Finding Meaning In Trauma and PTSD

December 5, 2012 Michele Rosenthal

Why do senseless things happen to people who are just doing their best to move through life being good? You can be productively contributing to society, helpless and young, older and learning to evolve on the continuum of your own private journey here on earth -- it doesn't seem to matter what kind of person you are, trauma randomly selects you to scoop up in the siphon of its cyclone. Why?

The Most Natural Question After Trauma



The reflexive sadness of traumatic shock and disbelief can begin with wondering what you have done to deserve this. You may ask friends, family, spiritual leaders or whatever higher power you believe in what made you the targeted victim of this most egregious experience. Of course, you will never receive a satisfactory answer about the why of trauma. Still, asking 'why me' is as natural a sneezing when you get too stiff a whiff of pepper - it's just a reflex.

As you struggle to come to terms with how both you and your life have been altered you will follow the human urge to hunt around for the information that explains what made you the person chosen to endure this. Meaning comes when we have details, examples and reasons that allow us to form beliefs that create a new world view. Sometimes, the trick in answering the 'why me' question is to transcend yourself and take a larger, meta-view: Rather than looking at just your own self and your own life experience in a vacuum, try considering the 'why me' question in the context of the world at large.

You can begin this process by imagining that you have a close friend that experienced your trauma instead of you. How would you answer his or her 'why me' plea? Would you explain there are random laws of nature? Would you respond that it was the will of God? Would you say it was just dumb luck? Taking a step outside of yourself can help you begin seeing your experience in the context of a larger picture. When you do this you access more of your own power of reasoning and begin facilitating the ability to apply that reasoning to yourself. Plus, you may also discover what knowledge, action or belief will relieve you of the feeling this question creates.

Another way to look at the question is to ask, 'Why not me?' You are human; you are not immune to tragedy. You are subject to the same random laws of the universe as everyone else. You did your best and yet it is impossible for you to perfectly and correctly foresee all future events in a way that allows you to prevent catastrophe 100% of the time. In answering the 'why not me' question you re-enter into the scope of your own private universe. Taking stock of it you may discover that this trauma didn't happen to you because you deserved it or did something wrong. Instead, you may discover that it happened because bad things do happen to good people and this time, sadly, it happened to you.

Personally, for years I tried to find the meaning in my trauma; I couldn't do it. To release myself from that cage I began asking myself new questions:

  • What was I supposed to learn from this?
  • In what, if any, ways does this (further) define me and my life purpose?

With the switch to these new questions I began shifting from trying to find meaning in my trauma and started looking for how to make meaning come out of it. As in all aspects of PTSD and recovery, this simple transition from powerless to powerful caused me to start thinking, feeling, believing and experiencing life after trauma in an entirely new way. It helped me stop looking back and enabled me to begin looking forward. This is a shift that takes time to get used to, but when you make it you just may see new opportunities for PTSD recovery and enormous possibilities for the evolution of both yourself and your life.

Michele is the author of Your Life After Trauma: Powerful Practices to Reclaim Your Identity. Connect with her on Google+, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and her website,

APA Reference
Rosenthal, M. (2012, December 5). Finding Meaning In Trauma and PTSD, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2023, December 6 from

Author: Michele Rosenthal

August, 7 2018 at 10:52 pm

Great blog :) I ask my grief counselor how long did the ptsd last? How can I get through it?

December, 10 2012 at 9:58 am

Good blog. I have asked myself the why me question so many times. I have ended with why not me and that I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Trauma can happen to anyone. But it is up to us to heal and learn from it. I am having a hard time moving on in my trauma but at least I am feeling less angry about it happening to me. Thanks for sharing.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Michele Rosenthal
December, 10 2012 at 6:20 pm

Hi, Kewanna! I'm so glad this blog resonates with you. You're so right, trauma can happen to anyone and even so, it's tough to move past. I've got an ebook about 52 Ways to Transform Your Life After Trauma. If it's helpful you can download it from the sidebar on this page: http:/

Sandra L. Flaada
December, 6 2012 at 6:23 pm

I am working on this very thing. Thank you for saying it so eloquently.

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