Reasons vs Excuses


All excuses are also reasons, but not all reasons are also excuses.


How many of what you have been lead to believe are excuses, are really just reasons?

According to, the word reason, in its noun form, is defined as:

“A basis or cause, as for some belief, action, fact, event.”

“A statement presented in justification or explanation of a belief or action.” defines the word excuse, in its noun form, as:

“An explanation offered as a reason for being excused; a place offered in extenuation of a fault or for release from an obligation, promise, etc.”

“A ground or reason for excusing or being excused.”

To boil it down, a reason is simply the cause of something.  The excuse actually performs a function for the user of it.  An excuse takes the reason and uses it to justify the presence or absence of other thoughts, feelings, and/or behaviours. defines the word excuse, in its verb form, as:

“To offer an apology for, seek to remove blame of.”

“To serve as an apology or justification for.”

“To release from an obligation or duty.”

“To seek or obtain exemption or release for.”

In the last post, I mentioned the following ideas:

–  we are all prone to creating stories about our lives and behaviour as well as the behaviour of others

–  our minds like to evaluate and predict, speculate and analyze

–  our tendency to analyze and construct explanations is socially supported and reinforced

–  we all struggle with leaving the question “Why?” unanswered

Consider how often parents ask children why they have done something and the responses they most often provide:  “Because” or “I don’t know.”  These are actually more honest answers in some respects but they are rarely seen as satisfactory.

The truth is, there are so many different factors that affect our thoughts, feelings, and behaviours, that it is unlikely that one explanation will ever totally suffice to excuse or explain.

Lets look at some examples to help clarify the difference between reasons and excuses.

A parent may abuse their children because they were abused as children.  It is a reason, but not an excuse.

One person may become hostile with another person because that person is annoying them.  It is a reason, but not an excuse.

One person may become excessively jealous, possessive, and controlling of their spouse because they love them so much they are terrified of losing them.  It is a reason, but not an excuse.

A person may avoid returning to school because they are afraid they may  not succeed.  It is a reason, but not an excuse.

A person may have always wanted to be a professional dancer, but now they are an adult and have not been trained or lack the natural talent.  This is a reason and an excuse for not becoming a professional dancer.  It is not an excuse for not taking dance classes for the fun of it.

A person may have wanted to go to law school but they struggled to complete their undergraduate degree, and could not get the necessary marks on their LSATs despite making several attempts and completing the best preparation courses.  This is a reason and an excuse for no longer pursuing a career as a lawyer.  But is there an excuse for no longer pursuing a career in law?  This person may be able to work as a paralegal, law clerk, legal assistant, or in an administrative position in the courts.

For whatever reason, we aren’t regularly encouraged or prompted to question our assumptions.   When I’m working with a client who seems to be stuck in some sort of avoidance scenario I will ask them a question which is really effective in determining whether or not something can be accomplished, and whether or not we’re looking at reasons or excuses.  I refer to this as the “Million Dollar Question”, and it is as follows:  “If I were to give you $10,000,000.00 to do X (X being whatever they think they cannot do), could you do it?”  Most often the answer will be yes.

Using the aforementioned examples, the question would look like this:

“If I gave you $10,000,000.00, could you stop abusing your children?”

“If I gave you $10,000,000.00, could you not act hostile when people annoy you?”

“If I gave you $10,000,000.00, could you stop being so possessive of your spouse?”

“If I gave you $10,000,000.00, could you return to school and then the workforce?”

“If I gave you $10,000,000.00, could you become a professional dancer?”

“If I gave you $10,000,000.00, could you sign up for dance classes?”

“If I gave you $10,000,000.00, could you become a lawyer?”

“If I gave you $10,000,000.00, could you obtain a career in the law field?”

Notice how these questions can only apply to behaviours.  We do have some control over our feelings, but we don’t have them entirely under our control.  The only thing that is entirely under our control is our behaviour.

We learn to use our feelings as both reasons and excuses for our behaviour or lack thereof.  Many come to therapy to obtain a deeper understanding of the reasons why they are the way they are.  This is useful in and of itself when it comes to matters that relate to self-esteem and self-compassion.  However, in most cases, once that understanding is gained and the process is no longer unconscious, you become responsible for maintaining the status quo, or making change.  You become responsible for the consequences of staying stuck or moving forward.

“To release from an obligation or duty.”

As adults we’re responsible for doing whatever is necessary to further our well-being and happiness.  Do your reasons excuse you?  Is your story working for or against you?  If I were to give you $10,000,000.00, how many parts of your story could you find a way to improve?

All that being said, there is more at play than just fusing with our thoughts and being caught up in our stories.  Next post we will look at how evaluation of our experience can get in our way.

Keep well…





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