I have a love-hate relationship with the phrase, “Everything happens for a reason.”
I think I have these opposing feelings on the phrase because I only like to believe it when the statement can precede a positive experience. If that were the case, the phrase would be, “Everything good happens for a reason.”
For instance, in the past month, I’ve been granted numerous opportunities to succeed. I’ve accepted a new job with a sports blog, an internship in the spring and took on a major assignment interviewing Philadelphia Eagles safety, Rodney McLeod, and his wife, Erika McLeod. These are all positive experiences. That being said, it’s easy for me to say, “Everything happens for a reason,” because there is a reason I was offered those jobs and the assignment. Furthermore, there is something I can learn from those experiences.
With the job and internship, I’m fine-tuning my journalism and public relations skills. With the assignment itself, I’m learning how to interview someone and be able to turn that into an interesting story. I think it’s also safe to say I also learned that my hard work and dedication to get better at journalism has led me to the opportunities I’ve been granted.
What about the negative experiences? In my previous article, I briefly talked about how I had a rough few weeks with personal struggles, but did those experiences happen “for a reason?” There’s a chance that could be true, but there’s an equal chance that could be false.
In the case of that article, the reason would be because of astrology and the “Mercury in retrograde.” But when I think of the phrase “Everything happens for a reason,” I figure that there will be something I’m going to learn from it. With astrology, there’s no lesson behind the experience you have, things are just “is.”
The idea that “Everything happens for a reason,” however, is an idea of toxic positivity. Toxic positivity is the mindset that no matter what happens in someone’s life, they must always and only have a positive, happy or optimistic attitude to that situation.
If you hear a toxic positive phrase, it typically has an intention of sympathy and trying to have support. Oftentimes, it does not have that effect.
Some other common phrases in this toxic positivity mindset are “Good vibes only,” and “Just think positive.” Each of these phrases are dismissive and undermines someone’s pain.
As we’ve seen over the past two years, life can be incredibly stressful, heavy and hard to deal with. The pandemic, racial and political issues, financial difficulties and even personal struggles all account for a stressful life recently.
If someone faced a traumatic experience, it almost hurts to hear, “Everything happens for a reason” because at that time, they just need support. They need to be heard. They need to talk about their feelings. They need to talk about the experience they had.
That phrase shuts down an important step toward healing before it even begins.
Why should there have to be a reason for the pandemic to happen? What should someone have to learn from it? They shouldn’t have to do anything. Why does someone have to come out on the other side of trauma stronger? It’s great if they do but they shouldn’t have to.
The narrative that a reason or a lesson is present, especially in an all-encompassing phrase, shuts down feelings and creates a sense of guilt. If someone went through a financial hardship, but someone else says any sort of toxic positive phrase, it almost makes the person who went through the situation feel bad for even feeling bad for themselves. We’re humans, feelings are a major part of who we are as a species.
When I had my share of personal struggles, I was told that “Everything happens for a reason.” I didn’t want to be told this. I wanted support and to talk about how I was truly feeling. You can’t break your ankle and try to find a positive outcome for why it happened. You can’t have a family member in severe condition in the hospital and try to look for a lesson. All you can do is be supported by those around you.
I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing to say “Everything happens for a reason,” especially if that is how someone deals with their own issues. I do think it’s harmful when you start applying that mindset to other people’s pain. You only know what you’re going through and for someone else to undermine your pain can be severely detrimental.
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