The power to choose how we respond

There’s a popular line of wisdom that goes ‘we always have the power to choose how we respond’. For general purposes, it’s a useful line of thought. Often, when we have nothing else, we do still have power over our own reactions. What we say and do in response to circumstances is ours to decide, and how we act throughout an experience is our choice.

Except when it isn’t.

This failure to recognise what happens when you no longer get to choose how to respond is really unhelpful for people who experience that.

You don’t get to choose how to respond unless you are able to move or express yourself in some way. There are many physical conditions that can take some, or all of that away. You may still get some choice about what you think, but there are also illnesses, accidents and experiences that can rob you of this, as well.

Panic attacks are not a choice. Hiding them is feasible for some of us sometimes, but not for everyone. A severe panic attack takes away your choices about what you can do and say, think and feel.

Conditioning – which is most likely to happen in an abusive and controlling situation – takes away your ability to choose. If pain and fear have been used to train you to react in certain ways, you don’t have the freedom to choose your responses until you have first dealt with the conditioning.

Everyone has a breaking point. For all of us, there is scope for experiencing more than can be coped with and breaking down in a way that means there is no choice about much of what we do. Anyone can be driven mad by excesses of horror, and suffering, by gaslighting, by sleep deprivation and other forms of torture.

Not having the power to choose how you respond is a terrible thing to have to deal with. We do not have to add to that by repeating the lie that we all, always have the choice of how to respond. Sometimes there are no options available. Sometimes minds and bodies are too broken for choice to exist.


About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, polyamourous animist, ant-fash, anti-capitalist, bisexual steampunk. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

5 responses to “The power to choose how we respond

  • druidcat

    Thankyou so much for this.

    I discovered a huge trigger for me last week – by hitting it full force. My response was absolute breakage, which could not be helped at all.

    Then comes the regrouping, the breathing, fixing things with tape until they can be figured out. But it’s hard to respond to something you didn’t even know was going to hit you (so hard).

    We do what we can. Perhaps that’s better.

  • neptunesdolphins

    In learning emotional intelligence, the first thing taught is that you cannot regulate your brain. Your first reaction is directly from the brain, and you have no control. But you can change what comes next. Breathing, walking and practice helps. A trigger is a sustained reaction of the brain. Of course, the first thing is to recognize the trigger. Not many people do that. If you can, then you can at least practice your response until it stops being a trigger. That will take a long time.

    The key is learning what the trigger is. And that can be difficult in situations where you are constantly under siege.

  • The Prodigal Daughter- who cares!!

    i think its also good to understand and accept that whilst its all good in concept it is not always as easy, making small steps and acknowledging small victories towards the goal is a way to go

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