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Individual and Couples Counselling in Calgary

  • Writer's pictureRovena Magidin

Navigating Life's Crossroads: Insights on Dilemmas from a Professional Counsellor

woman thinking

Do I stay in this relationship, or do I leave? Shall I accept a new job offer or stay in my current job? Are we ready (do we want to?) have children? Those are the questions we all have to deal with from time to time. When the answer is clear, it might be a very hard situation, but you know what you need to do. But what do we do when we don't know how to decide, which option to pick? That's a dilemma.

A dilemma is a situation in which a difficult choice has to be made between two or more alternatives, often equally undesirable ones. Sometimes it involves conflicting moral or ethical considerations, making the decision challenging or uncomfortable, to say the least.

The nature of a dilemma is that there's no "good" option. There's no right choice. Each option has its own advantages and disadvantages. No matter what you chose, your brain is going to doubt it. No matter what, it creates anxiety and pressure.

Your brain does something like this:

  • I'm not really happy - But I love him so much ...

  • Is this it? I feel like I'm settling - But what if I won't find anyone else? ....

  • We have nothing in common - But at least we never fight, and what about all the good times we had? ....

  • Love isn't enough - But leaving feels like quitting, and I'm not a quitter ...

  • and so on, round and round we go.

We don't like this. We want to choose. We want to know the right thing to do. But with the dilemma, there's no "right" way. If there was, it wouldn't be a dilemma.

And at the same time, there's no way not to choose.

Until you ask for a divorce, you are choosing to stay in the relationship.

So this is what we've got:

  • There's no simple, "feels good" or "feels right" answer

  • There's no way not to choose

  • And whatever you do, whatever you choose, it comes with anxiety and doubt.

That's quite a predicament. No wonder we don't like it.

On top of that, what we do with it often only make things worse - we spend so much time thinking about the dilemma, we create even more anxiety. We ask people (or google) for advice, we keep weighing the options. It takes over our life.

I want to share something that was very helpful for me. These step come from Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) and I learned them from Dr. Russ Harris, a fantastic ACT teacher and the Author of "The Happiness Trap. How to Stop Struggling and Start Living".

What to do when you are dealing with a dilemma?

a couple in distress

Step 1: Acceptance. Let’s face it - big decisions take time. Give yourself permission to sit with the uncertainty. Stressing over it won't help. Acknowledge the conflicting thoughts, feelings, or values involved in the situation.

Step 2: Weigh Your Options. Grab a pen and paper! List the pros and cons of each choice. It might sound old-school, but seeing it on paper can bring clarity like nothing else. Don't try to do it in one sitting. Keep adding to your list for about a week, to know that you really thought it through.

Step 3: No Perfect Answers. There’s no "perfect" choice. Whatever you decide, doubt and anxiety is normal. Embrace it and keep moving forward.

Step 4: You're Already Choosing. Every day you delay making a decision, you’re still making one. Own it! If you are not leaving the relationship, you are choosing to stay.

Step 5: Acknowledge Today’s Choice. Start each day by acknowledging your choice. It’s like setting the GPS for your day - "Today, I’m choosing to stick it out."

Step 6: Stand Your Ground. Once you’ve made your daily choice, commit to it! What kind of partner/employee/friend do you want to be today? Let your values lead the way. Reflect on your core values to understand what truly matters to you in this situation.

Step 7: Reflect Regularly. Set aside time to reflect. Grab your journal and jot down any shifts in perspective or new insights. A little reflection goes a long way.

Step 8: Name the Story. Your mind loves to replay the dilemma on loop. Catch it in the act! Say, "Gotcha, mind!" Then, shift your focus to something meaningful. Remind yourself that you have already scheduled time to reflect (step 7) and limit endless ruminating.

Step 9: Embrace the Anxiety. Anxiety is like an unwanted guest - it keeps coming back. Acknowledge it, but don’t let it take over. You’re stronger than you think. Practice mindfulness to stay present in the moment and avoid getting caught up in rumination or worrying about the future consequences of your decision. Focus on the here and now, trusting in your values to guide you.

Step 10: Be Kind to Yourself. Cut yourself some slack! You’re only human. Treat yourself with kindness and compassion. It's a tough decision. Give yourself the same empathy as you would've given a dear friend.

man thinking

Recycle these steps daily and watch what happens. Sooner or later, the path forward will become clear. And even if it doesn’t, at least you’ll be living each day according to your values. That’s a win in my book!

Overtime, one of 3 things will happen:

  1. One option becomes clearly more appealing.

  2. One option becomes unavailable.

  3. The dilemma persists.

If 1 or 2 occurs, the decision is made, resolving the dilemma.

If 3 persists, embrace mindful living aligned with your values, fostering self-navigating-life-s-crossroads-insights-on-dilemmas-from-a-professional-counsellorcompassion along the way.

After taking action, reflect on the outcome without judgment. If the chosen action did not lead to the desired outcome, learn from the experience and adjust your approach accordingly, while still staying true to your values.

I don't know about you, for me it was really helpful to look at dilemmas from this perspective. Of course, it's not simple, but understanding that it's a human condition, that you are not alone, that you can navigate it with gentleness and kindness, I think it really helps.

If you want a little bit extra support, Individual Counselling might be very helpful. I offer therapy and coaching in Calgary and online around the world. Book your free consultation here and we can discuss how I can help. Any questions, please let me know.


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