The Price of Our Choices

It’s been some time since I last wrote some psychotherapy stuff. My life was more or less a roller-coaster during the last couple of years, while changing countries and languages, and trying new things like personal development & leadership stuff, psychiatry articles, socio-political articles, writing my Romanian language book or creating mobile apps. But during the last months I began to feel the need to settle and do what I do best: explaining psy stuff. Although my personal writing articles will likely continue (as my workplace undoubtedly triggers me), I felt I need to grow (towards what?) and resume my psychological (spiritual?) quest, hence the return of my psychotherapy articles.

Some time ago I said that everything in life has a price. If it’s not a dream or a surprise, if it’s a goal, then you must pay for it. So make sure it’s your goal and not someone else’s. Dreams are free, surprises (miracles or troubles) come without your intervention, but goals must be paid with your effort or your time or something else. Today I want to expand a bit this subject, using a psychotherapy frame.

If you take a look at the image I made and attached above, you can see the 3 main nasty emotions and some concepts that sit opposite them. For those who don’t know, there are roughly 5 main emotions: anxiety (angst, fear, panic), anger (fury, rage), sadness (often mistaken for depression, in this case above seen in an existentialist way as the lack of fulfilling one’s desires), joy (which rarely requires psychological assistance, unless it’s a manic state, for instance) and surprise (which has limited value in psychotherapy, as it fades rapidly in time). Opposite anxiety is the need for stability/safety, opposite anger is the need for power/control and opposite sadness is the need for pleasure/comfort. And there is a logic behind the entire model, a logic some of you might be familiar with from the Jungian psychology – the logic of the extremes, of light and shadow – namely, if you exaggerate in one direction, the opposite grows accordingly. To simplify things, there is a simple rule that goes like this:

The need of … leads to the opposite emotion …

I’m not suggesting anything here; everybody is free to do (or be driven by) whatever he/she wants, but it would be a good idea to assume consequences. That is, assume the price to be paid.

Some people need a lot of power and control in their life. They want to be free to do what they want, they want to control many aspects of their lives (money, relationships, other people, etc.), but by doing this, they fall prey to anger. Remember: Nothing in this life is under control!

“Why are you so stupid? Why do I have to do everything in your place? You’re my headache!”
“I wanted to be a freelancer, an entrepreneur who’s his own boss, but I can barely sleep because of the stress involved… I have to deal with a lot of idiots, with a lot of weak-minded individuals who are not open enough or too lazy and bureaucratic. I fight every day with these individuals so as to stay relevant and earn my money… I am a lone wolf, I hunt alone and eat alone, but I must guard myself aggressively.”
“I am the head of the department. I am squeezed daily between the political power and my team. My family says they can barely cope with my daily anger…”
“The patient told me that he stopped medication without telling me. He told me that while smiling. I am a control-freak. I wanted to kill him right away. I worked for many months to heal him and he just ruined everything in a couple of days.”
“It drives me mad when patients don’t come for the monthly checkup. Why don’t they phone to tell me they won’t come?!”

As you can see in these random examples I created on the spot, every time we (or I) want to control stuff or exert my power on others (or situations, or things), I must be ready to face the emotion of anger. This is the price – the right price – for being too controlling (or power-hungry). Don’t tell me life is unfair! It is normal to feel anger, but you just thought an exception will be made just for you, right?… No, it won’t be made! Also, be aware that sadness and anger can look similar. When I make it back home after a tiresome day in which I struggled with all kind of people, I might tend to say I’m depressed (sad), while in fact I’m exhausted by excessive anger. Know the difference!

Some people need a lot of safety and stability in their life. They want to play it safe. But a steady life, a predictable life in which everything relies on precedence (carefully prior designed strategies), will give birth to anxiety. Remember: Nothing is truly foreseeable in this life! And nothing lasts! We’re building sand castles!

“I secured a beautiful family, I have healthy kids, a good job… but since my neighbor got cancer, I started to have panic attacks. I am afraid I might lose everything now. What shall I do?”
“My children are living and working abroad. They are happy there, I visited them on several occasions and they are fine. Yet, I am worried about them all the time. See all these terrorist attacks everywhere? It’s not like having them with me, under my eyes, every day. Who knows what might happen to them?!”
“I bribed everybody and did all kind of things to make it to this job… don’t make me mention them!… On several occasions I even had to sacrifice my friends and blackmail one close family member so as to get to the top. Now I live everyday with the fear that I might lose what I conquered. I am always on the lookout for potential danger. It’s becoming stressful to be always watchful (fearful).”
“I returned to this place where nothing happens. I go to work and come back home. All is well. But it’s so freaking boring… And for some time now… I am quite restless when night falls… Could it be anxiety?”

