To Get Free of the Past, You Need to Stop Asking “Why?”

Getting stuck on knowing “why?” is quicksand that holds you back!

Posted Nov 18, 2014

Why did he leave me?

Why do I always have to initiate sex?

Why didn’t I get that job?

Why don’t I have more friends?

What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I lose the weight?

When something bad happens – when we are hurt or disappointed – it’s the most natural thing in the world to ask oneself why. We’re human and the need to understand what happens to us is essential in keeping us safe. It gives us context and comfort and helps us learn how to auto-correct our course to a more positive direction in the future.

But when asking “why?” colonizes our minds and goes from a question to a nagging lament, we risk getting stuck in the need to find an answer that will probably never come. Rather than a call to action, the quest to understand “why?” becomes a quicksand of torment that keeps us stuck in the past.

I’ve worked with many divorced women who, years later, continue to struggle to understand why their husbands left. Although they have thought and talked about it ad nauseam, they’re trapped in the belief that if only they could understand, then they could get free and move on. But that “ah-hah!” moment doesn’t come and the never-ending quest for it keeps them from getting past the past and reaching for happiness in their future.

Snip off the "why!"

Try this and see how different this makes you feel!

Instead of asking yourself “Why did he leave me?,” rephrase it in your mind to say, “He left me” - a simple statement that directs you towards acceptance. It acknowledges, “I don’t know really why he left me, but he did. It happened. It’s a fact.”

Once you can snip off the “why”, you become free to turn your gaze from the past to the future. “He left me. Now what do I do with my life?” I know you can't do this right away, but if you're still absorbed with the question years later, you need to get out your scissor!

Let’s try another one: “Why do I always have to initiate sex?” Embedded in that question is a complaint. Let’s rephrase it as: “I seem to be the one who always initiates sex” - a statement that is perhaps true.

Once you accept this fact, then you can look at it in a different way. You may start to make peace with this feature of your relationship, and although you’d prefer it were different, you may start to recognize that it’s not the worst thing in the world. When you snip off the “why,” the focus changes.

“Why didn’t I get that job?” becomes “Well, I didn’t get that job. Now what?”

“Why don’t I have more friends?” evolves into, “I don’t have a lot of friends. How can I change that?”

“What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I lose the weight?” morphs into “I can’t seem to lose the weight. What do I do with that fact so that I can stop obsessing about it?”

We spend too much emotional energy looking for an answer to the elusive “why” and it stops us from either accepting what is or opening our minds to find solutions that lead to change. It takes courage to give it up and move on, even if we don’t really understand.

It’s my hope that you will find that courage to become a crusader for your own happiness and not let the need to answer “why” hold you back. Get comfortable in the “not knowing.” Happiness is a choice that we have to keep fighting for!

I’m a psychotherapist, family therapist and the author of Runaway Husbands: The Abandoned Wife's Guide to Recovery and Renewal and My Sister, My Self: The Surprising Ways that Being an Older, Middle, Younger or Twin Shaped Your Life. I can be found online at and