Choice is a process involving thoughts, feelings, intuition, and all the ways that you can know what is the right thing to do in a given situation. You always have options - always. Even if the option is what attitude you will take towards an uncontrollable circumstance. It is your responsibility to choose among options. This choice requires analysis and judgment. Carefully thought-through choices are the opposite of impulsive, emotion-driven choices.
Keys to effective choices are:
- Slowing the process
- Having a quiet mind
- Having a relaxed body
- Separating responsibilities (which are yours and which are someone else's)
- Separating wants, needs, and obligations
- Carefully weighing all options
- Making the most effective choice even if it involves loss or discomfort
You make choices all day every day. These choices include what you will eat for breakfast, what clothing you will wear, what earrings, what lipstick, what shoes, what route to work, who to call, when to call, where to eat lunch, who to eat lunch with, what to eat for lunch, how long to be gone for lunch, and on and on and on. These choices are routinized and you hardly think about them.
With larger choices, you tend to evaluate differently. It is no longer routine. Usually emotions are heightened, which places the choice in a risky category. Part of your difficulty may be related to your ability to trust your choices. How you make routine choices predicts how you will make larger choices. If you are responsible, act with integrity, pay attention to details, and care about the needs and wants of others in smaller choices, these will characterize your larger choices.
You may also make certain choices or behave in ways that you have not acknowledged as a choice. You choose what to think and how to think. You even choose what you feel.
You pay attention to what you choose to pay attention to. You can choose to ignore warning signs and not choose wisely. It may be helpful to envision ALL of life as a series of choices. You you are as a person is demonstrated through those choices.
As you go about making choices as a mother, possibly as the partner or wife of the offender, possibly as the mother of the offender - all these choices loom large and threaten to engulf you with emotion. With mindfulness and effective coping skills, however, you will be able to choose wisely.
In making wise choices, you must first tell yourself the truth. You must be willing to see reality. This is most difficult in the initial stage post-disclosure process. At that time you may be experiencing the normal grief responses of shock and denial. It is best to survive the crisis by healthy coping and make choices and changes later, if at all possible. Obviously, some choices are unavoidable: calling someone to report the abuse, making appointments, contacting other supportive agencies, and protecting your child in every way. That may mean moving. You will have times when you simply must make the best choice you can, and trust the process. Practicing acceptance is helpful at those times.
After you have told yourself the truth, after you have survived the initial crisis, you will need to be assertive and take charge of your life. You cannot control anyone other than yourself. You cannot control agencies, courts, or family members. You can control your choices, thoughts, feelings, behaviors, and attitudes. This is possibly the biggest and most difficult part of choices. You want to control someone else, his thoughts, feelings, behaviors. This is not possible. However, sometimes people try again and again and again - unsuccessfully - to get another person to change. That is not your responsibility.
What is your responsibility is the choices involving you and your child over which you have control. Knowing what choices are in your control is one of the most influential factors in your feeling empowered. Taking responsibility for those choices is empowering. Not taking responsibility for something that is in your control but over which you say you have no control is disempowering. Also, if you try to control something over which you do not have control, you will feel frustrated, angry, disempowered, and out of control. This will affect your sense of self-efficacy, that can-do attitude, and ultimately can affect your self-esteem.
Another thing to remember in making choices is the difference between wants, needs, and obligations and awareness of shoulds and musts. Making a list may be helpful.
What do you want? ____________________________________________________
These things are optional. You do not have to have what you want. These are preferences, not needs.
What do you need? ____________________________________________________
These are not optional. What are those things you truly need and cannot do without? They probably are not what you think they are. You need food, water, shelter, clothing, safety. As a mother of a sexually abused child, you need support and information in order to make the best decisions. However, you do not need a certain style of living or house or clothes or car or job. These are preferences, wants.
What are your obligations? ______________________________________________
Make a list. These have to do with your responsibilities, those things that only you are required to do. At the top of the list is your support for your child. You also have other family obligations, financial obligations, perhaps work obligations. Make your own list.
What are the shoulds that you tell yourself? _________________________________
These are rooted in your values and beliefs, and you may want to spend time evaluating and possibly correcting these to bring them to a place of reality considering your current situation. For example, your belief may be that when you get married, it is for forever. Or you may have a belief that you keep certain things private that go on in families. These are two significant beliefs that impact mothers of sexually abused children. If you say that you should be loyal to your husband, and he is the offender, you will be unable to protect your child. Or if you were taught as a child that family matters are private and you should deal with them within the family, you will struggle with reporting the abuse to the authorities. These are two examples. Perhaps you can generate your own list of shoulds and see how they affect your decisions. Musts are similar to shoulds. Both will create anxiety, fear, and guilt. Identify your negative self-talk and negative thinking patterns. Then practice mindful awareness, recognizing the negative thoughts as they arise, and choosing healthy ways of dealing with them. (See Coping With Thoughts .) You can choose to use healthy coping skills to deal with the choices and changes you make.
Only a few things in your life are not choices. These are primarily involuntary functions: you breathe, sleep, eliminate, and will die - without choice. Everything else is within your power. To some degree those involuntary functions are even within your power. All of them. You can meditate and slow your breath process. You can practice breathing skills when you are anxious or afraid. You can choose when and whether to sleep and how long. By the way you live your life - to some degree you control your dying. You can choose to live healthily, to take care of yourself, and to let go of negative energy, anger, and hostility. You can choose to build your resilience and practice learned optimism. You can choose to survive this crisis, rebuild your life, learn from this process, and live longer and happier. If you choose.
See Counteracting Stress.
See Coping With Thoughts .