But I also hear people use it in a way that just doesn't sit right with me. I hear people use the expression to blame themselves. When they say it, they are saying "What did I do to deserve this? What am I doing wrong here? Why can't I ever get this right?" They are suggesting that The Universe is orchestrating some sort of karmic comeuppance for something they did.
This is not an idea I can subscribe to. We all have experienced pain and suffering in our lives. When bad things happen, what reason can possibly explain them? Aren't we all just doing the best we can, and isn't our hindsight almost always better?
We all have an inner critic—and probably some negative thinking habits, too. We certainly don't need an over-used expression like "everything happens for a reason" keeping us in a pattern that doesn't serve us well.
The fact is, we decide for ourselves the reason behind things, and it does us no good to turn that reason into a weapon against ourselves.
When you find yourself searching for a reason why something bad happened, try asking yourself: "If my best friend were to go through this, what might I say as a way to offer genuine support? How can I take what I have learned from this and turn it into compassion for myself and for others?"
If there really IS a connection between something you've done and an unwanted result, there is more self-awareness to be gained if you are gentle with yourself. Imagine teaching children a new skill and how a kind and sensitive approach creates a much better learning environment.
I love this quote from Anne Lamott because I think it illustrates what I mean about changing negative thinking habits: “Try looking at your mind as a wayward puppy that you are trying to paper train. You don't drop-kick a puppy into the neighbor's yard every time it piddles on the floor. You just keep bringing it back to the newspaper.”