red and blue pencil that has reality on one side and expectations on the other

Trauma, Loss, and Grief—Why We Should Beware of Asking Why

Asking why can cause problems. Not to sound redundant or flippant, but why? Why does asking why cause problems? Because it may be difficult, if not impossible, to figure out why. But there’s more … a whole lot more.

When I went to FBI crisis negotiation school the first time in the 90s, I learned that the FBI shies away from asking why during a crisis or hostage negotiation. Asking a man who robbed a bank and demands a helicopter why may seem reasonable at first, right? He wants to escape. But why did he rob the bank? He may explain a few things like he wanted to get money but he may not really know the underlying reasons of why he robbed a bank without properly analyzing the risks of getting caught first. Civilized, law-abiding citizens who would never do such a thing, could not connect the dots well of what would bring someone to act in such a way. 

Taking it a step further, consider another situation. Imagine a person who is emotionally and mentally enraged. He decides to walk into a store and shoot a few people and then take some hostages. Asking him why may be futile because he may not even know. He may express he was angry. He may even talk about the voices in his head that made him do it. But, regardless, his actions are irrational.

If a parent asks a teenager why they stole the car and went on a joyride, that’s not the best way to question them. If a wife asks why her husband why he cheated on her with a prostitute, she likely won’t get the answer she needs. If a mother asks her 6-year-old daughter why she slapped her younger brother, what would you expect the answer to be?

People have a hard time understanding themselves sometimes. They may not be able to properly represent themselves or logically express the reasons why they’ve acted the way they have. Why? Because sometimes we don’t act logically; we act impulsively and illogically. 

But there’s more.

What happens when an accident happens and someone we love dies? What happens when we are treated in a way that doesn’t make sense to us? Whether our child dies of SIDS or our spouse files for divorce after 20 years of marriage or our teenage son takes his life by suicide, asking why is a normal and natural response. When we experience crisis, which may be because of someone else’s behavior or actions or because of a random accident, we often ask why. We want to know WHY.

When we cannot logically comprehend the reasons why things happen, whatever the situation may be, we begin to get emotionally and psychologically overwhelmed. We ruminate and stew about the situation trying to put reason on unreasonable things. When we ask why, we are trying to make what is irrational or illogical rational and logical, and sometimes that is simply not possible. 

When our expectations and our dreams and hopes are dashed to pieces, we want a logical explanation. What happens when we don’t get it? We struggle. We wonder why God would allow such a thing to happen to us or to someone else. We question our spirituality. We wonder if God does love us, why would He let that happen? There’s that word again—why. We try to put logic to the things that cannot easily be explained. We question our own self-worth. We may look upon ourselves as worthless. We may look at others differently, too. 

Our view of the world changes. Our trust in things that were once normal is dashed. Our expectations and convictions of the past no longer hold true. Life has thrown us a curveball. We are blindsided and experience deep grief when our expectations are not met. We tell ourselves that life was not supposed to happen this way. 

Yes, although it’s normal to ask why. Sometimes it causes problems when we try to ask why. Because when doing so, we may tell ourselves things that are not true. 

When this happens, just know that you’re normal. It is normal to process grief or trauma by asking why. Everyone does it. However, continuing to ruminate causes distress. Telling yourself things that aren’t true can also cause distress. Furthermore, your stress, which may come in the form of bereavement, depression or anxiety, not only affects you and your ability to function well, but it also affects at least three others closest to you within your sphere of influence. It effects your relationships. 

When we cannot understand why, it may change and frustrate us. When this happens, or before this happens, it doesn’t mean you’re broken or forever ruined, and it doesn’t mean you’re going crazy either. Life has a way of giving us challenges that need to be worked out. So, when we get stuck in “the why,” it may be best to talk with a professional counselor to help us process things in healthier ways. 

Jeffrey Denning

Jeffrey has written award-winning articles for the Washington Times,, and other publications. He is the author of seven books, including Warrior SOS: Military Veterans’ Stories of Faith, Emotional Survival and Living with PTSD. He teaches courses on peer support, suicide prevention, and other mental wellness and resilience to public safety professionals. If you would like Jeff to speak at your event or training please contact him HERE.

All articles and blogs are copyrighted. If you share an article or a portion of an article, please give the author credit. Thank you.