I CAN’T DECIDE !
– what if it’s the wrong choice?
Previous: For Prediction
Article: “The Role of Emotion”
2. INDIVIDUAL NEEDS
e. For DECISION-MAKING (DM)
• Decision-making is about evaluating & achieving goals, & the most meaningful ones are combined with strong emotional tags. Recent scientific studies have established that the role of Emotion in DM is biologically extensive and complex, & therefore indispensable. The brain’s areas used for thinking are strongly connected to emotions, as shown by people with severe frontal lobe damage, who are left with an inability to make practical & social DMs, even tho they still have all the information & skills need. Their damage was not in memory or intelligence, but the neural connections between emotional & cognitive centers of the brain.
• California Professor of Neuroscience Antonio Damasio suggests we have emotional processes called “somatic markers” made by strong chemical connections between events that are important to us & the emotions they induce, which are stored in a section of the prefrontal cortex (the whole section normally associated with rationally thinking). When we face complex or conflicting choices, we may become overwhelmed by too many options & not be able to decide using logic alone. Somatic markers can then simplify things by focusing our attention on specifically useful & desirable options. For more info, read Emotional Decisions, and Somatic Markers Hypothesis
CHOOSING – When figure out something or make a decision, we:
• Consciously use cognitive functions (thinking) via the rational cortex which takes at least 0.1 seconds to get going. This level of DM is based on the principle of utility, where the value of each option is assessed by its cost-benefit to us or a loved one.
Exp: Stopping oneself from crossing a busy street when the light is yellow
• Unconsciously we also react from our emotions, especially under stress, such as in heated arguments or when in immediate danger. Es happen almost instantly, so it’s much harder to notice & be in charge of them!
Exp: Saying something inappropriate to the boss as a knee jerk reaction
• Directly, feelings stimulate our brains to deal with input very quickly or in specific ways. If we process info in such a way as to disregard facts, common sense or other factors, it can easily result in incorrect conclusions & therefore inappropriate actions
Exp: Calling an old lover who has made it clear she/he’s not interested
• Indirectly, we observe how we react emotionally to unpleasant encounters, notice what we think about doing & remember what has happened on other occasions. We learn from experience & adapt our actions accordingly.
Exp: Feeling love for an abusive ex, but knowing it’s not safe to reconnect, or we may want to hit someone who insulted us, but don’t
• If we do something that harms us or contradicts our values, our Es will let us know – so we need to pay attention. Even when we’re just imagining what might happen, our Es are still triggered, & hopefully we always use them as a guide in picking the best options available.
Studies show that when people’s emotional connections are severed in the brain, they can’t make even simple decisions, because they don’t know how they feel about the possibilities they have to choose from – SO don’t complain about having Es!
Some influences on Decision Making (DM)
• Anticipatory Emotions (re. before an event):
Neg: E. anxiety & mental worry about not knowing how to decide, making the wrong choice, not having enough info…. OR
Pos: pleasure & excitement about having attractive options, not knowing for sure but willing to take a chance/ risk, hoping to learn or experience something new….
• Anticipated Emotions (re. after an event):
Neg: fear, guilt, anxiety about what will happen as a result of our decision – being rejected, causing more problems, not getting what we want….. OR
Pos: relief, wonder, excitement about the potential benefits of the choice made – leaving a bad relationship, going to a longed-for event, choosing between desirable job offers….
Other Factors: (From various studies – which may seem obvious or logical – but it’s useful to have ‘scientific validation’)
• MOOD we’re in at the time of DM –
When participating in, or even just observing, an ambiguous or pleasant event, being in a good mood allows people to access positive associations in memory that contribute to a positive evaluation of the situation: “If I’m feeling good when meeting someone new, I’m more apt to like them”.
A theory of Mood Maintenance states that happy decision-makers are reluctant to gamble, since they wouldn’t want to undermine their happy feelings in case of loss. Studies about gambling choices & job selection decisions also showed how Es influence us:
— unhappy subjects preferred high-risk / high-reward options, because sadness generates an inherent goal of ‘reward replacement’, while —
— anxious subjects preferred low-risk / low-reward options because fear generates an inherent goal of ‘uncertainty reduction’
• MEMORY: Any Es we experience in a situation will be recorded in our emotional memory banks. Later those Es will be activated when we face a similar condition, or have a difficult decision to make quickly or when we’re under pressure (state-dependent remembering). Emotions work as “memory retrieval cues” & effect our DM, yet we seldom realize how we felt in that previous experience & how it’s influencing us now. We will make very different choices in the present if the memory of a similar event from the past is a happy vs. one than is distressing
• HELPING: (see “Weak Decision Styles” posts)
When legitimately trying to help someone else make a decision, we need to first find out what their style is – if it’s primarily emotional or logical – so we talk to them from that point of view. Since Es always play a part in everyone’s reactions, we can make emotionally colored appeals in order to encourage them in the ‘right’ direction. It can also be used to manipulate others. Children do it all the time, knowing how to get to their parents, & successful sales people are trained in techniques such as NLP
At the same time, ACoAs need to honestly evaluate our motives for wanting to influence someone, before proceeding. We all may be guilty of this occasionally – but to consistently try to control what others want & how they live their lives is about our FoA & arrogance (grandiosity), as well as insulting to their DM ability.
Of course, even when what we want for others is reasonable & healthy, we aren’t always successful at convincing them to make decisions we believe to be good for them, such as getting an alcoholic parent / sibling / spouse to go to AA or other family members to go to Al-Anon.
✶ In any case, our primary Recovery goal is to keep the focus on our own emotions, needs, motives & goals.
ACoAs: We often have difficulty making decisions because:
• we’re so fearful of displeasing someone, so they’ll be angry at us, OR
• that we’ll make the ‘wrong’ choice, be sorry later, & then have S-H
• we’re so brainwashed by family that we don’t know what we actually do want & like
• our symbiotic attachment to them makes us believe what they taught us rather than what works for us
• we don’t have a right to say what we want/like, when we do know
• we have internal conflicts that are so strong we become paralyzed – & call it being lazy! The confusion in our thinking & feeling can be between the WIC & the Healthy Adult, the Bad vs the Good Parent, mental health vs the addict’s voice ….
✶ ACoAs need to continually pay attention to our emotions & intuition – that still small voice, that whisper – which tells us what’s really going on, when something’s wrong, to ask for our needs and to never give up!
NEXT: Purpose – Motivation