Safety and stability are a huge source of anxiety. People are afraid that the status quo might one day meet its end. People are afraid of change. Change can also be the very fact that one must die. Being alive, being healthy, not being in danger… are plagued by the fear that one day they will disappear. Too much stability, too much boredom, comes also with the price of anxiety. Any taste for adventure?!

Some, or should I say, most people, need pleasure, comfort, belonging to some group, fulfillment of their desires. Or, to put it more generally, they need that life should be adequate to their desires. They want to have it all, in all aspects of their life. Life should be fair. And life should be easy. And it isn’t. Remember: Life in this world is not (only) about us! We’re part of it but we’re not the main character, the ultimate protagonist!

“I can do everything. I am an excellent husband, boss, community member. On the surface. But I secretly know one thing: I never loved. It was all about appearance, about the stage and about the role I played. I feel like an empty carcass. What I truly wanted was to love. And now, at the end of my life, I am filled by huge sadness… That’s why I tried to commit suicide.”
“I was married 65 years until my husband passed away. I married him because I wanted to please my mother and because he had money and social status. Now, in the seniors’ home and at the end of my life, I remember… him. He was the love of my life… I lost contact with him when I got married with your grandpa… I wonder if he’s still alive… Not being with him during this life… is my greatest regret…”
“I often go to the cemetery to see my could-have-been brother-in-law. Every time I am filled with a deep sadness, as I remember all the things we never had the opportunity to live together. We could have traveled and spent so much time together, we could have been a bigger family and his parents would’ve never had to be in such a dire situation, of having to visit him in the graveyard. When I must assess patients on the oncology department, I walk every time by his former room, where I saw him alive for the last time, and my soul is heavy and grim. A family has been smashed into pieces… Can my life – and especially the life of my loved ones – ever heal?”
“I always thought that I prepared myself to be an active and wise member of the society, someone who could lead others and get them out of the swamp. My desire was to help rebuild the country, to help it become an important European nation. I was an idealist. Now I am a sarcastic critic of the system, a cynical isolated individual who powerlessly watches the decay of his former dream. And I will take this sorrow with me in my grave.”

Not all people have desires. Surprisingly many individuals are only at the primitive level of frustration (or fear-anger). But once you grow or develop desires of your own, once you create depth in your personality, you are prone to suffering through sadness. Again, don’t mistake anger for sadness. A superficial woman who has just lost her boyfriend (which was, worse, stolen by someone with much more sex-appeal) is likely to cry because she is angry (frustrated), and her tears don’t indicate sadness at all. These tears will quickly fade away when a new conquest will be accomplished.

In conclusion, be aware of the price of your choices. Too much focus in one direction means extra burden from the opposite side. But this doesn’t mean we should absolutely be in the center. There are times in one’s life when one accentuates more one need or lives excessively one emotion. That is flexibility. Then, the personality traits shape a lot the available experiences. But the main idea behind the entire article is the one of acceptance and of being assumed. And of paying the price in complete awareness.

5 thoughts on “The Price of Our Choices

  1. Wave

    It’s nice to see that you are going back to your psychological quest.
    You mentioned somewhere that it takes around 6 months to get over anxiety with proper therapy.
    I was wondering, can other things be overcame too if one had proper guidance? For example it is guaranteed that I will start crying if someone at work shouts or is very agressive, in alternative if I am distressed and someone is nice it will make me cry even faster.
    Not a great personality trait to have as I am trying to become a qualified accountant abroad, and I have enough experience to be looking for a more senior position soon.
    In this context I want to ask, I think that at some point you mentioned on the site the idea doing some paid psychotherapy/counseling sessions online, I was wondering if that’s a possibility or not.
    And please don’t faint but I don’t have much time for video calls, in this case email can be doable?

