Freedom to choose



Work started on my house this morning and stress levels are rising! Amid the din of the diggers, kids running around and the washing machine spinning out of control The Husband and I need to make serious decisions about the direction of bi-fold doors and the colour of “door furniture”

Watching The Husband wrestle with these decisions and letting himself overheat with the pressure I was reminded of something I read years ago when learning about delivering Cognitive Behavioural Theory (CBT) at Probation. “Between stimulus and response is the freedom to choose” (Viktor E. Frankl 1905 – 1997) or “The last of the human freedoms – the ability to choose one’s attitude in a given set of circumstances” (Viktor E. Frankl 1905 – 1997)

In his book, “Man’s search for meaning” (1946) Frankl describes the horror of a Nazi concentration camp and observed the differences in human behaviour from people experiencing the same circumstances. Why was it that some cowered in fear whilst others sided with their tormentors and became abusers themselves in order to survive? Those who sided with the Nazi’s were given more food and privileges but treated their fellow prisoners worse than animals to gain status. Other people gave up hope and descended into madness, while Frankl observed these human differences and formulated theories based on what he’s seen.


When the stimulus is the same we have a choice about how we respond and this will often determine how happy or successful our lives will be. Lots of theories suggest people get stuck in a particular way of behaving and this hampers any effort to change our behaviour and move on. “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.” Henry Ford (1863-1947)

CBT attempts to step into this gap between stimulus and response and offer strategies for changing how to react. Positive self-talk, for example, is where we tell ourselves we can do something rather than putting ourselves down.

I used this strategy this morning when facing steam coming out of The Husbands ears!  “Right” I thought to myself, “how can I make order out of the chaos that is The Husbands brain?” “ok” I said to him, “let’s make a list of all the questions we’ve got and decisions we need to make then ask the builder what he thinks, we can then tick them off one by one and feel like we’re achieving something” within half an hour we had answers to most of the questions, the list looked much more manageable and The Husband was calmly eating a bacon sandwich!

I realise that our domestic situation doesn’t compare to the horrors endured by people in Nazi concentration camps but it highlighted to me that we have a choice about how we deal with stressful and life changing situations. We have at least 10 weeks of building chaos to live through before the work is complete and we must chose to deal with it positively or The Husband will spontaneously combust by week 3!

It has also reminded me of my own reaction to being made redundant (see previous blog post “redundancy and disability”) I could either lie down and die or fight back by offering my services as a freelance writer and trainer.

I have a constant battle with my diagnosis too. It’s important to keep fighting for those around me as well as myself. I mustn’t slip into misery even though the loss I feel at times is overwhelming. I need to keep a smile on my face for my children and The Husband because MS is happening to them too.


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