I was so triggered. The words were, “I didn’t have a choice.” Realistically, there are many, many things we do not choose in life. We do not choose where and when we are born or who we are born to. Consequently, we do not choose what genes are in our DNA. We do not choose our innate personality traits. We do not really choose our survival patterns; we unconsciously grew those as we needed them. We do not consciously choose quite a bit of what drives us on a daily basis. Generally, something was modeled to us when we were young, and we form ideologies, beliefs, habits, addictions, fears, desires, and various values based on those models. Well now, if there are so many things we do not choose, why do I get so triggered?
Historically I am triggered when I hear, “I didn’t have a choice,” because of the times it has been used against me to rationalize shitty behavior. I want to scream, “Well who tf is making your choices for you?” Yes, yes, I see I need some growth in this area. That is the point. Growth. Every good parent works to meet the physical, intellectual, and emotional needs of a new human. In our state of continual growth, i.e. imperfection, all family systems pass along some versions of dysfunction that the kids will need to disentangle themselves from as they take responsibility for their own lives. They not only have to consider if they want to continue the beliefs or habits they saw modeled by their parents, they have to look at themselves and see if some of the models created something wholly unacceptable in their current interior worlds. Something created from the combination of the model and their particular reaction to the model. That kind of growth means we are taking responsibility for our own lives.
Believe it or not when I say take responsibility I am not saying “Do better.” I love the honesty of kids on this point. The ones who feel loved, when you ask them, “Why did you do that?” will just come out with a basic truth, “I don’t know.” Geez I would much rather hear an “I don’t know,” before an “I didn’t have a choice.” I say the ones who feel loved, because the ones who do not will lie more often than the norm. Quick and easy. And maybe it will become a habit and they will continue to lie into adulthood and they won’t just lie to you, they will lie to themselves and really won’t know how to make a choice. Growing up is hard when we get stuck in patterns. This is a place where responsibility will look like asking for help, a willingness to change, or a willingness to face personal realities.
I was thinking about this in the arena of ideology. As much as there are no formulas for life; theoretically, when an individual has made a conscious choice in the area of belief, it can take away any underlying insecurity of those beliefs. (I do not mean “certainty” when I say security, certainty is another issue.) Nothing pulled from someone else truly creates security in the independent human spirit. Being secure is important because it is the opposite of defensive. We don’t have to try to convince others that we are “right” because it doesn’t matter who agrees with us or doesn’t. Once we go through the process, we are more inclined to allow others to do it as well. Finally, walking through a changing vision of what is a vital part of one’s inner world will also give us the power to be willing to change as we continue to grow. As we grow and change, we must note the times we were dumb as a rock and so let go of a little hubris along the way, right? Wow, wouldn’t it be amazing if we could have conversations about the important issues in life without the threat of losing relationships? Wouldn’t it be nice to feel so free that we can allow others to have their freedom as well?
Some choices are no fun. Some we will need help with. Many have far reaching consequences on everything that our life touches. I’m not talking magical thinking here. A person with bipolar disorder does not have a choice in the diagnosis, but she can choose how to treat it. I can choose to start working on my shit attention to detail so I do not keep ending up in the same messed up situations over and over again.
I am reminded of the serenity prayer’s advice to take control of the things we can control and let go of the rest. One of my good friends always reminds me, when the circumstances of life feel heavy, that the only response is to ask, “What am I going to do with it?” Victor Frankl is oft-quoted as well, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” This from a man in a concentration camp! Wow, if he can have this attitude, damn right I am going to go for it as well. Carl Jung puts it this way, “The meaning of my existence is that life has addressed a question to me. Or, conversely, I myself am a question which is addressed to the world, and I must communicate my answer, for otherwise I am dependent upon the world’s answer.”
If you think you do not have a choice, someone sold you bad information. No way are all choices the same for all people, and sometimes the choices may be limited, but they are still ours to make or not make. We are also dumbasses at times and will not make the best choices out there, I can testify to that. But knowing we have them, we can also be responsible for them and learn to deal with the consequences.
And if you feel stuck all the time and can’t really figure out what choices to make you can remember that whole imperfection thing, to paraphrase Kierkegaard, “Do it or don’t do it, you’ll regret both.” Life is not perfect, but it should at least be yours.