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"Why me?" A framework for bouncing back from adversity.

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It’s natural to start asking “Why? Why me?” when we’re crossing the dry deserts that arise in life. There are never any easy answers but it’s helpful to have a framework for working through the tough times.

There is a particular resiliency framework that has been used for eons that is still helpful for us today. This process is known as initiation. Our ancestors created and honored this practice and many indigenous peoples today still use it. Initiation rites in villages are practiced to help the young people mature into adults, complete with their own unique gifts that are vital to the strength of the village. There are three parts to an initiation:


The young person is physically separated out from the tribe to face the adult world on his* own.

The Ordeal

Tribal elders often set up challenges for the young person to face which, while sometimes harrowing, elicit the person’s Core Gift and usher the youngster into adulthood.

The Homecoming

The young person returns to the village and a great celebration is held to honor his return. The tribe sings and dances with joy because a new adult has joined the village with a Gift that will strengthen and bless the tribe.

In our world, we go through initiations frequently. Some of them are good. Going off to college can be seen as an initiation. The young person is separated from her tribe (family and friends), goes through the ordeal of college and studying (which can be a mix of fun and stress), and returns (homecoming) with not only a diploma, but a new knowledge of her strengths and her Gift to bring to the world. Usually, a celebration is held to honor the new graduate.

train crashOften, though, our initiations entail periods of pain in our lives. Becky Phillips endured an agonizing ritual when she lost her family members in a train crash.

Her initiation was very long as she experienced separation not only from the family members that she lost, but from the world as she knew it and from friends and family who could not possibly understand her pain.

Her ordeal consisted of raw, raking grief and the struggle to create new meaning in life and her world. Yet, somehow, she made it through.

Becky’s homecoming was also a slow process and somewhat subtle. She allowed her family to gently welcome her back as mother and wife. And now, she is providing herself with a homecoming as she celebrates the lessons that she learned along the way: how valued her late family members were to others and how they touched lives, how much she loves and cherishes the people in her life now, and how short and truly precious life really is.

Becky is now a stronger, quite gifted member of our current “village.” She has the ability to encourage us through our own adversities, having been through one of the worst ordeals one can imagine.

My client, Joe, is entering into his own ordeal as he experiences the degenerative disorder with which he has recently been diagnosed. He will likely feel some sense of separation from others as he adapts to his new reality. My hope for him, and for all of us, is that he enjoys a wonderful homecoming as he comes to terms with – and becomes gifted through – his adversity.

Takeaway points: When you face a challenge, the framework of initiation can help you view your experience as a way to not only learn to endure, but to bounce back stronger and with more focus on the Gift you bring to the world. “Why me?” then becomes “Why not me? This is an ancient and honored process.”

What about you? What kinds of initiations have you experienced? Tell us about them and especially if you are experiencing one now.

*While young men are often the ones who experience the most rigorous initiations, young women have their own types of initiations as well, usually at the onset of menses.


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Bobbi Emel is a therapist who helps people in Los Altos, Palo Alto, Mountain View and the greater Bay Area manage their stress and develop their strengths.
She is effective in helping people dealing with anxiety, worry and grief; and also those who want to improve their effectiveness and performance.