Do you ever ask yourself the question, “Why is this happening to me?” Most of us do, especially when things aren’t going the way we want them to or we’re dealing with something that’s difficult or painful.
Why is This Happening FOR Me?
A number of years ago when I was going through a really hard time my friend Brian said, “If you change the word ‘to’ to the word ‘for’ in that question, it can change your life.”
When Brian said this, it really resonated with me. I never forgot it.
So, instead of asking ourselves, “Why is this happening TO me?” we can instead ask, “Why is this happening FOR me?”
There’s a world of difference in these two questions. The first one leads us down a path of victimhood, martyrdom, or feeling as though there’s something wrong with us. The second one takes us in a direction of deeper growth, awareness, and responsibility.
Victimhood vs. Responsibility
Sadly, it often seems easier and is definitely more encouraged by the world around us to choose “Door #1” (victimhood), than it is to choose “Door #2” (growth and responsibility).
Why is this? We live in a culture that celebrates and reinforces victimhood. And while there are clearly people in our world who are genuinely victimized, the majority of the time that you and I act, talk, and feel like “victims,” we’re not – it’s just a habitual way of thinking and being that we’re used to.
Most of us learned how to be victims at a very young age and had (and continue to have) lots of examples around us. In fact, victimhood is something we often used as a survival technique as children and adolescents. Although it doesn’t really feel good – feeling sorry for ourselves is actually a way to distance ourselves from deep and painful emotions, like sadness, hurt, loneliness, fear, anger, and despair. Because we don’t have the emotional capacity as kids or teens to fully experience, express, or embrace our emotions in a healing and liberating way, we turn to victimhood and it helps us survive.
In our lives as adults, however, playing the victim not only acts as a smokescreen (keeping us from taking responsibility and feeling our real emotions), it also causes a great deal of harm in relationships, at work, with our health, and much more.
Asking yourself why something is happening for you instead of to you doesn’t mean we have to like what’s happening, necessarily. It also isn’t about blaming ourselves. This is about consciously choosing to look for the gold, see the lesson, and take a growth mindset approach to the circumstances and situations that show up in our lives.
While feeling like a victim is normal and common for us as human beings, it never leads us to greater awareness, joy, or happiness. The more willing we are to take responsibility for what shows up in our lives and to look for what we can learn from all that we experience, the more likely we are to heal, change, and transform in the positive way that we truly want.
Expand Your Capacity for Growth and Learning
Here are a few things you can think about and do to let go of victimhood and expand your capacity for growth and learning:
1) Notice when and where you feel like a victim.
Pick a specific area of your life, or a specific situation or relationship, where you currently feel that it’s not fair, or it shouldn’t be this way, or you find yourself asking, why is this happening to me? While you may have more than one area or example of this in your life right now, it works best to focus on one area at a time. Notice what you think and say about this situation – to yourself and others. Most important, tap into how you’re truly feeling about it. Remember, victimhood is always a smokescreen – keeping us away from our authentic and vulnerable feelings. When we’re able to acknowledge and ultimately experience and express how we truly feel, things can start to shift.
2) Ask yourself the question, “Why is this happening FOR me?”
Related to this specific situation, asking yourself why it is happening for you is something that can put you in a different and healthier inquiry about what’s really going on. Again, you don’t have to like what’s happening, but you can appreciate it (which means recognize the value of it). What are you learning? What is it forcing you to deal with, let go of, heal, or confront in your life? Another good question to ask yourself along these same lines is, What good is here that I’m currently not seeing? The more willing you are to look deeply at and learn from this situation, and the less energy you put into being at the mercy of it, the more power you’ll have in dealing with it and growing in the process.
3) Talk to others authentically.
While we often commiserate with other people, it’s a better idea to share how we authentically feel (in a vulnerable way) and to engage in an inquiry with people we trust about why this situation may be happening for us. Others are often able to see and hear things we don’t. Leaning on the people in our life, talking to them in a real way, and asking for their support and feedback can help us move through the difficulty, find the gold, and deepen your learning – especially when we’re dealing with something challenging or painful. The less we share our issues with others looking for them to agree with our story of woe, and the more we share what we’re going through with a desire for support and empowerment; the more likely we are to heal, grow, and evolve.
Letting go of victimhood is not the easiest thing for us to do – most of us have years and years of experience. However, with compassion, consciousness, and a willingness to ask ourselves why things are happening for us (and not to us), we can liberate ourselves from victimhood in a beautiful and powerful way.
Where in your life do you feel like a victim? How can shifting your perspective make a difference? What can you learn from any of the current challenges you’re facing? Share your thoughts, ideas, insights, and more on my blog below.
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This article was originally published in October2010 and updated for 2023.