The Self-Defeating Chase of “Why”
Why do I chew my nails?
Why do I keeping putting up with people treating me like shit when I know it is wrong?
Why do I keep going back to relationships that are unhealthy?
Why do I keep saying yes when I want to say no?
It is so sexy to chase the why. We feel like if we dig deeply enough we will uncover a hidden treasure trove of self-knowledge and understanding that will transform our entire being. We tell ourselves that if we understand “why,” everything will change. We will wondrously morph into a better version of ourselves.
This is magical thinking, and the endless quest for “why” is an avoidance of reality- which is much less sexy. We have to change our behavior, and it will be incredibly hard. It will be painful. It will be ugly. There is little wonder we chase “why,” but it is mostly self-defeating.
Someone once shared with me about a Buddhist saying: “If you understand, things are how they are. If you don’t understand, things are how they are.”
So simple. So elegant. So hard to accept. Even if we understand the “why,” it doesn’t change that it is what it is.
Let’s say Mechelle finds herself in relationships where she is treated badly. Mechelle hates being treated badly. She wants to stop the pattern. She wants to change. Mechelle believes if she understands why she is drawn to people who treat her with disrespect, she will be able to stop the pattern. Let’s say that Mechelle works for a year to analyze every aspect of herself only to conclude that she tolerates disrespect because her father treated her the same way. How does that change Mechelle’s situation? She still has to change what she is doing that contributes to the problem. Another year has passed, and it isn’t any easier.
I don’t mean to sound overly harsh. We all want to understand “why.” It provides a sense of empowerment to become our best. If we understand, we feel like it will make it easier to behave differently, yet this is often not the case.
Consider Samir. He feels insecure…. all the time. He can tell you all of the reasons why he shouldn’t feel insecure, but he still feels that way. As a result, he lets people walk all over him. Samir spends six months analyzing why he feels insecure in the hope that once he discovers an explanation, he will be free of the affliction. After six months, Samir determines that he feels insecure because his mom left the family when he was eight years old. Samir still feels insecure.
To be fair, there are times when understanding “why” is helpful. For example, maybe I feel irritable and burned out, and I investigate “why.” I conclude that I feel this way because I hate my job. This helps me decide to find a new job. Maybe I find that I am getting more headaches, and I want to know why. I find that when I am around a certain friend (who is very negative), I get stressed and develop a headache. I decide to take a break from the friend. These are important situations where understanding “why” helps people make healthy decisions.
On the other hand, when we tell ourselves that change of longstanding self-defeating patterns in our life will melt away when we understand “why,” it is a lie. By chasing “why,” we effectively avoid deeper level transformative change in our lives. Even if we understand, things remain how they are until we do something to change them. Understanding can be satisfying — or not — but in the end, we have to change our behavior in order to change our lives.
I don’t know that understanding makes change any easier. Lying to ourselves only makes it more painful — like a bait and switch.
The good news is change is ultimately doable. Some days we will accomplish more than others, but we aren’t on a schedule. We are on a journey. Self-understanding will come along the way, but you won’t find it standing still.
Want to know more? Check out my book, Move on Motherf*cker: Live, Laugh, and Let Sh*t Go available on bookshop.org, BarnesandNoble.com, or Amazon.com.