Jennifer Soldner INFJ
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Questioning the Answer to Why

Recognizing Red Flags and Abuse Tactics

I have always been the type of person to ask questions.  I crave knowledge and understanding.  I live for truth and transparency.  My favorite question has always been and will continue to be "why?"

"Why" is a very powerful and telling question.  It seems like it would be simple.  You ask why and someone gives you the reason.  And yet, there is a second very important component to asking the question and that is understanding how to read the answer.

I was raised in a very abusive home in which my parents ensured they altered my perception of reality.  They would use my inquisitive nature to their advantage with emotional manipulation and truth distortion.  On top of my home environment, I was also a student of the public school system.  A system which thrives on the "do as you're told" model.

Between these two environments, I was still standing firm constantly asking why.  But unfortunately, I did not know enough to understand the answers.

When I asked my parents why, I was met with subtle personal attacks, statements that informed me I was a problem or that I was broken.  Belittled and threatened, it silenced me, keeping me from seeking deeper.

At school, I was punished for asking why, told I was a "trouble maker" or "difficult."  Other students would mock me, ironically calling me "stupid" for asking questions or I was considered "nerdy" for wanting to know more, to the point that I was frightened to speak.

I knew to ask why, but I never knew how to read the answers.  Everyone encourages you to ask.  It sounds good and builds trust among authority.  But where is the rest of the picture?  Here I want to give you a list of red flags that can help you decide whether the answer to your inquiry is trustworthy, positive, uplifting and well-intentioned or abusive, blinding and a technique to silence you.

Red Flag Responses

Attack of your character.  This is usually the first tactic used by those who wish to silence you and discourage any further questioning because it is easy to miss and very effective.  By answering your question with a response which is directed at you, your thoughts or your character, the person switches focus from themselves and points your thoughts directly at you, throwing you off balance and leaving you to think you are the problem.

These responses can be through words but are even less difficult to decipher through tones.  Tones that imply you are less intelligent, difficult or an inconvenience or that leave you feeling like they are more important than you, are a huge red flag, no matter what their words may say.

Phrases like: "Why don't you ever listen?" "You should all ready know why." Or "why do you always have to waste time with questions?" are all responses which shift the focus from the person you are questioning right onto you.

Limiting additional questions.  This is a big one in politics or public authority like teachers.  They open up "dialogue" by asking for questions but then cut off further questions insisting that they do not have time or that the questions are not important to other people.  Those who sincerely want you to understand why will take the time to ensure that you have no further questions, even if that means rescheduling to continue the discussion.

Responding with questions.  Abusive or controlling individuals are almost like salesmen.  They enjoy holding up a mirror to reflect all questions right back to you.  Much like attacking your character, this keeps the spotlight off of them and puts it anywhere else, confusing the inquirer and ensuring that they never have to offer information.

If asking why is met with, "why nots" and "why do you thinks," then you can be sure they do not have a legitimate or genuine reason.  Transparent and emotionally healthy individuals answer questions directly, not with additional questions.

Cookie-cutter responses.  There are a handful of answers to the question "why" that I refer to as cookie-cutter responses as they are used across the board, in a variety of avenues by a variety of individuals.  Sometimes the responder genuinely believes in these responses as they were never taught to question or think outside of the box and other times people using these phrases are abusive, unhealthy or hiding something.  These responses are things like:
  • "Because that's just what you're supposed to do" or "that's just the way life is."
  • "Because we have always done it this way."
  • "Because so and so told us to" or "Because I said so."
If you receive a cookie-cutter answer, it is time to look for another source, look into your own beliefs or dig a little deeper for responses.

Withholding information.  Those who do not want others to question them usually feel more powerful or obtain more control through hoarding information.  If you ask why and they seem hesitant to answer or leave you feeling more confused than before, then they are probably withholding pertinent information to your question.  

Green Flag Responses
There are those who genuinely want others to ask questions, to understand why and to challenge their way of thinking.  These are the people of whom everyone should strive to surround themselves.  These are emotionally mature and transparent individuals who believe everyone is equal and everyone is valuable.  Their responses are usually one of the following:

Encouraging more questions.  Transparent people who want you to understand and reach further are more likely to encourage you to ask as many questions as you wish.  They will not cut you off or use tactics to scare you into silence.

Answering directly.  They also will answer questions with a direct response appropriate to the question.  You will not feel like you are getting the run around or leave the discussion confused.  They want to give you straight-to-the-point, thorough answers.

Offering resources.  Healthy individuals will not withhold information or stifle your questioning.  Rather they want to give you as much information as they have available, including offering you additional resources to seek further.  They clearly have nothing to hide and nothing to hoard.

"I don't know, but let's find out."  My favorite green flag responses are from those who wish to grow together.  Someone who says "I don't know" but insists you move forward anyways is not working in your best interest.  However, one who admits they do not know why and wish to work together to find out prior to making any decisions forward, or those who encourage you to pursue more knowledge on your own are the ones who want you to ask why, who want you to feel comfortable in the answer and who are willing to help you grow and learn as an equal individual.

The question "why" is a powerful one.  It can transform the way we live our lives and alter the perception of those around us.  It launches radical thinking, mold-breaking and world-altering actions.  Abusers and power-seekers know this and fear this and for that reason, they thrive on manipulating their responses.

In order to live in our personal truth and continually seek out answers, we must go beyond simply asking why and learn how to interpret the responses, always pushing forward with open minds and hearts while guarding ourselves from toxic individuals.


