One of the most common things I hear in my therapy practice goes something along the lines of this:
“I feel stuck. I just don’t know what to do or how to make choices about [fill in the blank about career, relationships, life choices in general…]. What do I do? How do I get unstuck?”
Does this feel familiar? Maybe you’ve been wrestling with a question for a few weeks or a few years now, turning choices over and over and over like:
“Is he the one?” “Do I really want to stay in this career field?” or “Do I really want to settle in the Bay Area? I can’t move back to the Midwest, can I?”
I have huge compassion for feeling stuck and not able to make a choice about something you dearly — maybe even urgently — want or need to. I’ve been there many times myself.
Feeling stuck is an often painful, vulnerable, frustrating, and vitality-draining place to be in so I particularly love working with therapy and coaching clients when they’re in this place, gently holding them through the pain and struggle and helping them to shift their stuckness and arrive at choices, insights, and decisions that feel true, tolerable, and enlivening for each of them.
Today I want to share some of these same nitty gritty realities, reframes, and inquires I use with my clients when they’re feeling stuck (the very things I wish someone had shared with me a few years back!) to help you if you’ve been feeling stuck/torn/on-the-fence/ indecisive/resistant to making choices somewhere in your own life. So pour yourself a cup of tea and read on…
Nitty Gritty Truth #1 About Choices: Making life’s big decisions actually *is* tricky business
“Personal identity is always in the process of being formed by the very business of making these endless choices. We are, so to speak, constructing the vehicle even as we attempt to ride in it and steer it. And moreover, we must construct it of materials we pick up as we go along.” — Jim Bugental, PhD
The ability to notice our impulses, imagine them into possible choices, and act on them intentionally and decisively is what gives color, shape, and form to the very identity of our lives.
Every single part of this statement — from noticing to birthing to acting — requires self-awareness, sensitivity, and courage. [b]No part of this process is necessarily easy and particularly not so when it comes to the biggest choices of our lives — how to shape our careers, who we want to partner with, how we want to live out our legacy, and so forth.
And yet, we’re called upon to do this Every. Single. Day. and moreover, as the quote above from famed psychotherapist Jim Bugental, PhD suggests, we’re often forced to do this on the fly, basically making choices (and our lives) up as we bump along the road of life. If you’ve ever felt like you were making it all up as you went along, you basically are.
So can we please just all have some compassion for the fact that making choices often isn’t exactly easy? It’s actually supposed to be hard sometimes. Making choices about the big ticket items in our lives is nothing less than the action of identity-formation.
And, to top it all off, the process is harder still if we – for whatever reason – haven’t learned how to notice, name, and honor our deepest needs and wants. For instance, if you were raised in a home where it wasn’t safe or supported for you to have needs and wants, this may add a whole other layer of complexity and challenge to your current ability to make life’s big choices.[
So if you’re feeling stuck with some area of your life right now, torn between options, sitting on the fence waiting for a sign, please be gentle with yourself. You’re not alone. Not in the least. This decision making stuff is challenging for many of us but seeking out skilled support can be a big help.
Nobody said that any of this was going to be easy, but we’re here to help you navigate tough choices. Sign up for a free subscription to read more from licensed psychotherapist and LMFT Annie Wright.