What choice do I have? Let’s examine that word closely and expand on what it really means to us.
“…an act of selecting or making a decision when faced with two or more possibilities…”
SSA = Sexual Stimulation Addiction (i.e. masturbation, pornography, and/or sex addict)
IN THE BEGINNING
There is a time in our life that we genuinely have no choices. That occurs in infancy when we are 100% dependent upon another human being for our subsistence. We only have the ability to perform the most primal basic bodily functions. We can breathe without assistance. We can become vocal without assistance, albeit we have no idea of the concept of being vocal. We can move our arms, legs, and to some extent, our body without assistance. We can certainly pee and poop without assistance. We can, believe it or not, go to sleep without assistance. We cannot consume water or food without assistance. We cannot maintain any semblance of hygiene without assistance. We cannot become mobile and move from one place to another without assistance. In short, we are totally dependent on someone else for these things, else our survival is in peril.
In the first 18 months of life, we fill that brand new sponge that is our brain with so much input, it exceeds the capacity of everything else we will ever learn for the rest of our life. Things that we simply take for granted as adults, we would have much difficulty learning, or relearning. Our brain has already been etched with information, so we’re rewriting the script, the program if you will, that performs the step by step instructions we send and receive from different points throughout our body. Since we only have one script, any rewrite occurs atop of the original script.
THAT TODDLER WITHIN US
Our first choice, and you really have to laugh and see the humor in this, is because it’s the one word we have heard the most. And the answer is? “NO!” It’s “Don’t touch that!…No!”. “Come here!…No!”. “Let me help you!…No!” So where do you think we got that idea from to be the first word that comes out of our mouth? Up to this point, as we have gained mobility, began to gain a voice, and began interacting with our world around us, we repeat what we have learned the most. And that is, “No!”. Ironically, in spite of our objection, and saying “No!”, we were largely ignored. And so it begins.
In our early childhood, we begin making choices. This is where this expression comes from that is also Newton’s Third Law of Physics.
“For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.”
But it doesn’t only apply to physics. It applies to chemistry. It applies to relationships. It applies to choices. As a chemical example, if we infuse explosive elements into the chemical equation, we can expect and anticipate explosive results. But conversely, we can neutralize acid with a simple can of Coca Cola. Bad actions (negative actions) result in bad reactions (negative reactions). Good actions (positive actions) result in good reactions (positive reactions). That is what balance looks like.
As we pave the way to our independence, our ultimate goal, we are met with something that we have to learn. Boundaries! It starts at home, and expands from there. You can generally tell whose children have boundaries and those who don’t the first day of Kindergarten. When little Johnny just doesn’t follow directions, just doesn’t acknowledge, let alone embrace, authority, then he hasn’t been subject to boundaries very much at all. He’s going to be your problem child.
In those early childhood years, it is important to invoke consequences for action(s) & behavior(s) we find inappropriate and unacceptable. Little Johnny doesn’t know that it is inappropriate to spit on you until he has a consequence for doing so. The first time, we make that declaration, we set that as a boundary. It’s “I cannot allow my child to spit on, assault, another human being (in our case, we included animals and things)”. We establish the appropriate rules to protect that boundary, and enforce the consequences we had defined for it. I posted Boundaries (Rules actually) & Consequences on our refrigerator for my children, so there was no mistake or misunderstanding in what the consequences would be for any given infraction. I also produced a discipline ladder which had different color coded levels of consequences for different levels of infractions. It was very matter of fact and itemized almost to the point of OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder). My daughter, one time, knowing what the consequence was for her action(s), shoved one sibling onto the floor, and bopped the other one over the head, and then looked at each of us and said “I go to timeout now!” Dumbfounded, we just looked at each other in disbelief and couldn’t help but laugh about how she came to terms herself, knowing the consequence for her action(s), and rationalized that it was worth it to her.
Part of the problem in that early childhood development is that we don’t give them choices. Instead, we utilize the brute force parent/child, boss/subordinate, master/slave authoritarian parenting approach that dictates, controls, and manipulates our children. Not that I was this perfect parent by any stretch of the imagination, but I’d give anything to be able to go back and do it over again. I would do things very much differently. But I can’t take it back. I do know that when given the option to choose, more often than not, they would choose to do the right thing.
I was always passionate about education, safety, and technology. Instead of saying “no”, more often than not, I would seize the opportunity to teach. I didn’t tell my toddler that she couldn’t plug the vacuum cleaner into the outlet for fear it would shock her. I showed her how to do it safely. I didn’t tell my son he couldn’t put a CD into the DVD Player. I showed him how to do it correctly. I didn’t stop my daughter from plunging her hand into my hot cup of coffee as I sat on the floor with her, I consoled and comforted her afterwards, and said “hot”. So why did I do that? A momentary discomfort for a split second is one consequence that I could live with if it prevented her from touching a hot stove because she equated “hot” with “ouch” and getting a lifelong scar as a result of second and third degree burns. It goes along the lines of this:
“I’m not interested in protecting our children from the world around them. I’m interested in preparing them for it. For if I prepare them, I know that they will step up to the plate, make the right decision, and do the right thing in my absence no matter what it cost them.”
Why is this so important? Because it teaches them Boundaries, the Rules governing them, and the Consequences for failure to respect them.
