Choice and quality of life | What choice, if removed, would most positively impact your well being?

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the United States is home to many many sub-cultures and there also exists a meta-culture which has a strong influence on all the diverse groups that make up the nation.

Perhaps the most prolific attributes of the meta-culture (the US culture) is our love for freedom and choice.

Choice is often looked at very dichotomously in our culture; we often conclude, without flexibility or relativity, that ‘more choice’ = good. Inversely we tend to have a hard time emotionally when we perceive that we, or someone else, are lacking in choice and again we can fall back to the dichotomy of ‘no choice’ = bad or oppressive.

as we apply dialectics to the topic we arrive at a plethora of examples of how choice is both the catalyst for oppression and for emancipation… choice can embolden our authentic self and allows us to embody and exercise our unique purpose while choice also oppresses the expression of our unique self and traps us from living a fulfilling and purposeful existence.

It can be relatively easy for most people to identify how choice facilitates a subjectively better and more fulfilling life, but what is often under-contemplated is how choice is our oppressor or impediment to living a ‘better’ or more fulfilling life.

Therefore I encourage you to ask yourself the following question:

What choice, if removed, would most positively impact your well being? What choice would you be better off not having? 

Again, notice that you may have an automatic negative emotional reaction to this question – If you live in the US (and many other countries) you have been primed your entire life into believing that no choice = bad… this creates anger or fear at the suggestion that you could remove choice.

One good example of a culture in which the removal of choice seems to positively impact the people is the Buddhist and Hindu cultures at temples. In many ways, routine, ritual, and a dedication to various practices are favored over choice. Additionally many cultures have removed the choice of isolating from family, or eating certain harmful foods or engaging in spiritual practices etc.

What choice would you remove?

Some examples:

  • the choice to exercise
  • the choice to meditate
  • the choice to eat certain types of food
  • the choice to read
  • the choice to engage with nature
  • the choice to take certain drugs
  • the choice to have what quantity of alcohol
  • the choice to act with aggression towards another
  • the choice to lie
  • the choice to avoid meeting the needs of a loved one
  • the choice to engage in art
  • the choice of when to go to sleep and wake up
  • the choice work what amount of hours
  • the choice to watch what amount of tv
  • the choice to always have your smartphone

 

etc

 

 

 

 

 

William Hambleton Bishop is a practicing therapist in Steamboat Springs Colorado.

Concrete vs Abstract responsibility for teenagers

Many Teenagers are struggling to complete the tasks that they are responsible for… often times their achievement is interrupted due to the fact that they view the tasks as meaningless or irrelevant to their life.
The “meaningless and irrelevant” assertion is often […]

The Relativity of Oppression

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Oppression exists, and much like other abstractions, oppression is often cognitively enmeshed with content or with something more concrete. There is often a more tangible entity that gets labeled as ‘oppressive’ or as the ‘oppressor’… through time we often allow for more tangible entities (such as a person, lifestyle, belief system etc) to be labeled objectively (and without relativity) as literally being ‘oppression’.

This tendency creates an irony for many ofus as often it is the constructs about oppression which become the oppressor (the constructs become oppressive – the individuals ability to live a most authentic life is oppressed by an unconscious adherence to an oppressive construct).

here is a list of some common constructs concerning oppression that can lead to an individual oppressing themselves:

  • being a stay-at-home parent is oppressive
  • rules and laws are oppressive
  • all religion is oppressive
  • science is oppressive
  • medicine is oppressive
  • set schedules are oppressive
  • education is oppressive
  • work is oppressive
  • power is oppressive
  • gender roles are oppressive
  • grading is oppressive
  • competition is oppressive

 I am going to steer us away from a conversation on dialectics = (yes, all the above variables are both oppressive and emancipating)

whether something is oppressive or emancipating is relative … ex. being a stay at home parent could be the source of oppression for one, and the source of emancipation from oppression for another.

History has played a huge role in creating social constructs (belief systems) that many of us are unconsciously dictated by…

For example, Women were systematically and institutionally oppressed for a long period of time in our country by inhibiting their access to careers. In doing so, females were oppressed from attaining existential fulfillment, independent financial security, and the power to positively influence the various components of the system.

The construct which was born out of this reality was: “to be free from oppression one must have unimpeded access to career.” Well many of us have experienced that in the United Stated many careers are extremely oppressive… they can impede our ability to attain: ‘existential fulfillment, independent financial security, and power to positively influence the various components of the system.”

This creates a potential for radical dissonance as many parents would be more fulfilled with more time spent with their families (or spiritual development, personal hobbies etc), but they don’t allow themselves this option because of there unconscious adherence to the construct: ‘being a stay at home parent is oppressive.’

