Do We Really Have Choice About What We Feel & Think? Or Don’t We?

Well, of course, we all have choice. But we may not always remember that it’s not as simple as it might seem. Choice is a popular theme these days. You’re told you have it. You’ve probably even told your clients they have it. But in reality, it’s a bit more complex; and when you’re involved in helping others (and yourself), it’s wise to honor that complexity.

You do have choice, but you don’t have real choice until you’re aware the choice you feel you’re making isn’t truly a choice at all. It’s just the result of a powerful unconscious conditioning

True choice is a higher level option. It requires more awareness than you think. But more importantly, and the point of this post, is that true choice requires the unconscious to actually give you a choice.

Having only one response to a situation, circumstance, or object is called a phobia. Add in the availability of a second response, and you’ve now placed yourself in a dilemma. But acquire a third option of response, and you finally have the freeing sense of a psychological choice – and that feels really good!

We can be so convinced that we have a choice that we don’t stop and explore the immediate response/reaction arising. You’ve probably even heard yourself say, ‘I didn’t have any other choice.’ That actually might have been true.  And if so, it was the result of not having any other option available to you, or none better than the one you choose.

• You don’t have a real choice unless you have more than one response to choose from. 

• When you only have two, it never feels like a good choice, because you want something from both ways of responding.

• So to find that third option, learn to stop and wait a moment. 

• Explore what that third option of response could actually be.

• When you’ve got at least three (for yourself or your clients), then you’ve got the freedom to make a true, conscious choice.

Many in the helping professions live by the principle that we always have a choice.  Well, here’s the complexity. We do … and … we don’t.

Overlooking this complexity will overshadow the reality that without conscious awareness of multiple options, meaningful choice is really not happening.  The best guideline I’ve ever found assumes we will always make the best choice available to us.  So if it’s a terrible choice, you know better options simply weren’t there to choose from.

This can save you, and your client, a lot of heartache. When any of us are locked into an automatic unconscious reaction, the last thing we want to hear is that we have a choice – because we know we don’t.

Honor your client’s reality and take the time to create those additional options before you verbalize those powerful words: You have a choice here!

What do you think? Please feel free to leave your comments below. We’d love to hear from you.

Meanwhile, may you be happy and feel at peace,

2 thoughts on “Do We Really Have Choice About What We Feel & Think? Or Don’t We?

  1. You have put words to a topic that distresses me greatly. I agree that we often react in the moment out of unconscious conditioning, trauma reactions, phobic imprints, much of it being the automatic triggering of the fight or flight reaction. When a person is in fight or flight, they are reacting, not in a place where mindful reflection and conscious decision making is available to them. They make, as you said, the best decision they can in the moment knowing what they consciously know at that moment. As they heal old traumas they learn alternate ways to respond in future situations so their reactions are more constructive, but this is really not possible until, as you said, they have that new conscious awareness. I strongly encourage therapists and people in general not to spout the current new age idea that everything is a choice without realizing that this discounts the person’s immediate experience and asks them to make a shift that they can only make at the conscious level at best. I do think everything is a choice, but getting to that is quite a journey and not a finger snap 🙂


  2. Thanks for sharing your comments, Amy. The more of us who honor the reality that conscious choice is not a ‘snap’, the more likely we are to relax and be more able to make conscious choice with greater relaxation and clarity. Best to you. Ragini


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