Making decisions is a very complicated thing for me. It’s not just the decision itself. It’s the 40 contingent decisions coming behind it. I act as if I have to have The One final outcome imagined with detail. I ruminate and fret about decisions because of the terrifying cascade of those 40 extra decisions (that I creatively manufacture) that are tagging along, like a snapping turtle dragged down with weeds entangled around its tail. I produce an Oscar Award-deserving epic film of the next three months of decisions. I try to figure out all the questions and answers on my own, in isolation from the trusted wisdom of peers and elders.
It is not hubris driving that belief-action system; it’s terror. As in a court cross-examination, I make sure I have a reasonable answer for every imagined question, doubt, dissent, or conflict any other person would have. Here’s the kicker. That other person isn’t a reasonable one. They present themselves as The Queen of Hearts. Automatic no. “Off with her head!” No discussion, no consensus-building, no negotiation, no rational justification, no shared humanity, no mutual regard. Just no.
There’s an interesting word choice to my decisions, too. I tend to start from a “you” and “we” standpoint. It might be a royal “We.”
- What would you like to do this afternoon?
- What shall we have for dinner?
- Do you want that turkey sandwich with cheese on it?
Notice how much simpler it gets when I start from an “I” standpoint. It’s taken me 40+ years to figure out that it is not selfish to start from an “I” standpoint. Those decisions are made with detached love toward others and with physical and emotional safety for all involved at the forefront. And it sounds as simple as this: “I have decided I am headed to the lake, you may join me if you like.”
Yes, everyone has the big, huge decisions that occupy their minds, drain their wallets, change the course of their lives, and have major consequences for the people around them. And the complexity and consequences for big decisions are not equitably experienced. It seems reasonable to me that we would each spend a lot of energy working through the cascades of context-based and harm-reducing decisions coming from the big decision.
However, I’m talking about the tiny and inconsequential decisions: what to eat for lunch, what show to watch, what book to read next. I’m making everyday decisions with harsh critics watching over my shoulder. This is one version of what making decisions as a person with cPTSD sounds like and feels like.
I made a big decision recently (like, my foot surgery, yeah?) and I tried a different approach. In 12-Step Programs, we learn that _not_ making a decision right now _is_ also making a decision. Maybe you need more time, more resources, more insights and wisdom from others, more energy, more dreamscape. I flipped that 12-Step idea: What if making that one tiny decision IS the decision? The question: do I want to get these toes fixed now? The decision: I do want to get these toes fixed now.
Notice the question is not, will I get these toes fixed now, and who will do it, how, how will it feel, when, what if…, who will take care of.., and then what about…? Just the simple question, do I want to get these toes fixed now? I decided that I got to be the standpoint of that one decision and that I didn’t have to have sorted out all of the details or be able to storyboard every hour from now until February 2023. I have since proceeded through each hour, day, conversation, question, decision, action with that my decision already made as the standpoint.
I don’t have to know the entire geography of the destination nor what the built environment will look like. I just need to know I’m sailing in the direction of the rising sun.
There are other big decisions I’m pondering right now, and I am taking this new, simplifying, my standpoint, one decision-making question at a time approach. I recognize this may be completely obvious to a sector of humanity; I’m so glad for you, please enjoy your inner serenity and firm foundations of Self. Meanwhile, I’ve had a few insights and breakthroughs in living more serenely with myself.
I recently communicated a decision to a big, one-step question to a couple of my closest friends. Even though I haven’t even taken a major first step into the decision, just stating the decision within my trusted inner circle has had positive, noticeable impacts. I notice already I am building my confidence in speaking about the decision, creating safe space to talk about my fears in that decision, giving a scope of accountability around that decision, and unlocking an abundance of shared wisdom about other people’s experiences with similar decisions. I’ve also been able to serve others with my wisdom of experience on that decision. A lot of humans have covered that particular decision territory; there are maps and guides, you just have to say you’re in the area and ask for some orientation.
When I operated from the standpoint of “you”/“we,” writing the epic, 40-step decision tree, it was a fear- and survival-based mindset. I was trying to change the (imagined) minds of people around me to demonstrate that I am capable, responsible, and independent. “Look at me ‘adult’ through this decision!” Most of what I proved instead was that I haven’t operated from what I want and what works for me, that I have codependent relationships with narcissists, and that I have exceptional skills in being the parent role for other, fully capable adults. By passing my decisions through their (assumed) preferences filters first, I prioritized their experiences in life and limited my options to whatever was left behind. It’s not really living. It’s not really how I’d prefer to spend my days on earth. If I maintain this as my operating system, I’m sure I will regret how I spent my time on earth.
A summary message from my wiser, loving, more expansive self: Making decisions from an “I” standpoint is about curating my experiences, adventures, and life. I want to feel like I did the best and most thorough I could of exploring life, my interests, and relationships with people.
Full disclosure: In writing this post, I went through decision agony with my inner critics. “Don’t sound selfish and callous. Don’t sound like a hurt dog. Don’t swing the pendulum too far from complete supplicant to complete misanthrope. But you didn’t address how systemic inequities differentially affect peoples’ decision-making.” There, that’s my inner cacophony about my decision to write in public about my experience of cPTSD and decision-making. And I’m inviting abundant grace and gentle correction for the unintended missteps and gaps.