When People Make Bad Choices

One of the basic freedoms that people enjoy and expect is freedom of choice. Granted, our choices will always have certain limitations based on our socioeconomic status, but within those confines, we do have the right to choose everything about our lives from where we live, how we dress and who we date, to what we do for work and how we spend our time. With all this freedom of choice, there invariably will be some choices that are better than others. So, what do you do when you see someone make a choice that is bad for them?

As painful as it can be to see someone head down a path we think is wrong for them, it’s still their choice to make. People are allowed to make poor choices. Depending on how bad the choice really is you may find yourself reacting to the choice as if it were an emergency.

“You quit your job? -Oh no, here are all the job listings in your area, a website for tips on writing your resume and the number for a life coach!”

Wait, slow down. Not only is this not your problem to fix, but you are also providing unsolicited advice, which can be construed as controlling and judging behavior.

One of my favorite analogies from psychology is an explanation of the difference between an emergency and a crisis. An emergency is something that requires immediate action, whereas a crisis is an unstable situation that may not require intervention at all. The parallel goes on to imagine a crisis as a traffic circle with three exits. If your life is in crisis you are already on the traffic circle. Of the three roads you can take to leave the traffic circle, one is the path you were just on, one is a better path and one is worse. Just like a crisis, most people instinctively want to exit a traffic circle as quickly as possible. After all, horns are blaring, it’s confusing, you’re uncomfortable and starting to panic. However, the longer you stay on the circle, the more likely you are to evaluate your choices and choose a better option for yourself than the one you came from. The faster you exit the circle the more likely you are to choose the same path or the path that is even worse for you.

If someone in your life is making a choice you think is bad for them, it is not necessarily an emergency that needs your intervention. The person may be in crisis, but any guidance you offer could be seen as a judgment of the choices they are making and therefore rejected. A better approach may be to let the person have the time and space they need to work through the unstable situation in their life. Let that person know you want to be supportive, but make sure you help only if and how they want to be helped. When people make bad choices, we want to question why they made that choice, but it is best to offer love and empathy, not solutions.

What are your thoughts? Please leave your comments below. <3

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