‘There’s no point even thinking about it’, says Adam*, ‘it’s not like I have a choice.’
We’ve been talking for half an hour, and the topic that comes up again and again in our sessions is how stuck Adam feels in his relationship.
Faced with things staying the same, the only other option, in his mind, is to leave. Both ideas seem unbearably painful. He sinks back into his chair, looking and sounding defeated.
It can feel awful, when you don’t seem to have any options in life. The feeling of being trapped, the anxiety and cold sweats, the unvoiced anger that spills out into snappishness. Your mind goes round in circles, thinking increasingly desperately about all the options, including walking out one morning and not coming back, jacking it all in, having an affair, working even harder to spend less time at home.
You can translate this picture into any other situation where you feel trapped: an awful work situation, a stuck relationship with parents or siblings, a broken friendship or even a relationship with yourself (though you can’t run away from you, however much you’d like to sometimes.)
Of course, when someone says there is no choice, it’s rarely strictly true. What they often mean is there is no choice without consequences. And it’s those consequences that can feel terrifying. ’She’ll hate me’, ‘He’ll collapse without me.’, ‘She’ll feel betrayed’, ‘He’ll never speak to me again.’ You can add to the list for all the fears you may have about taking a choice.
When you think about it, there are fundamentally three choices behind everything: do nothing, do the same thing as before, do something different. It’s as simple as that at one level.
If it were that easy though, we’d all be going through change like a breeze and certainly without the need for counsellors.
3 ways of looking at choice
So here’s another way of looking at choice. Imagine being able to take a decision from a place of emotional freedom. This doesn’t mean feeling no fear, anxiety, anger, sadness or other feelings. Quite the opposite. It’s about allowing all those feelings to be present and to know you can make a choice in any case, from a deeper place, a more centered one.
A second way of thinking about choice is this. A choice is just a choice. Yes it has consequences but it’s nothing more or less than a decision to do one thing, or not. That’s not to say it’s not important but it’s just that one thing to do. Once it is done it is done. You can’t undo it, or change it. That feels scary but it can also be liberating.
A third way of thinking about change is what is the smallest thing I can change right now? We often think in terms of big sweeping changes; the dramatic exit, the storming out, the Jerry Maguire moment. But actually that can be completely overwhelming and might not be needed at all.
If you think about the small steps you can take for change – getting up 15 minutes earlier to have some alone time, turning off the TV and just talking, find ways of reconnecting sexually with your partner through sharing intimate moments and starting with something simple like holding hands. All those are small steps that can help you feel like you have more choice and control in your life.
These small steps can be the catalyst for change. You can feel good each time you do one, but equally it’s not the end of the world if you don’t.
This week’s lifeline
This exercise is about helping you with those small steps. Start with creating a quiet space for yourself and have writing implements with you.
Take some time to ground yourself, paying attention to your breath.
When you’re ready, think of an area in your life where you feel you have no choice. Bring the situation fully to mind and consider your relationship to that situation in vivid detail. Who is involved? Where is it happening and when? How does it make you feel?
Imagine now a path of stepping stones moving away from this situation along a path towards a sunny meadow, which seems to be alive with that early summer ease: warmth, light, the humming of insects, bird song, whatever brings a place of safety and ease to mind. This is the place you can get to, once you feel you have choice.
Now imagine yourself preparing to make this journey. The journey begins with the first and smallest step.
If you could take that step away from your current situation, what would it be? Just the smallest thing?
Imagine yourself taking that first step and see what comes to mind: a word, phrase, image, feeling and see if you can really connect with making that first small step.
When you have something in mind, come back to your breath and when you are ready gently open your eyes and write about your experience.
Did something come to mind? Or nothing at this stage. If nothing came, that’s ok too. It’s perhaps not quite the right time, but it might be worth trying again soon.
Do you feel like you have no choice?
If you feel stuck in your life, and as if you have no choice, counselling can help you work through the stuckness and to tap into the resources you have for change. I offer counselling in Totnes and online to support people through change in their life. If you’d like to arrange a first appointment, why not get in touch by emailing me or calling me on 07443 640556?
*BTW Adam isn’t a real client. All client sessions are confidential but he represents something I often hear from clients I work with. Just needed to say that, in case you were wondering.