As a coach, and back when I was a counselor, more often than I like to think, people who were unhappy in their lives told me that they had “no choice” in terms of changing their situations. Sometimes when we say or think that we have no choice, we really do. There are two main sources of this confusion. One is our own thinking, the other is the behavior of those around us. A third may lie in what we believe about the behavior of those around us. If we can identify WHY we think we have no choice it becomes easier to see the reality.
Here are some of the reasons why some adults may believe that they have no choice when, in fact, they have options that they have never even considered:
Family training. When we were very young it was often in our parents’ best interests, and, in some ways, in our best interests, too, to convince us that we, willful and unguided as we were, did not have a choice as to whether we followed their advice or commands.
Fear of responsibility. Having no choice means having no responsibility. If we have no responsibility, we cannot be blamed if things do not go as hoped.
Fear of the unknown. Often the choices that we pretend we cannot see represent a step into the unpredictable. Sometimes what is familiar, even if it is not what we would choose for ourselves, seems more desirable than the gamble that is the unknown. The question to ask yourself is, at the end of your life, do you want to look back and see that what you have now is what you will have had always? If not, when will you make the change?
Fear of knowing we are in a rut. Facing the fact that we have a choice might be to face the fact that we have become settled and unchanging. To face this is to accept that we have given up on our youthful dreams of adventure and excitement. Is it time to face our unwillingness to accept the challenge of those dreams, and to ask ‘If not now, then when?’
People around us have an agenda that tries to prevent us from choosing. It is not uncommon for people to have an agenda that does not include allowing you to exercise choice. To take an extreme example, an abusive partner will often go to great lengths to convince the victim partner that s/he has no alternative but to stay in the relationship. In less extreme ways, others may attempt to brainwash us that their way is the only possible way. To counter this we need to maintain our mental and emotional independence. (This may call for support from an outside source.)
The present situation serves our purpose. Others are not the only ones who can play mind games. We may play mind games with ourselves, and believe that we would like to have a choice when in fact we don’t want to change. If we say we don’t like what we have, yet we fail to change it, should we perhaps consider what benefit we are getting out of it? There must be something, or we would go ahead and make the change. It is important to identify what is holding us back from what we think we want.
Lack of practice in considering alternatives. Some of us have never learned to consider alternatives, or to think critically about our situations and the alternatives. Life just IS and that is the end of it. Sometimes such people can learn to make choices for themselves, and be empowered thereby. Sometimes the change is too difficult.
The alternatives are possibilities we don’t want to consider. Quite frequently when we say we don’t have a choice we mean that none of the alternatives is acceptable to us. Sometimes those alternatives have been rejected for good reason, perhaps for one of the reasons listed above. Before you say you have no choice, write a list of alternatives, however crazy and unacceptable. Then write down the reason for rejecting each one. Then question the validity of each reason.
Fear of losing someone. Perhaps we are used to someone else making all the choices, and believe that the relationship will be threatened if we start to choose for ourselves. Perhaps we believe that our alternatives would be unacceptable to that person. Before jumping to that conclusion, try clear communication to find out for sure what the reaction would be to your various alternatives. If they are not willing to allow your choices, consider carefully whether the relationship is worth the loss of your freedom.
Believing that whatever is happening to us is God’s will, or Fate. Your religious belief is your belief, and that is up to you. But most religions indicate that one of the greatest gifts that we human beings have been given is free will, which is the ability to make choices, and to alter our circumstances. If this gift has been given to us, it seems a bit ungrateful not to use it, does it not? (My mother who was very devout, had a saying… “Pray as if it all depends on Got, and then work as if it all depends on you.” I think that about sums it up.)