Why is it that when something bad happens in peoples’ lives, one of the first things we do is offer the platitude ‘everything happens for a reason’? Granted, we offer it for positive situations as well but it’s the negative connotation that seems to sting when those words are uttered.
Sometimes platitudes can do the opposite of help and make that person angry, guilty and ashamed of how they feel over a situation. Instead of making them feel better, we make them feel worse. We’ve all done it. We want to take that persons pain away and make them feel better so before we even think about what we’re saying, we offer them:
Everything happens for a reason.
And sometimes it’s the worst thing you can say.
Because whilst the sentiment could be true, it could also rob that person of feeling like they are justified in their emotions.
Why? Because ‘everything happens for a reason’ doesn’t apply if a child dies or someone gets ill or…the list is endless.
When someone is sad, depressed, sick etc, they don’t want platitudes that there’s ‘plenty more fish in the sea’ or ‘it’s good you found out before the wedding that he cheated’, they want you to be sad and angry with them. They want you to allow them to cry until they’re exhausted and they want to hear you say that you’ll cut his balls off for them.
After my diagnosis, so many people told me it ‘happened for a reason’ and all I wanted to do was hit them because why in the hell is it pre-ordained in the Universe that I get sick?? Jennifer Grey starring on Dancing with the Stars and being diagnosed with cancer in a pre-show check-up was an ‘everything happens for a reason’; not for her to get sick but in the chance way it was discovered.
You could argue that my decision to go home instead of having surgery in Sydney was an ‘everything happens for a reason’ because I would have had unnecessary surgery and continued to be sick but that doesn’t mean I want to hear those words when all I wanted to do was punch someone and scream at the world how unfair life was that I was ill.
But have you noticed that when we use that phrase in a positive manner it somehow lifts us up to an unrivalled degree?
It sounds so good when we get that promotion at work or have a serendipitous meeting that leads to finding ‘The One’ etc and in that case, even if we have worked our butt off at work for that promotion and deserve it, ‘everything happens for a reason’ makes us feel like, for that moment in time, the entire Universe is on our side and backing us all the way. We feel special; as though we could conquer the world! We’ve got the job we want, partner of our dreams or a longed-for baby on the way and life seems sweet.
Until something bad happens and we utter the words ‘everything happens for a reason’ and suddenly, the Universe feels against us again. As though it wants us to be unhappy and struggle. It changes from ‘just bad luck’ or we didn’t work hard enough to ‘fate’ that something bad happened to us and our lack of understanding about that notion only makes our struggles seem harder. After spending 15 years struggling with squishy brain chemistry, why did the Universe decide to rob me of the dream I was busy chasing so hard and slam me back down to Earth? Why did the Universe decide to be so cruel to make me ill just as I was becoming happy?
So if a friend or loved one gets bad news, please don’t offer platitudes:
Listen to them.
Allow them to feel whatever it is they need to feel about the current situation they’re in. If something has upset them, allow them to be upset or if they’re angry, let them be angry. Peoples’ emotions don’t always match the situation but in that moment they are going through many different emotions and the majority of the time, all they want is to be heard without judgement.
Sometimes all someone needs is to be allowed to vent about their situation; to have someone at the end of the phone who will just let them rant or cry without interruption. Be that person if that is what’s needed.
I’m not quite sure when it happened but it seems that we’re not allowed to be sympathetic towards people anymore because we’re always told that when people need/want/deserve sympathy it’s because they are attention seeking and not strong enough to deal with the situation when nothing could be further from the truth.
There is nothing wrong with wanting or needing sympathy and especially nothing wrong with giving it. Sometimes all that person needs is for you to say ‘I’m sorry you’re going through this; it must be so hard’.
Understand that feelings don’t always make sense
Please don’t devalue someone’s feeling because you don’t understand the situation or their reaction. We all react to different circumstances in different ways and just because you think you wouldn’t feel as badly in the same situation, it doesn’t make it true. We can know someone all our lives but how we react over something could depend on anything from past situations to how we feel currently about our lives and ourselves so we will all react in different ways; please remember this before you judge your loved one for ‘overreacting’.
Tell them that you’re sorry they’re going through a tough time and that you’re there for them whenever they need you even if you don’t necessarily agree with their reaction.
Everything happens for a reason.
It may be true but it doesn’t always need to be said.