  1. Jennifer - as a fellow 'Questioner,' I recognise a lot of the situations you describe here. I agree that some people in these circumstances are indeed abusive, or at least 'not good for us', but as I've got older, I've also realised that sometimes, other people, for many and various reasons (such as having problems of their own), are just not good at handling someone else's questions, so they fall back on this type of hostility.
    I was an unusually intelligent child (not sure what happened since ! Not really true - I do know - it's down to the cumulative effect of depression, anxiety etc. [I'm the person who posted Anon. the other week, starting, "I'm very new to all this (yes, I have been living under a rock!)..."].
    Some of my teachers took great pleasure in this, and enjoyed teaching a child who loved learning and was always seeking more knowledge, more answers. Some, however...didn't. If I'd been the rather bratty, look-at-how-clever-I-am kid, well...My problem was that I was the sensitive, anxious, shy kid...which unfortunately will always bring out the bully in some people.
    My class teacher when I was 7 was this type.She would actually encourage other kids to bully me (not explicitly of course, but they followed her lead, and knew there would be approval, not punishment). Looking back, I can see that, sadly, she felt threatened by a child who was cleverer than her.
    I would never condone bullying of any kind, but having been in other, similar situations over the years, I've realised that people often behave in this way when, unconsciously, they cannot cope with the feelings aroused. They feel inadequate in some way,(even though you have not, in any way, tried to make them feel like that) and so turn it around and attack you
    .I think the lesson here is that, in the modern, highly competitive world, very many people who seem outwardly confident are struggling with their self-esteem, and have no other coping strategy than to attack, bully, belittle. What a world it would be if instead we learned to listen, accept, understand, ...and love. But society gets ever faster-paced, more cut-throat, less tolerant. There is more of a need for forums like this, not less. Problem is, the people who REALLY need to read this, don't. It's the ones on the receiving end who come here for help and solice, not the ones who need to change their ways. I hope in particular that younger people, whose minds are still forming, will see your words and realise that they are not the problem. When you begin to understand other's motivations, and even have empathy for them, somehow they start to lose their power over you.
    Western societies still view aggression as strength, compassion as weakness. The Chinese sage Lao Tsu [forgive me if spelling is wrong] wrote: "Water is fluid, soft and yielding. But water will wear away rock, which is rigid, and cannot yield. What is soft, is strong." Wise words.

  2. I love your blog. Each of your posts is so educating, so illuminating; incredibly elucidating. Reading this one brought up many flashbacks of my own childhood. I too have always been a questioner, and was brought up in a physically and emotionally abusive and manipulative family life. I've always wondered when I stopped feeling comfortable asking questions or why simply not knowing something and having to ask has always brought up these intense negative emotions of inadequacy. This blog post helped open my eyes and realize a large part of that has to do with my parents. Yet another aspect of my personality that I can directly chalk up to how I was raised. I'm curious now to find out how many other INFJs grew up in similar environments and so learned to shape their temperaments according to external demands and how to best create a safe mental haven, etc, etc.
    Thank you!

  3. Hello again Jennifer, and Andrea - I'm spotting patterns, here! As you know, the received wisdom in psychiatry and psychology is of 'cycles of abuse', so it would seem possible to most people reading your accounts of chilhood, that your parents may also have received such negative parenting themselves, and repeated the pattern.(Please don't be offended if you know this isn't true in your case.)
    In my own family, I can see that, passing from my grandparents to my dad to me.However, my mum's dad suffered an appallingly abusive childhood at the hands of his stepdad... but was a wonderful dad & grandad, himself. Proof to me, at least, that we can break these corrosive cycles [although I have no evidence on the stepfather's upbringing, but they were good step-grandparents to my grandad.]
    I do wonder, however, how many relationship problems, of all kinds, are caused by personality incompatibility - it's clear from blogs like this, and other sources, that most of us do not really understand our own natures, let alone other people's, so it's no surprise that we often misinterpret behaviour, and then react to it in negative ways.Again, I can see with my dad and me, that he simply has no understanding of 'how I work' , so despite all my efforts, we cannot 'fix' things.
    Thankfully, there are people like you, Jennifer, trying to shine a light into the fog of personality and brain functioning - and more people out there, seeking this information. Imagine if all schools taught us how to understand ourselves & each other, right from the beginning! When we all lived in small, tribal groups, we must have been better at 'reading' each other, but sadly, modern life seems to have made us lose these essential skills.You can see it so clearly in cities, where people deal with the 'threat' of so many strangers by just ignoring them. The people like me, who deal with this uncomfortable situation with friendliness...well, we're the 'weird' ones, and yet people tell complete strangers all kinds of things on the internet, every day, and that is 'normal' ! Over here, we say, "there's nowt so queer as folk !" , so true, but here's hoping that, over time, we get a little better at understanding and accepting our own, and others, unique 'queerness' !
    I'm still new here, but the blogs I've read so far are clearly a great help to your readers, Jennifer - thank you.

  4. Andrea and Miss R., thank you for your insightful comments! I love conversations on these topics, especially to help open the eyes of other readers! I agree whole-heartedly about the cycle of abuse. But each and every one of us has a choice, always. I know there are negative pieces of myself due to the abuse I endured as a child, but now it is up to me to own those pieces and do all I can to be a better person for me.

    I sincerely believe that each one of us is on a path to discover who we are and only then can we begin to accept others as they are. It wasn't until I began looking into myself and what made me "tick" that I could recognize that others are on their own journeys to do the same.

    Learning about different personality types is an eye-opening place to start, and I can only wonder what other differences and similarities each and every one of us has that has yet to be discovered!


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