5 Tips for Making Decisions When Everything Feels Risky

What if nothing feels “right?”

When it comes to making choices, sometimes there’s a clear winner. The decision is easy. But it seems like these days especially, every choice is harder. There are so many shades of gray. Confusion and uncertainty persist. Information is constantly changing, and we don’t know what’s accurate or what’s going to happen next.

With access to COVID vaccines, it seemed like we were coming to a light at the end of the tunnel. Now as the Delta variant continues to spread, the uncertainty that we felt for so long is again looming heavily in the air.

And as we try to regain some sense of “normal” living, the choices we have to make may feel particularly difficult. Should I wear a mask? Should I go there? Is interacting with family safe? Should I send the kids back to their activities?

Decision-making for trauma survivors

For trauma survivors, the process of making choices can be even harder. Trauma survivors don’t often trust their gut, unless it’s urging them to be uber-protective. Without self-trust, they may look for outside validation, second-guess themselves to the point of extreme anxiety, or trust nothing at all.

We know that for trauma survivors, change can feel painfully risky. So, it may be tempting to believe that not deciding is a way to avoid change. Usually, it’s not.

So, how do we make our own choices? How do we decide when there’s no clear “winner?”

Ultimately, everyone has to figure out a way to make decisions they can feel (reasonably) comfortable with.

Whether you’re deciding how to move forward with how to manage the continued prevalence of COVID, or you’re just trying to make any decision in your life (about parenting, dating, relationships or even choosing a therapist), here are some ideas about the decision-making process and 5 tips for making decisions.

How to make decisions you feel comfortable (enough) with…

  1. Look at information if it makes you feel safer — but not too much. Try to make sure the information you’re sourcing is as unbiased as possible, so you’re not just absorbing another person’s opinion or getting false information. Take in some information in a comfortable way — but not so much that it detracts from your emotional wellbeing.
  2. Make sure you’re grounded in the present — not in a body memory, emotional flashback or a dissociative state.
  3. Weigh the options and see how they feel inside your body. Sensations in your body are usually strong indicators of which decisions you’re most comfortable with. As you consider each possible option, notice your body sensations. Is there tightness in your chest? Lumps in your throat? Do you feel edgy, fidgety, or numb? Do you feel calm?  Safe?
  4. Don’t make an impulsive decision. Take your time. Sit with the feelings. When you’ve sat with the options and one idea feels more tolerable than the other, I invite you to consider sitting with that choice for a little bit longer.
  5. Make the choice that feels the easiest to live with. Then, accept the choice and whatever outcome may result! Or, if the decision feels too difficult, take some (more) time and sit with it longer.

A few more tips for making decisions:

  • You can (almost) always change your mind, go back, or try again.
  • You might want to talk your decision through with someone you trust. But keep in mind that your own internal truth is what is most important! You want to make your decision — not theirs.
  • No matter what, you can’t predict the future, and that’s okay. After you make your choice, more information may become clear. You may have made the “wrong” choice. Instead of thinking, “I should have made a different choice,” remember that the shoulds are harmful! Know that you made the best decision you could at the time with the information you had.
  • There’s no right or wrong for how long you sit with information before making a choice.
  • Making no choice is also a choice.

A choice may never feel 100% right, but it can feel right enough.

Often, there’s no right or wrong answer. Decision-making is about knowing what feels right enough to you. No matter what, the choices we make need to fit into our own window of tolerance. You know you’re safely in your window of tolerance when thoughts and feelings can co-exist without the need to use a coping mechanism or survival strategy like drugs, alcohol, sex, self-harm, or dissociation as a means to feel less or less badly.

Need support?

Widening your window of tolerance so you can make hard choices, and feel calm and safe while uncertain, is a benefit of trauma-informed therapy. If you’re a potential new client, please contact/email me for care.

Resources

About the Author

Robyn E. Brickel, M.A., LMFT Robyn E. Brickel, MA, LMFT is the director and lead therapist at Brickel and Associates, LLC in Old Town Alexandria, Virginia, which she founded in 1999. She specializes in the therapeutic treatment of individuals (adolescents and adults), couples, families and groups. Robyn E. Brickel offers treatment and psychoeducational services for many life issues and transitions, such as: A history of trauma and/or abuse, including Dissociation; Addictions, as well as Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACOA) issues; Body Image issues and Eating Disorders; Self-Harming behaviors, including Emotional intensity and instability; Anxiety, depression, and other mood disorders; Challenged family systems; Chronic illness; Co-dependency; Dysfunctional relationships; Life transitions; Loss and bereavement; Relationship distress; Self esteem; GLBTQ and sexual identity issues/struggles; Stress reduction. She is an LMFT, as well as a trained trauma & addictions therapist who has helped countless clients make and maintain positive changes in their lives. To learn more about Robyn E. Brickel, visit her website.

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