A common message in our society is that being an adult means being responsible for our choices. For many of us, we take this to mean that we admit fault and accept consequences for our actions such that “being responsible” is strongly associated with “being bad.” If this resonates with you, then I have good news! Yes, we should take ownership of our errors, but being responsible involves much more, including understanding the why behind our choices, good or bad. Ultimately, we are responsible for our happiness. We are responsible for making meaning of our experiences. We are responsible for creating and maintaining our life’s purpose. Therefore, after saying you are sorry, it is also useful to ask yourself, “What did I hope for when I made that choice? What can I do differently to achieve the goals that are important to me?”
The choices we make are motivated, whether we realize it or not, by our need to keep some kind of connection with the people and places that are important to us. We make and maintain relationships through our beliefs about the way the world works, beliefs about what we should expect from other people, and beliefs about what we are capable of doing. Our beliefs and expectations begin to form when we are young through our interactions with those people closest to us. Life experiences do not necessarily change those beliefs and expectations. Rather, we usually just find ways to interpret life events into proof that our beliefs and expectations are correct. Why? Because we need stability. We need to live in a world that makes sense to us. If the world makes sense, then our life feels stable, and we have a chance at surviving and thriving. But, here is the dirty little secret all of us carry: We are not as logical as we think we are. Instead, our emotions largely lead us to our choices. Our emotions serve the same function as a soundtrack does for a movie. A plodding feeling of dread informs us our current situation should concern us much like screeching violins inform us something terrible is going to happen on the big screen. Emotions provide us with information. Emotions let us know if there is a mismatch between our environment and our beliefs.
So, do you passively hold on to beliefs? Do you make the same choices despite the limits they place on your life? Do you ignore your emotions and the information they carry? It is uncomfortable to acknowledge that you made choices that hurt someone else or that resulted in perceived failure. However, it is those very uncomfortable feelings that can guide you to your intentions, to what you hoped to accomplish, and to the beliefs that you hold regarding how you meet needs and complete goals. I invite you to do the following: Try to see if you can catch yourself thinking, “I can’t believe I did that again!” or asking yourself, “Why on earth did I do that?” Then, just sit and notice whatever is going on in your body. The tightness in your chest, the funny feeling in your gut, the tension in your shoulders. Just tune into whatever is going on in your body. Just notice it. There is no need to change it. Just notice. Then, go a bit deeper. Focus your attention inward. Are there any emotions you notice? Maybe you feel irritated, embarrassed, guilty, or ashamed. Once you have tuned into the feeling, whatever it is, stay there, just for a bit. You will likely try to escape. You might desire to leap up and find something else to do. I invite you to stay there, with the feeling. Ask yourself, “What did I want? What did I hope for?” You will have to wait. Maybe for just a few moments, maybe for several minutes. But, eventually, thoughts, images, other feelings will arise. What do they tell you? Listen. Pay attention. Your needs matter, because you matter. If you can clarify what you need, then you have much more say over how you meet those needs. It’s your choice.
If you or a member of your household would like to schedule an appointment with a Methodist Healthcare EAP counselor, please call 901-683-5658. All sessions are confidential and currently offered via telehealth.
Carlos Torres holds a PhD in Clinical Psychology from the University of Memphis. He leads the Family Assistance Program at Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital, which provides family of hospitalized patients with mental health services. He is also the EAP counselor for associates at Le Bonheur Hospital.