'What' is the Antidote to the Poison of 'Why'
Updated: Apr 1
“Stop asking Why and start asking What.”
That has turned in to my mantra in almost every session with my individual psychotherapy clients. Every single person who sits in my chair eventually comes to a point in our sessions when they say something to the effect of “I don’t know why I feel this way… why I do that… why I let this get to me…”
In the world of psychotherapy, self-healing work, or just general self-inquiry, the Why is almost always a poisonous place to begin.
Why is an intellectual question that comes with lots of drawbacks. First, it puts us in our heads and takes us out of our present moment experience. It puts up a wall between “us” and what’s actually going on.
Asking a Why question is like trying to hug your partner through a telescope. You might be able to see them from far away, or zoom in to get a good look at their leg, but you aren’t going to be able to hold them in your arms.
It's About Moving Away From Shame
Why is inherently filled with shame*. When I’m supporting a client to explore what’s happening for them and they bring in a Why question, I see an almost immediate shift. Not only have they put up a wall between themselves and their experience, they’ve made space to invite in all the stories they’ve ever heard about their experience.
These stories instantly lead my client to judge their experience, to shame themselves, and ultimately reject themselves as not good enough.
If we let this cycle of shame and self-rejection go unchallenged then that part of my client that needs some love and attention gets even more pushed to the side… even more alone… even more desperate to get out.
Are you ready to break the shame cycle? A skilled therapist can help!
Get Back To The Present
Luckily this client is in session and I’m able to support them to come back to their present moment experience. To see what’s really going on. And to bring some much needed change by way of learning to stay with and accept themselves and their experience in difficult moments.
And the beautiful thing about asking What, is that you don’t need a therapist to do it. My clients get to take these skills out in to the rest of their lives and be the leaders of their own growth and change.
Asking What is a freeing question that lets us explore our inner experiences without judgement - - What’s there? What does this feel like? What makes it feel so much that way? What makes it feel more of that? What makes it feel less? What does this sensation need? What does it want me to know?
Starting from a place of Why brings poison. Starting from a place of What brings insight and growth.
Be gentle with yourself today. Drop the Why and start asking What’s there.
If you or a loved one is working to move through a process of healing from sexual assault I strongly encourage you to find more support. It can be through a survivor group, a therapist, a spiritual community, or even an activist organization, but connecting with others is so very important. Isolation breeds shame, and shame breeds dis-ease.
Today is the perfect day to begin reaching out for support.
Always remember two things: Healing Is Possible, And It’s When We’re In Connection With Others That We Thrive.
*Shame vs. Guilt. – Guilt is a feeling of knowing that you preformed a bad action. Feeling guilt means that you know you’re going to be able to learn and do better next time. Shame is a feeling of being a bad person. It’s a belief that you’re inherently screwed up, totally unable to change, and by extension, unlovable. Shame does not come with Hope. (credit to Brene’ Brown)
Hudson Wilkins, MA, LPCC, EMDR, IFS. Hudson is a nature and mindfulness based trauma therapist inFort Collins, CO. He operates a private practice with a specialty in supporting folks who have experienced sexual violence first hand, and those that love them to heal and rebalance their lives.