Dealing with a Tough Situation? Recover Faster by Asking the Right Questions.


Anyone who has ever been stuck in a bad relationship – whether it’s a marriage, a job, dysfunctional family, toxic friends – you know how crappy it feels. There are a million articles out there about how to identify these situations, seven signs of “fill in the blank.” I know. I read everything I can get my hands on. 🙂 And you can get lost in the why. Why did this happen to me? Why did ‘fill in the name” do this to me? Why did my brother die? Why does my child have a disability? Why am I stuck? Why am I here?

This is an important part of the recovery process, don’t get me wrong. But often, we can stuck there, trying to process the why. We can stop there, filling in answers that don’t really help us move forward differently. I believe the only way to move forward and make real, lasting changes in your life starts with asking different questions.

What helps me is the 5W’s and H. This is the standard protocol for gathering information in journalism, one of my fields of study, but I was surprised to learn that it is a standard protocol for other fields, such as detective work. You may have learned about this process in school along the way. I propose that you use this time-tested and approved protocol to help you move forward differently with your life – and recover faster from any tough situation.

We’ll operate under the assumption that you know who has wronged you and the situation that you are trying to recover from and simply jump right into the questions you should ask in order to start the recovery process. Research shows that writing things down helps the recovery process, but do whatever works for you, whether it’s talking things out with people you trust or just thinking about these questions as you move through your daily life.

Here are a few ‘starter’ questions or prompts…I strongly encourage you to add to this list on your own or here. You don’t have to answer them all. Look them over. Go with what takes your attention, as my professors at Columbia College Chicago would tell us in graduate school as we tried to figure out where to start the writing. It’s part of the Story Workshop approach to writing if you’re interested. Pick one. Go.

Who can help me?
Who do I feel safe with?
Who do I trust?
Who makes me feel good about myself?
Who do I need to surround myself with?
Who do I need to let go of?
Who do I need more of – what kind of people?
Who do I need to forgive – or not?
Who am I – who is the “real me”?

What do I need right now, in this moment?
What do I need to feel safe?
What gives me comfort?
What do I need to forgive myself for?
What will help me heal?
What do I want?
What do I believe?
What is my vision for the life I want to have moving forward?
What are my goals?
What do I need to achieve my goals?
What needs to change?
What changes can I make, small or large, in order of priority, to start now?
What is the right way to communicate to others what I need, what I want, what I feel, what needs to change?

Where do I feel safe?
Where can I go to do the work that needs to be done to move forward?
Where can I get the support I need?
Where do I need to go to find other like-minded people?

When is the right time to make a change?
When is the right time to let go of anything that is holding me back?
When is the right time to have a difficult conversation?
When will I decide to stop blaming myself or others and move on?
When is the right time to let go of people or things who no longer fit my life?

How do I move forward differently?
How do I make sure this doesn’t happen again?
How do I stay consistent with the changes I am trying to make?
How do I help the people around me adapt to these changes and support me in my efforts?
How do I best share with others my goals and help them help me get there?

Most importantly, take your time answering these questions, and I encourage you to come up with your own and share them here to help others. We’re all in this together, you know. 🙂

Please note, this is not intended to be therapy or professional advice. I have spent 25 years studying the craft and process of writing – everything from journalism, technical writing, advertising, marketing, corporate communication, creative writing, play writing and poetry to using writing as a way of healing. I have conducted writing workshops of every kind for audiences ranging from businesses to nursing home residents, children and aspiring writers; I’ve taught composition and writing classes as an adjunct faculty member at local universities; I’ve studied and provided creativity coaching to struggling artists; and I work in the corporate world as a storyteller and message strategist. I am not a therapist, but I understand deeply the power of words and the stories we tell ourselves. And like everyone, I have dealt with tough times. So I offer this only as a guide to help you in your own personal journey, whatever it may be. I wish you peace every step of the way. 

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