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    1. Maybe I said somewhere that anxiety requires around 6 months of therapy, but I was probably talking about medication or about some cognitive-behavioral therapists who say that around 10 sessions of psychotherapy are enough. In fact, it depends not only on the competence of the therapist and the quality of the therapeutic relationship, but also on the willingness of the patient to give up his/her symptoms and his/her personal rhythm of healing. And, in this case, results vary. It’s not only about guidance, it’s about the person as well. Anxiety is one of the “easiest” problems to solve, compared to personality disorders that might take a minimum of 2-3 years. Again, I’m talking about approximations, because in reality, the duration of therapy differs from case to case.
      Not sure I understood your example about crying. I suppose it was linked to anger but… I really didn’t understand what you wanted to say… However, by reading your comment “between lines”, I have this feeling that you might be someone quite controlling, hence the risk of being angry. Why? Because you try to evaluate how much time therapy requires, you try to do some planning and create some sort of structure – find a solution to “fix” an emotion that somehow escapes your inner order. And from here comes also your desire to do some online counseling sessions. Furthermore, in your quest to control the situation, you even anticipate my reluctance to use video calls, so you have prepared in advance the solution of written emails. If that is not control… I don’t know what it is. And… as you can see… the moment we begin to talk is the moment we begin to reveal parts of ourselves that can be read by others with a “trained eye”.
      Now, so as to answer to your question: there was a time when I was unemployed and I was hoping to make some money online, plus I was willing to help people even free of charge. In time, I got increasingly busy and then I learned the value of my knowledge. And finally, I learned the value of one hour of my life. So, instead of spending one hour of my life replying to a private email from only one person, I prefer to invest that hour into writing an article that will be read by around 30 people (and in time, potentially by many more), and some of them might benefit from it. It’s about the impact of one hour of my life. So therefore, I will decline the possibility of counseling. However, as you could see already, I answer through my comments and, if the question or situation requires more attention, I can even decide to write an article about it. And, of course, I always reply to those writing on my contact form and asking for guidance in private. But getting involved in substantial counseling is excessively time consuming.

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      1. Wave

        Thanks for the answer and very nice insight into being controlling (not exactly how I see myself but others might have mentioned it, need to think about it)
        My father was VERY controlling and if he would get angry at something we kids did, we would get beaten, 100% sure.
        So now 10 year after he died, if someone raises his voice at me (like an aggressive high manager at work (doesn’t have to be in my department), I am not able to control my reaction. This even happened in a situation where I was the one that raised the voice first – I was still shaken by his (legitimate) reaction. I would love to fight back or at least keep my calm like nothing happened, but instead I found myself crying incontrolably in the bathroom. To make a joke, Yes I hate it that I had to flee and cry instead of being able to fight. I guess there is also the 3rd option of being Zen about it but is not something available to me at those moments.
        I am not able to get over this rationally, and this is why I ask.

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      2. That hexagon (in the image) can be seen in other ways, but I didn’t want to make things more complicated in the article. For instance, it was because of the lack of respect for our rights as children (the right not to be abused verbally or physically) that we needed to develop a tendency to value control (so as to prevent future abuses). The extremes of the hexagon create each other, and often reveal a trauma somewhere in the past.
        As for your example, you are fully aware of the fact that you are living a story of the past in your present, which is good. You also pointed out correctly that the rational mind understands rapidly some aspects, while the emotional mind needs more time. Often, the emotional mind needs also some magic, some irrational stuff, in order to heal, but this is another story. The idea is that you can’t get over something until you are able to fully express your anger. Yes, that past anger. You are trying to control the emotion, and for a good reason, but a better way would be to use the emotion transformed (channeled) in some sort of defense mechanism that is socially acceptable (look at this blog, I often write so as to vent my frustrations, through creativity). There is somewhere on this blog an article about mature defenses and that might give you an idea about ways to safely express anger. Another idea that comes to my mind is to allow yourself to feel anger without trying to deny its existence (you write that you want to “keep your calm like nothing happened”, which is denial; something actually happened and that must first be acknowledged – the elephant in the room). Why I say that? Because you can heal something only after you allow yourself to feel it. Specifically, you need to allow yourself to feel angry about your father because he punished you too hard, express that emotion somehow, burn that fire until the end, and only after this initial step you can start a process of forgiveness (forgive him, forgive you, etc.) and finally close the chapter emotionally. If you don’t express that anger somehow, you can’t move further, because your rights were disregarded (as a child) and your father must be confronted with anger (his memory must be confronted, I know he’s dead, but in your mind he seems to be very alive). There is also another aspect that makes expressing anger so important: a healthy self-esteem will fight back (you correctly write “I would love to fight back” and you are actually entitled to do that) and respond to abuse. You couldn’t do that in your childhood but you can do now in the present. One technique sometimes seen in the movies is to write a letter to your deceased father in which you express all you wanted to say to him (instead of saying those things to a random colleague or manager). I don’t know if this works for you but it’s an idea.
        In the end, you seem to judge yourself for fleeing and crying in the bathroom, although this was both preferable (in your professional setting) and adequate (too much emotion). Why hate this? Why blaming yourself for that? So as to be your own father, beating you again inside your mind for not being the way you (he) expect(s) you to be? Why be so controlling with yourself (just like he was) ? Why not be different? More understanding with yourself perhaps? More tolerant? It’s not enough that the outer world is beating you with stress, but you want also to beat yourself with additional stuff? Also, since you mentioned somewhere (I hope I’m not mistaken) you have a child, do you want to do the same thing your father did to your child? The child is small and powerless, so the temptation is huge to be unwillingly and subtly abusive…
        Just a thought…

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