Often a client has looked at me beseechingly asking why did the circumstances in her life have to be so hard. Why did my mother die so young? Why was I born into a family where I was beaten and no one seemed to care? Why doesn’t he love me enough to stop drinking?
“Everything happens for a reason.” “It’s all for the best.” These are some of the well-intentioned platitudes we hear that are meant to comfort us when there’s been a loss of some kind. But what is the reason? WHY? I asked this question day after day when my daughter Erin was struggling with an eating disorder, a process I relate in Riptide, my memoir of those difficult years. I was afraid that I had failed as a mother because my daughter was so sick. What if it was my fault? What did that mean about me as a person? As a mother? Negative stories about myself only made the pain of seeing her struggle and of losing her ounce by ounce even more painful.
We assume that if we know the reason something happened (and it’s almost always something painful—some kind of suffering) that it will help us make some sense of what seems senselessly difficult, thereby restoring the world to a more predictable order and giving us a renewed feeling of control.
For me, as I say to my clients, it’s about how we meet the painful struggles and losses that are an inevitable part of life. In other words, Who do I choose to be? Do I let fear control me, making me defensive and/or aggressive, self-punishing or other blaming, becoming a bitter victim and shaking my fist at an unjust God? Or do I allow the pain to move through me without telling negative stories about myself? We need to acknowledge our part in what has unfolded if certain decisions and behaviors contributed to what we are dealing with. That’s healthy responsibility. In other words, what part did I play and what can I learn from this as I move forward? That’s not blame, but rather acknowledging the power we have to learn from the past and grow from our mistakes.
As Einstein said, a problem can’t be solved at the level it was created. Changing levels entails creating a different story for yourself about yourself. In doing so, you change what the situation means to you. You make sense of it not by explaining why, but by coming to terms with how you have been and who you choose to be from now on. If you are struggling with continuing to feel like a victim of what someone else did, then it’s time to do the freedom work of forgiveness.