Making Hard Decisions: Through the Fire of Tough Choice
Making hard decisions is a theme that arises often in Jungian /a-midlife-transition work. I’ve discussed it before, but it’s worthy of further exploration.
One of the things that defines the character of our life is making decisions, even making hard decisions. If we didn’t have this capacity, it would be hard to recognize our lives as human. As John C. Maxwell pointed out,
Life is a matter of choices, and every choice you make makes you.
And on the other hand, as theologian Harvey Cox reminds us,
Not to decide is to decide.
On a visceral level, we know that the reality of choice defines a substantial part of the character of our lives. So, when we encounter situations where major, definitive choices are involved, it can feel like a great deal is at stake. Decisions can often define the shape of our lives. They can also often be tied right up with the things that bring a sense of fundamental meaning to our lives…
Can you recall a time in your life when you faced a really difficult personal choice? What did it feel like for you? Did you find yourself trapped in a place of indecision? How did you go about actually making the choice?
Are you confronting one or more major difficult decisions in your life now? If so, what is it about those decisions that makes the choice so hard?
Making Hard Decisions at Key Points in Our Lives
It is very common for hard decisions to confront us at times when we are making major life transitions. Sometimes a decision is what initiates a major transition. Yet, it may also be that other changes in our lives require making hard decisions. The need for this kind of decision doesn’t emerge in a vacuum.
We often find ourselves on the edge of a major decision as the result of a whole process that has unfolded in our life journey. For instance a decision about relationship, such as getting married, getting divorced or breaking up with someone arrives in our lives as the result of the unfolding of a whole relationship story within that particular relationship, and may well have roots in our life which are far more extensive than that! Similarly, a major career decision may have very deep roots into the most fundamental levels of our identity, and perhaps into conflicting aspects of ourselves.
hardest choices: conflict of values
Why We Tend to Avoid Making Big Decisions
On the one hand, it would be easy to say that the reason we avoid making big decisions is because making big decisions is stressful. While that is certainly true, it doesn’t really give us a clear picture of all that may be going on inside of us. Why is it that making big decisions is stressful?
While scholarly studies are never the be-all and end-all when it comes to issues involving the psyche, there is a very striking study by Kate Barasz of ESSADE and Serena F Haggerty of Harvard that suggests that people will even hope for bad news to eliminate the need for decision so that they can avoid the need to take personal responsibility for the outcome. This relates to a key issue with making hard decisions, namely that it can be hard to accept the responsibility for the outcome.
Related to this is the fact that the very hardest of decisions may involve conflict of values situations. In these situations we’re forced to choose between two things, both of which we value. Such choices may force us to decide which of two valued things we value more. This can be incredibly difficult.
Making Hard Decisions and Our Deepest Values
Making hard decisions involves deep soul searching, and also may well involve genuine sacrifice. In order to face the ordeal of making big decisions, it’s essential to get in touch with our deepest values. If we’re truly seeking our deepest values, we may well have to go into the realm of the unconscious mind, to find what it is that we value on the very deepest levels.
It may seem strange, but sometimes the key to what we most deeply value can be found in our depression or anxiety, or in some of the deepest pains that we have experienced in life. In trying to come to a hard decision, it can be essential to be in contact with, and listening to the parts of ourselves of which we may not usually be aware. The unconscious has an attitude toward the decisions we are going to make, and it may be vital to learn what that attitude is.
Working with a supportive Jungian /a-midlife-transition to explore issues surrounding making hard decisions can be a valuable and affirming experience. It can serve to integrate our conscious and unconscious attitudes toward key decisions in a way that furthers the individual’s journey towards wholeness.
With every good wish for your personal journey,
© 2022 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario