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Separating The "What" From The "Why"

A few days ago a client talked about how she has tended to move around a lot. She said she often changes jobs and changed friends, moves to new countries. We came to the conclusion that this was, in part, perhaps because she feared rejection so at the first hint of things turning a little sour she would leave. She traced this back, to some extent, to some difficult school experiences. She had lived in several countries in Europe and often immediately lost contact with most of the people she left behind. She had worked and studied in a number of cities and learned a few languages as part of this pattern. Despite this fear of rejection, she is young and enjoys travelling and seeing new places and people. She makes friends easily and has kept a few very good friends.

In the moment after this insight she seemed disappointed and expressed how sad it was to realise she might now have to change how she lived in order to deal with this. She didn't want to settle in one place and was already considering a job in another country. She worried that in order to deal with this issue, she would need to sit tight, experience rejection and learn not to move away which she perceived had become a bad habit rather than a way she enjoyed living.

We talked this through further and agreed that we are a complex presentation of all our experiences - both good and bad. It really isn't possible to know for sure why she moves around a lot. Her fear of rejection was in all likelihood a factor in it but perhaps not all of it and had, happily, brought her joy even if it was in part caused by negative experiences. I suggested the connection between the "what" (moving a lot) and the "why" (fear of rejection) might be a lot weaker than she considered and given this, and that she enjoyed the way she lived, perhaps did not need to sacrifice her lifestyle if she found pleasure in it.

I think this is a common problem - that we find ourselves believing a significant part of the "why" we do something can be very clearly connected to a well remembered incident in the past. I think the connnections are far more complex - looser - than that. This then gives us the opportunity to separate how we live from their causes and to make decisions regarding these things not on what created them but, instead, on how they are working for us now - do they bring us joy? Are they a source of happiness to us? It is more a question of asking if the "what" is still serving you and if it is, then there is no obligation to change it. By all means reflect on the "why" if you wish, but there is no obligation to change the "what" unless you want to.

I suspect nobody truly has it all figured out and believing that we can be certain that this particular experience directly led to this way of living is risky. Besides, some of our coping strategies are amazing - we adapt well and are imaginative. It might be wiser to ask does how I live now work for me, no matter what I believe caused it and thus live in this moment, shedding what you don't need and holding on to what works.

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