into adults, this need to understand and attach meaning doesn’t go away — and becomes one of the most difficult traps to break away from.

When something negative or hurtful happens, we generate meaning about it and blame ourselves (or others) when things don’t go as planned.

And the first place our brains go to when seeking understanding is to ask .. why?

Why did he break up with me?

Why is this happening to me?

Why can’t she just do the right thing?

Why does he always act like that?

It’s a natural response that most of us have when faced with something difficult or upsetting.

The problem is .. asking ’why’ is the most dangerous and unproductive question you can ask.

By asking ’why’, you stay trapped in a victimized state, because you’re looking for an external reason to explain or justify the emotions you’re feeling internally.

Think of someone you know well that seems like there’s always something going wrong, or they’re struggling with something difficult in their life.

More often than that, they are defaulting to questions that start with the word ‘why’.

Asking questions that start with ‘why’ is a self-imposed prison that rarely has a good answer.

The more empowering and useful questions that move you away from being a helpless victim being with the words ’how’ and ‘what’. 

By asking these questions, you begin to look at the context and facts that led up to the difficulty or challenge you’re facing.  You don’t wallow in the fact that it happened or is true, but can begin to learn from the situation.

Consider the difference in the energy and the focus in these questions:

Why is this happening to me?
What am I doing that allows this to happen to me?

Another example:

Why does he always act like that?
How am I allowing his behaviour to affect me so negatively?

 Try this exercise yourself. 

When things come up for you over the coming days, try to be conscious of the question(s) that you are asking yourself internally.  Be curious and watch to see how you begin the questions you’re asking about the people and situations in your life.

I find that when my internal dialogue shifts to questions around “what” and “how”, and away from “why”, I feel more grounded.  Most importantly, I feel empowered to actually make changes that will resolve the difficulty or challenge I’m thinking about.