The solutions is to allow curiosity, flexibility, subjectivity and relativity to become involved in the process.

What is the source of MY oppression? What experiences do I inhibit access too because of a belief system which may not be serving me right now?

I personally experienced this dissonance when I entered into parenthood.

I held the belief system that “schedules are oppressive” – After many years in formal education I arrived at this construct as my incredibly scheduled life caused me emotional discomfort – I found happiness in spontaneity (which I dichotomously labeled freedom) and concluded that schedules oppressed my freedom – thereby schedules oppressed my happiness.

Upon becoming a parent the idea of freedom becomes almost humorous as you are completely enveloped into a developmental stage of service – With freedom being heavily influenced by individualism, there is not much ‘freedom’ when you are a parent of young children 😉

yet the desire for freedom remains – and happiness still manifests when I feel like I have more freedom…

Here is where the paradigm needed to be shifted… schedules were the only means of affording time for me and my wife to meet our individual and spousal needs… in other words, schedules created the freedom to meet our needs … and in meeting those needs we are more happy.

so………….

schedules emancipated us from a deficit in perceived freedom… wow

And here is the kicker… If this paradigm isn’t adjusted again as the children get older it could once again be that schedules are the source of our oppression.

In conclusion, what we often label as objectively oppressive may not be oppressive in different relative instances… further, the process of labeling something as objectively oppressive may actually be the source of our oppression.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

William Hambleton Bishop is a practicing therapist in Steamboat Springs Colorado.

When Attachment Theory and Existentialism Compete

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In this post I will be investigating the relationships between one’s core sense of purpose in life (existentialism) and contrasting that with the most basic needs associated with human bonding (attachment theory).

The question that I am playing around with is: “Are there some people who have a life purpose which is incongruent with maintaining a securely attached relationship.”

Attachment theory is empirically validated by many scientific fields from biology to neurology to psychology – the oversimplified conclusion is that “humans need secure, predictable, vulnerable, emotionally available, attuned, compassionate, supportive, safe, emotionally expressive, inter-regulating relationships to function at their fullest capacity.”

Attachment theory (in humans) began by investigating early childhood development. Researchers were able to substantiate that when the primary caregiver (usually a parent) offered all the wonderful variables above (attunement, emotional availability etc.) the child was more likely to progress through various developmental milestones, to be able to function independently, to be emotionally stable, and to find fulfilling relationships in adulthood.

Later, researchers found that having a securely attached relationship between spouses also yields the some of the same positive benefits.

Existentialism is concerned with finding a life path that intuitively ‘feels’ meaningful and fulfilling. The goal of an existential intervention to help a person in leading a life which is most congruent with their purpose.

Generally speaking, existentialism works very well in conjunction with attachment theory = When I am able to help partners to form a secure bond they are often more able (more regulated, more supported, more emotionally balanced, more confident etc) to engage in behaviors which help them to leading a more fulfilling life.

Then I arrived at a realization … my purpose in life is to be happy.

If ones purpose in life is to be happy then it is very hard to debate the necessity of a secure relationship in achieving fulfillment… secure attachment is the foundation for emotional regulation and it is very hard to ‘feel’ happy when you feel emotionally insecure. This would also translate into many behaviors aimed at nurturing our biological system – If you want to feel happy (feelings are the result of our biology) you must take care your biology.

In my own life journey the single most important and effective variable that impacts my ability to be congruent with my purpose is my secure bond with my partner of almost 20 years (in 2017). But this reality may have blinded me a bit to the reality that not everyone’s highest purpose is happiness.

What about those instances in which secure bonding is actually incongruent with the person’s purpose… I’m not suggesting that a secure attachment is ineffectual with these people – I am saying it is incongruent with their goals pertaining to purpose.

What if you wanted to live a life of Zen, or to be the absolute best – the master of a discipline, or the most notable person in your field, or engaged in behaviors which facilitated growth through discomfort etc.

I have often sought to understand people who live lives a lifestyle which necessitates life choices which will likely inhibit them from maintaining secure attachments.

Some examples would be: Living alone in a cave in an effort to reach transcendence, practicing your discipline every waking minute to be the best at your craft, sacrificing everything that would impeded one from being the most powerful leader, or being in an alternative lifestyle such as having ever changing sexual partners.

Attachment theory is validated… and it is a biological reality. But we are more than just our biology – we are also something metaphysical or spiritual, and there are times when our spiritual aspiration are in conflict with our biological truths.

