You didn’t “make”— or “let”— abuse happen to you. 

You don’t “choose” to be depressed. 

You don’t “choose” an eating disorder. 

Many people in our culture use language that suggests if we are suffering emotionally or struggling behaviorally, it is because we are somehow “choosing” it. 

We get this message dozens of times a day. 

We are told that if we have a problem with this messaging, we must not be interested in “accepting responsibility” for “our part” in our pain. 

I can assure you: people who struggle with depression and PTSD have NO problem “accepting responsibility” for the pain they’re in. 

More often the opposite: they tend to accept WAY TOO MUCH responsibility for what they’re feeling and experiencing— often because they’ve been implicitly and explicitly blamed for their pain for YEARS. 

I understand why our culture encourages us to use the the language of “personal responsibility” when it comes to our emotional pain and behavioral struggles: it’s a way to FEEL like we have power or control over them. 

That is: people WANT to think that the only people who are depressed, addicted, or otherwise struggling are CHOOSING those experiences on some level…because that means there’s a reliable way to AVOID those experiences, right? Just “choose” something else. 

“Choose joy” is an oft-repeated mantra in self-help and wellness circles. 

If only it were that straightforward. 

Most people struggling with depression, anxiety, trauma, addiction, an eating disorder, or other types of emotional pain or behavioral struggle would give ANYTHING to be ABLE to opt out of their misery with a simple “choice.” 

Some self-help gurus have built entire EMPIRES pretending that the way we feel and function can be reduced to simple “choices.” 

It’s just not that simple. 

The truth is, changing how we feel and function usually involves changing conditioned patterns in our nervous system. We feel the way we do and do the things we do because we’ve been conditioned and reinforced in our patterns of thinking, feeling, and behaving, usually over decades. 


Those don’t change overnight— and they rarely change in one blinding moment of “choice.” 

Changing our patterns of thinking, feeing, and behaving takes time. And patience. And consistency. And support. 

It’s often a massive pain in the ass, which is why so many people struggle with it, and why relapse is so common. 

All the cultural messages we get about how our pain and problems would go away if we just “chose” to feel or function a different way can REALLY chip away at our self-esteem. 

Remember: those messages represent a combination of wishful thinking and profit motive. 

There are a LOT of people out there who count on us buying into the “just choose something different” theory— who want to profit off of our pain, our frustration, and our vulnerability. 

You CAN change. Our nervous system can, and does, change, well into adulthood. 

We CAN feel and function differently, even if our patterns have been conditioned and reconditioned over decades. 

But we need to be realistic about what that’s going to take. 

AND we need to be willing to filter out the destructive messages we are CONSTANTLY getting from the culture— and maybe even those around us— about how we’re creating our own misery with our poor “choices.” 

If someone truly believes that they can simply “choose joy” and undo decades of conditioning, good for them. 

I’ll bet on the person committed to taking little daily steps and making realistic changes over time every single day. 

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