Notes from the Coffee Shop: Choice and Denial

Theatrical masks of Tragedy and Comedy. Mosaic...
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“I had no options.”

“I no longer had a choice in the matter.”

“What else could I do? All other avenues were closed to me.”

Phrases like these have been popping up a lot lately.  They’re being uttered by people I know who are, to be quite frank, speaking in self-pitying tones about the various situations which they’ve found themselves in, either by accident or by intention.  While I do care about the people who are saying these things and can sympathize with anyone who’s going through a rough time, a small but integral part of me wants to pour a large dose of tough love down their throats without benefit of spoonful of sugar as a chaser.

I don’t mean to be callous because I know that times are difficult for a lot of people and that life is not full of rainbows, unicorns, and puppies.  I am a person who believes in tough love, though, precisely because I do know that life is so much grittier, uglier, and crueler than most people dare to imagine. I do know what it’s like to find yourself in a miserable situation.   I’ve had those real life George Bailey moments of wishing I’d never been born.  Been there, done that, and worn the t-shirt until it was threadbare.

There is another thing that I know… barring certain severe cognition problems, there are always choices available.  Those choices may not be to our liking, but they are there.  Finding a plate full of distasteful food is not the same as finding an empty plate.  Yet, we often confuse a lack of palatable choices with an absolute lack of choices.   We complain about the lack of option when the reality is that we simply do not like the options in front of us and have failed to find any alternatives.

Even when our choices aren’t readily apparent or seemingly non-existent,  we still have a choice open to us – a choice about our attitude toward any given situation.  We can chose how we react to the circumstances that are handed to us.   There’s no right or wrong answer in our choice, but our choice can make the difference between a smooth path or one filled with obstacles that would have not otherwise existed.  With your choice of attitude, you can make mountains from mole hills or shrink mountains to the size of a grain of sand.

Here’s the thing… when we deny that we have a choice in a situation, we are also absolving ourselves for any responsibility for that situation.  It makes getting sympathy so much easier when we can convince ourselves that we were merely innocent bystanders who got blindsided by a problem.  That makes it okay to sit back and feel bad for ourselves.  Look at this terrible thing that’s happened to us.  What can we do except lick our wounds and let everyone know how horribly we’ve suffered and how powerless we were to prevent it?

Yet, how often are we innocent bystanders in the problems that crop in our lives?  Even when we are blindsided by something totally unexpected (a life-threatening illness for example), we instantly stop being innocent bystanders and become active participants in the situation with choices to make.  Denying the availability of options does not negate their existence.

We allow ourselves to become victims when we relinquish responsibility for ourselves and fail to recognize the choices available to us.  Is this how we really want to view the world, and in turn, how we want the world to view us, as powerless victims in our own lives?  Do we want to be one of those people who aren’t clever, tough, or courageous enough to make the best of a bad situation and to find a way to turn it around?  Do we really want to play the victim and deny responsibility for our own attitudes?  Or do we want to put on our big girl panties/big boy briefs and deal with the unpleasantness that life hands us in a way that is not destructive to our own psyches, lives, and relationships?

Choices are available to us.  First, last, and always we have a choice about our attitude.  We can choose to remain crouched miserably in the wreckage of our personal catastrophes or we can rise phoenix-like from the ashes, dust ourselves off, and move on, a little bit tougher, wiser, and stronger.  There is no one else who can make that decision for us.  It is ours alone for the choosing.

The question is: What choice are you going to make when life throws something unexpected in your path?

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