I usually like to start my day with a positive affirmation. Recently I have been moved by those addressing the concept of choice. I find that choice is a reoccurring theme in my life, the lives of my family, friends, colleagues and clients. When it comes to choice and how we respond to it, often it comes down to how one understands choice.
Have you ever said to yourself “What can I do, I have no choice.” Or “It’s out of my hands.” I know that there have been periods in my life where I may have been caught saying these things. When I think about those times I imagine I would have been experiencing some type of defeat, sadness or maybe even frustration. I may have felt loss of control and even engaged in self blaming. Looking back, I realize that however much I may have felt or experienced those things I really did have a choice. How I looked at the various issues, problems, challenges, etc. was a matter of perception. When most of us think of choice we think of choice in the context of decision making. What about choice in the context of response and reaction. We are constantly making choices. Although many times it feels like things are out of our control or is just happening, in reality it is most likely a choice.
What if I said…when I felt defeat, sadness, frustration, etc. I chose to feel those things. I chose to experience defeat in that moment. I chose to experience sadness in the moment. Or I chose to experience frustration in that moment. I could have chosen a number of different responses; however, in those particular moments at those particular times, I chose defeat, sadness or frustration. Why?
Within the frame of existential therapy it is believed that there are various givens in life. These givens of death, freedom, meaning and isolation may impact each of us at various points in our lives, sometimes simultaneously. We has humans may find ourselves struggling with one or another from time to time. Existential therapist may believe that at times frustration and difficulty with choice or recognizing choice may be related to ones belief and experience of freedom. In the United States, the home of the free, we often find ourselves stuck when it comes to freedom. Often we may seek freedom, but while doing so, we avoid responsibility. This avoidance of responsibility overtime leads to a sense of loss of choice. When we avoid responsibility and choice we avoid who we really are and what is truly important to oneself. In response one may find themselves blindly following something they think they believe in, but are not completely sure. If this happens repeatedly we gradually find ourselves losing sight of our own values, ethics and beliefs, in an attempt to please and go along with someone or something else. When this happens it then leads to experiences of loss of control, feeling as though things are out of your hands and that you have no choice, when in reality you may be struggling with taking responsibility for your own choice: choice of response, reactions, behaviors, beliefs, ethics, and values.
In my own experiences I began to realize that when I had those experiences of defeat, sadness, frustration, I felt the way I did because I was losing sight of who I was and what was most important to me in spite of the opinion and beliefs of others.
As you embark on a journey of mental health recovery you will find over time that you will also begin to see choice in areas that you never noticed before. The truth is we spend the majority of our lives constantly seeking control, and it is when we start to recognize choice and responsibility in our behaviors, actions, thoughts, reactions, responses, etc. we experience control more than ever. When one feels like choice is out of control, step back and ask yourself “who am I?” and “what is important to me?”