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Do We Have Free Will When Living with an Emotional or Mental Disorder?

do i have a choice to be mentally ill

Now and then I wonder if I have any choices at all when it comes to the impact of my emotional and mental circumstances upon my life. I suppose it really comes down to the concept of free will. I mean, do we have it? Come along with me on this necessary chat. I hope you’ll find it thought-provoking… 

…do we have free will, given the genetics and history of environmental stressors that have generated and solidified our cognitive, affective, and behavioral defaults and leanings?

As soon as I began writing the intro I knew that anyone enduring a mood or anxiety disorder would understand where I was in my head and heart. Right? You’ve wondered the very same thing.

What Got Me to Thinkin’?

In last week’s piece, “Relaxation-Induced Anxiety: What & Why You Need to Know,” I mentioned Dr. Michelle Newman’s contrast avoidance theory. Here’s a portion of what I wrote…

“The contrast avoidance theory revolves around the notion that we may intentionally (perhaps without knowing it) make ourselves anxious as a way to avoid the letdown we might feel if something – anything – bad were to happen…Since most of the things we worry about don’t happen, reinforced in the brain is, ‘See, I worried and nothing bad happened, so it makes sense that I should continue worrying.'”

Now stay with me here. As a mental health professional, and patient, nothing irritates me more than a mental health professional saying something similar to what I just shared and blindly assuming the “makes sense” remedies, well, just ought to work. “Have a nice day. Good-bye.”

You know, as well as I, that isn’t always how it goes. And that’s why I do my best to qualify – temper – relief options in anything I say or write.

Well, that didn’t flow as easily in last week’s piece, and I couldn’t get it out of my head. And for some reason the concept of free will, as in “Do we have it?,” came flooding forth.

Let’s go there…

Free Will: What Is It?

do i have control over my lifeThe concept of free will can become philosophically complicated very quickly. I don’t want that to happen, so let’s roll with this simple definition…

The ability to choose between possible courses of action, unimpeded.

So it’s really about making our own choices and determining our own fates.

As long as we’re talking about concepts that wave wands of control over our lives, I’ll mention the term locus of control. It’s considered to be a key personality component which addresses the question: “Do I believe my destiny is controlled internally (personal decisions and beliefs) or externally (events, others, fate, etc.)?”

What do you think about your locus of control?

Free Will: Decision Time

Okay, now it’s time to make a decision. Do we have free will when living with an emotional or mental disorder?

To be more specific, do we have free will, given the genetics and history of environmental stressors that have generated and solidified our cognitive, affective, and behavioral defaults and leanings? Do we have free will when therapies, meds, relaxation exercises, supplements, etc. just don’t work for us?

I mean, let’s remember our free will definition: The ability to choose between possible courses of action, unimpeded. Keyword: “unimpeded.”

Okay, it comes down to a personal decision. I’ll lead by saying that in spite of experiencing all of the above for forty-six years, I have not lost my free will. Or maybe I should say I haven’t relinquished it.

Naturally, you may feel differently about yours.

Let me toss this in. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve complimented someone who somehow continued to move forward, even though getting-up and even brushing their teeth was seemingly impossible.

Most often the response is, “Well, I really didn’t have a choice.” To which I reply s/he actually did have a choice. They could have stayed in bed – for days. Indeed, that individual exercised free will, in the face of impediment.

(Please understand that I know many haven’t been able to overcome that, or another, impediment. I get it and mean no disrespect.)

Free Will: Do You Have It?

So now I’ll turn it back to you. I’m going to go out on a limb and state that I believe you have free will, even in the midst of horrible impediments. But when it comes down to acceptance, belief, and real-life application and practice of free will, only you can decide.

This is the “thought-provoking” part. What’s your take?

Please take a look at Chipur article “Locus of Control: Is Yours an ‘Innie’ or an ‘Outie?’ (And why it matters).”

After that, take a peek at all the Chipur titles.