One of my Favorite shows is “chefs table” on Netflix… and there is a theme to many of the depicted lifestyles… they chose their craft over their relationships (and arguably over their own biological health). And the proof is in the pudding – they are the best of the best. (I am basing this on the assumption that mastery or excellence is a more important purpose to some of the chefs than the pursuit of happiness)

and now we arrive at the conflict between the two above theories from a psychotherapeutic perspective…

From a purely existential lens the goal would be to sacrifice all for the pursuit of mastery if mastery is the the highest purpose. This would arguably lead to complete existential congruence at the expense of happiness.

from an Attachment standpoint the goal would be to achieve whatever level of mastery was possible within the boundaries of a nurturing and secure bond with another human. This would arguably lead to greater happiness at the expense of complete existential congruence.

I have clients who may choose Existentialism over attachment when there is conflict (there usually isn’t by the way)… and it is my job not to project my purpose onto my clients.

This is further complicated by the reality that trauma and a lack of self-awareness can impact someones relationship with purpose and attachment… so we must be very perceptive and flexible in isolating the desires of the core self.

 

 

 

 

 

William Hambleton Bishop is a practicing therapist in Steamboat Springs Colorado.

Choice is Oppression

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Wow that is a provocative way to start! of course Choice is also liberation and a billion of other things, but in the post I want to shine some light on how individualism has created a blind infatuation with choice – and how ‘choice’ is actually the very source of our oppression.

perhaps the single most pervasive and uniting variable in the US is our individualism – Our desire to emancipate the self from any barriers to self-fulfillment. It can be so hard for us to see that fulfillment is both in maintaining and emancipating from barriers. both in having choice and in allowing ourselves (irony noted) to not have a choice.

The other Day my 5 year old was balancing on a kitchen chair and was distracted by some other stimuli that stole his attention. He lost his balance and fell pretty hard, only kind-of catching himself on the chair before hitting the wood floor. he’s fine.

Of course he had been told many time not to do this… but even at 5 his strong desire to have a choice in all matters was stronger than his desire to avoid bodily injury in cases were injury was most probable and where there wasn’t really any benefit associated with the risk other then in validating that ‘he had a choice’ (meaning it wasn’t particularly rewarding- fun – for him to be standing on the chair = he just wanted to do it because he wasn’t supposed to).

As adults we have countless examples of such experiences with children and teens – its maddening! “Why can’t they just follow the rules!”

but we tend to avoid looking at the metaphorical mirror to see how often we are doing the same thing. “What don’t we have any rules to follow!” 😉

the defensive sides of us want’s to quickly retort, “wait a minute – I have rules! I would never kill someone… I don’t steal people’s cars! I don’t pee in public places… well wait .. I don’t unless…I don’t drink and drive… well actually I don’t get drunk and drive….well”

I’m not trying to focus us in on the big examples – this isn’t just a conversation about strict adherence to morals.

Ask yourself this question – What choices would be good for me to remove if I had the goal of being a physically, relationally and psychologically healthy person?

If exercise is a choice how often are you going to choose it? How many variables would you have to realistically quantify in order to make that choice? ex. I drank too much last night, I have a minor headache, its windy, my class has a sub teacher, I’ll work out tomorrow etc.”

If intentionally engaging in the health of your relationship is a choice how often would you choose something more suited to the self? How often would you go somewhere you didn’t want to – have sex when your partner was hot and bothered and you were tired- clean up when the mess wasn’t yours – be emotionally available when the ball game is on – play with your kids when you are always exhausted from work?

What if your passion and spirituality surrounds doing something uncomfortable such as camping in the fall, surfing at sunrise, getting first tracks on a ski mountain, practicing your musical instrument, traveling to connect with important relationships etc?

How are our choices oppressing us?

Perhaps if another drink after midnight wasn’t a choice we would have enjoyed the first lift, perhaps if staying in bed wasn’t a choice we would have caught a sunrise set of waves, perhaps if TV was not an option we would know how to play our instruments. Perhaps if waiting for perfectly comfortable weather wasn’t a choice we would have gone camping. Perhaps if choice wasn’t an option I would blog more…

Authenticity and congruence are difficult variables to describe in a spiritual sense… yet we all feel what they mean.

we have offered ourselves the choice to be incongruent… to be inauthentic… to avoid our passions… to live without fulfillment… and to engage in activities that hurt the body and relationships we live in

and this is why choice is our oppressor… we have attached to choice with religious rigidity and in doing so we fell from our authentic path… we chose to avoid our destiny to satisfy our addiction to comfort and individualism.

It feels really wonderful for me to think about freeing myself of this burden… to allow myself the freedom to have no choice in the area of congruence. To be congruent – especially when it is the less comfortable choice.

 

 

 

 

 

 

William Hambleton Bishop is a practicing therapist in Steamboat Springs Colorado.