As a child, our boundaries are expanded and we are afforded more freedom as we learn self-control, responsibility, and accountability. This is a great time of expansion into freedom and we are given many more choices than ever before. We get to choose what we want for lunch at school. We get to choose what we wear to school. We get to choose the boys and girls we become friends with. But even those carry boundaries as our parents and those who love us the most tend to micromanage our decision making process. The choices we make are largely limited by those restrictions, and also restrictions imposed by other adults who are chartered with power and authority over us. Unfortunately, many children haven’t been taught boundaries, and also many adults with adult driven agendas have no concept of any of them of their own. They don’t know boundaries themselves, so how could we possibly expect them to respect anyone else’s?
Then we reach adolescence. That’s where things take a turn for the worse. This isn’t just pushing the edge of the envelope anymore. Teens, with their perceived level of invincibility, push boundaries far beyond the limits than their adult guardians can keep up with. If you’ve taken the time in early years to teach, preach, and enforce Boundaries & Consequences, you can take solace in knowing that your child will likely make good decisions that are best in their long term overall interest. If not, you can expect and anticipate repercussions. They will have consequences to bear that they hadn’t been prepared for.
So what does all of this have to do with choices? Well, throughout our childhood, we have been presented with choices. We had the choice to misbehave or not and consequently go to time out. We had the choice to pick a fight at school or not and consequently get expelled. We had a choice to drink and drive and kill someone or not, and in so doing go to jail or prison. All of these things, we are presented with choices.
When we decide to engage in any act of betrayal of our Partner, that is a choice. Addiction is an explanation; not an excuse. When our Partner makes a decision to create Boundaries & Consequences, for and to protect themselves in the safety, security, and sanity of their own environment, that is a choice. When we decide to disrespect those Boundaries, when we decide that their imposed consequences are beneath us, and refuse to respect them, that is a choice.
People who choose to create Boundaries & Consequences, do so not because they care to control someone else. They do so to control themselves. They do so to control their own destiny. They do so in their own pursuit of happiness. If you choose to do something that is contrary to that, there are consequences to those actions. Nonetheless, your reaction to someone else becomes your action(s) & behavior(s) that you made a conscious choice to do. Not theirs. Not anyone else’s. Yours.
So when are choices no longer ours to make anymore? Whenever your choices impact or influence another human being, your right to choose does not supersede, override, or veto theirs.
“You have the right to do anything you want in so much as your right to do so doesn’t infringe upon anyone else’s”
Your happiness is no one else’s responsibility but your own. Your dissatisfaction is also no one else’s responsibility but your own. If you are unhappy with your given situation, it is incumbent upon you to change it. If your choice includes someone else, it no longer becomes one, or the other, but all interested parties to concur on that choice. Otherwise, it isn’t a choice you get to make. If you didn’t think to include them in your choice to betray them, then don’t expect to be included in their choice to exclude you. You made your choice. And so they made theirs. Deal with it. Live with it.
Unfortunately, for one who has committed an act of betrayal, they never really learned about personal responsibility, accountability, and ownership. This often occurs as a byproduct of addiction, and at whatever age the addiction began, they are generally stuck there making choices at that emotional age level. This explains why the juvenile asinine behavior is reminiscent of an adolescent rendition of themselves. So if you are the least bit interested in what they acted like as a child, look no further.
It was my wife who said this to me, and I couldn’t agree more. She said so eloquently:
“…We have no boundaries. Boundaries should be a requirement taught in High School and Middle School; Elementary School even…”
As soon as she said it, I realized how differently things would have been for us, for our children, and for so many other families who have been subjected to them; or lack thereof as the case may be.
We live in a time where we aren’t experienced with Boundaries & Consequences, so it is no wonder our choices are a reflection of that. We live in a time where we engaged in helicopter parenting where we once hovered over our children keeping a close eye on every move they made so as to keep a watchful eye on them. In theory, it is because we didn’t want them to make a mistake, particularly the same mistakes that we made, and would be there to catch them when they fall. A noble cause, only it doesn’t work. Then we migrated over to lawnmower parenting where we began, not only hovering over our children, but also mowing a clear path along the way for them to succeed. We simply mowed down any obstacles that got in their way before they ever reached them. Also a noble cause, only it doesn’t work either. A prime example of this is the more recent 2019 College Admissions Bribery Scandal; a conspiracy that netted some 51 very high profile arrests. There were so many boundary violations, an article wouldn’t begin to do it justice. The collateral damage is so deep, so wide, and so severe, it will have repercussions for decades to come.
This is where the “special snowflake”, “participation trophy”, and “emotional support animal” stereotype ideas come from. It is an overabundance of those who cannot accept the stark reality that the choices that we make have consequences; until we become subject to them. Then it becomes a very rude awakening that we don’t know how to process. In short, as parents, we have crippled them. And not just them. We’ve crippled ourselves as well.
BOUNDARIES & CONSEQUENCES
Failure is not an option. Failure is a necessity. For without experiencing it, we don’t know how to accept it, learn from it, how to navigate it, and move past it. If we never failed at anything, how would we ever know how to improve at anything? There is nothing wrong with failure. There is plenty wrong with the insanity of repeating the same thing over and over and over again expecting a different result. We all need to learn that choices have consequences, and that it starts the moment our ankle is tagged in the delivery room. Regardless, if you take nothing else from this, take this: We are all subject to the choices that we make. Barring force, the decision is totally ours, and ours alone.