Tuesday, January 19, 2010

"Everything Happens for a Reason"

NOTE:  Parts of this article may be very difficult to read, as I briefly talk about child abuse, yet I think it is a very important article for people to read.

"Everything happens for a reason."  I hear people say this sentence quite often.  Perhaps this is because I am a psychotherapist and am often talking to people about major events in their lives.  I used to say this sentence myself when I was a Christian/theist.  During difficult times, I would think of this sentence and it would bring me some peace, as I believed whatever I was going through was according to some divine plan.  I believed that no matter what bad things happened in my life, better things were ahead.  There is no doubt that for some people, this belief and sentence can be helpful.  However, this sentence is not at all helpful for everyone.  In fact, I have seen the use of this phrase be very hurtful and harmful for some people. 

Before going further, it is very important that I first point out that people who make this statement never consider that this statement is actually be hurtful and harmful to some people. In fact, I know most people's intent in saying such a thing is often to try to be helpful, so this article is in no way meant to be hurtful or blaming to others. The purpose is just to inform people of something they may not be aware of.

As a psychotherapist, I am privy to personal problems people face more often than people who do not have such a job.  Everyone has problems in there lives, though some problems are more common or "normal" than others.  Most of us had loving yet imperfect parents, have experienced the loss of love, the death of a loved one, or financial problems.  Yet for some, their problems are far outside the norm.  I have met with children and adults who have been terribly abused in physical, mental, emotional and sexual ways.  Their stories are nothing less than horror stories.  A man whose drunk parent would throw empty beer bottles at his head when he was six years old.  An older woman telling me about growing up with a parent who was a sexual sadist.  A child whose stepfather would burn him on different parts of his body for normal child misbehavior.  Their stories are stomach churning to say the least. 

In each of these stories and others, people have told me that their struggles were not only with the abuse they suffered, but hearing from others that "everything happens for a reason".  Of course this means that there was some "bigger purpose" for what happened to them.  Of course, these people struggle with this notion.  They wonder what they did to deserve what happened to them.  They wonder why they were made to suffer in hellish ways while others were not.  They struggle with the reason for what they experienced.  For many people who have been victims of abuse, which they were unable to prevent or stop, this statement creates a great deal of pain and confusion in them.

Again, this article is not a criticism of people who tell other people this sentence.  As I said, most people are not aware of how this sentence can be hurtful to others.  The purpose of this article is just to make the reader aware of something they may not be aware of, so they may think about whether to use the sentence and if so, with whom and in what circumstances.

Finally, as an Atheist, I don't believe that everything happens for a reason.  I believe people can do things for reasons and make events happen in the world for their own reasons, but besides these kinds of events, I believe things happen by chance.  To me, this is a much more sensible reason why things happen.  Good things happen to good and bad people.  Bad things happen to good and bad people.  I think viewing things in this way may help bring people peace who have experienced unspeakably terrible things in their lives.


  1. Seems we are talking about free will, and the fact that choices are always present. Self-control of much, rather than some divine order spinning into and around us from above or outside. I appreciate the perspective--thanks Chris.

  2. Rick:

    That's an interesting comment. I'm not sure that "everything happens for a reason" necessarily implies determinism in the context of an existent and omniscient god. In other words, I could see one theist say everything happens for a reason, but we have choice, while another could say that we have no choice and our actions are predetermined.