If you don’t mind, take a minute and think about something hard or painful that you’ve experienced. As you’re thinking about that time in your life, can you remember having thoughts like, “Why is this happening to me?” or “What did I do to deserve this?” If you can remember those thoughts, you’re keeping good company. Many of my clients, when they’re talking about losses or challenges, eventually come to the part of the conversation where they try to understand how this happened in their lives. That’s part of being human. Our brains look for patterns. We want answers to the “hows” and “whys” of life. We try to make meaning.
I am a fan of asking questions and seeking understanding. I think that being willing to ask those questions can be a huge part of being able to build healthy relationships. We need to understand what went wrong so that we can build things differently. And there are many situations where it is necessary and appropriate to ask why, and to change our behavior. But this post isn’t about those situations.
The “Random Bad Stuff”
This post is about the other painful things. The tornado. The sudden diagnosis of a life-threatening illness. A miscarriage. A car accident. The sexual assault. The things in life that just knock you down. You didn’t do anything that caused them. You didn’t somehow “deserve” them. They just happen. They fall into the category that I oh so eloquently call the “random bad stuff” of life. (By the way, if you have a better title for this category, I’d be happy to hear it–and borrow it.)
The random bad stuff is hard to handle not just because it shakes up your life, but because it is random. You can go for years without experiencing it–and then be bombarded by painful events that are entirely out of your control. For pattern-happy humans, this kind of randomness can nearly make us crazy.
I spend a lot of time with clients just exploring with clients what it means to them if bad things can happen whether you deserve them or not. For some people, that’s a pretty scary idea. They feel unsafe when they’re asked to confront pain that’s out of their control. For others, there’s almost a sense of relief. It can be a huge weight to really hear that what happened wasn’t their fault. Some people are really angry that the sacrifices they have made to “be a good person” haven’t been rewarded with immunity from the random bad stuff. And for most of us, there’s a mish-mash of all of those emotions and perhaps a few more.
I think that acknowledging the existence of random bad stuff, and creating safe space for all of your emotional reactions to are incredibly important foundations for coping. Next week’s post is going to include some of the specific suggestions I most commonly offer when clients are in the middle of the random bad stuff. For this week, I’m really interested in how you respond to the idea of “random bad stuff.” Is this a concept that makes sense in your life? Did I miss an important emotional response?
Image Credit: “Pain” by iProzac via Flickr