Having to make a difficult decision in life is often the cause for a course of therapy. What can make the decision so hard is the fact that there are so many complicating considerations, each carrying its own baggage, so that the decision is anything but clear cut. Each possible choice or variation carries its own consequences, both in outward actions and results in the world, and in internal effects, such as your comfort level with the final decision, your feelings of guilt and responsibility, and the finding of an acceptable explanation for your decision.
In the therapy room, there are no wrong or bad answers. Here clients find it safe to examine all the baggage—every suitcase, steamer trunk, and hatbox—so that they can be looked at and evaluated fairly. Some decisions open up complicated nests of boxes that are only revealed with the help of an impartial, outside observer. Others boil down to one or two ethical issues. A therapist can help you to clarify the issues, examine them, and recognize and accept that each of those issues and complications has worth in its own right before assigning it a judgment or value.
Philip Bromberg, a brilliant analytical psychologist, says that while we function under “the healthy illusion of cohesive personal identity—an overarching cognitive and experiential state felt as ‘me,’” in fact we are made of many “self-states,” that is, a kind of multiple personality state that is present in all of us—all the various versions of “me.” The conventional theory that in therapy we must work to unite these “mes” into one, he says, is misguided. According to Bromberg, we must learn to identify these various personae and work towards helping them coexist, speak to, and nurture each other. This is precisely the model to keep in mind when making those complex, difficult decisions—all the facts and facets of the decision are valid and have good reason for being there. It is natural and to be expected that there are ambivalent feelings, but we must find a way to help them all live together.
It is in living in the complexity, the ambivalence, that we are finally able to weigh the alternatives and choose a course of action. A motivational interviewing technique puts it this way: “What percentage of you wants to do A? What percentage wants B?” What this therapy technique does is to acknowledge that both sides of the conflict have valid points, and that even though one will eventually outweigh the other, it doesn’t mean it isn’t a difficult, complicated decision with valid points all around. What allows us to accept our decision is the knowledge that we have done our due diligence. We have forgiven ourselves for being stranded in Dilemma-ville because we know it has been in a good cause. And, of course, we have accepted that we made the best decision given what we knew at the time, always reserving the right to change our minds later.
If you are ready to explore these or any other issues with a caring, experienced therapist, please call or email David Bowman to arrange for a free, 30-minute phone consultation. Your mental health is worth it. Call (323) 561-2361.
Photo credit: Dan Rozier UNSPLASH