Avoiding Decisions

Terry Lieb Coping with Adversity, Facing Fear, Learning from Failure 7 Comments

Over the past fifty years I have counseled people of all ages, from young children to seniors in a variety of settings faced with major life decisions who all too often decide—consciously or unconsciously—not to make a decision!  I have also found myself in the same situation and Rita and I have had to face our fair share as a couple.

The first thing to realize about these major life decisions which we ignore, walk around, or put off until later is that not making a decision may very well be the worst and most unhealthy decision we make!

The hazards of avoiding decisions are clearly illustrated in the experiences of a young woman whose guidance counselor had recommended she seek counseling for depression. Kate, a high school senior, quickly explained that she had just been granted a full athletic scholarship to a division one school. But she exhibited little of the joy or excitement that generally accompanies such news.

When I shared that observation with her, she became very quiet and within a few seconds started crying! Eventually she blurted out, “I can’t take four more years of this pressure to preform; I don’t even enjoy this sport anymore! It has robbed me of any real fun and time with my friends.

Zhivko Minkov on Unsplash.com

“The girls who have survived this long are driven and extremely competitive. I guess I have become much the same, but I no longer enjoy it and I have come to actually resent it! To make matters even worse, this college doesn’t offer the major I am most interested in for my career.

“It feels overwhelming because both my parents’ egos and their money are a huge part of this.

I think one of the main reasons I couldn’t say anything before was a fear of how it would disappoint my mother. She was a gymnast but had to give up the sport when she was fifteen because of a serious injury. I feel like I’m living out her dream!

“I’m caught in an impossible situation where my choices are all being made for me and don’t at all align with what I want. I should have made a decision a few years ago and told my parents how I was feeling. Now it has gotten much bigger and more complicated.”

We quickly identified the basis for her anger, fear and quilt, the three major emotions which often drive depression. Kate was angry at her parents and at herself for not standing up to them. She was afraid of their response if she did. She felt guilty every time she didn’t live up to her mother’s expectations.

Her father also saw all the money they spent over the years as an investment and the scholarship was the return on his investments. Again, fear of his response if she quit, anger for putting her in this position, and guilt about what college would cost if she didn’t have a scholarship!

Despite all her fears, Kate mustered the courage to share her feelings with her parents. I promised that if she could share her honest feelings with her parents, I would help her deal with her parents’ reactions. She decided to tell her parents her decision in a family counseling session.

That first session her mother didn’t say a word but looked like a bomb that was about to explode! The father went into a tirade about what “he” had invested in her and what four years of college was going to cost him!  He then stormed out of the office.

Kate’s mother’s glare shifted from Kate to the floor. Taking that as a sign that I might have an opportunity to deactivate the bomb, I asked about the original referral for Kate to get counseling. Her entire presentation changed as I shifted the focus. She quickly acknowledged that she knew Kate was becoming increasingly more depressed. I asked her how she assessed Kate’s level of depression?

She sat quietly for a few moments, tears began to form and then she said rather softly, “because I live with it myself every day and have most of my life!”

I asked if she had considered what that admission could open up for her family. She admitted that it would probably take them to challenging places in their family and also in her marriage. I told her that I thought they had both made very difficult decisions that day that had the potential to bring healing and health to the entire family.

In the following weeks, Kate’s father continued to oppose her decision to decline the scholarship, but with her mother’s support, Kate decided to take a year off after graduation to work, save money, and explore what colleges offered the best programs for physician’s assistants. Meanwhile, Kate’s mother later pursued individual counseling for depression and after beginning appropriate regimen of antidepressants, began to experience substantial improvement.

Two of the three family members chose to make very challenging decisions they had been avoiding. In both cases, the difficulties surrounding their eventual confrontations were greatly intensified by their long-standing decision to not make a decision!

Several years later Kate approached me after a memorial service. I apologized for not recognizing her at first; she had transformed into an adult! Kate shared that she was living outside of New York City, where she held a position with a large medical practice she enjoyed. She had also become very active in a Unitarian Universalist Church which she was quite excited about.

“My parents aren’t very happy about that,” she acknowledged with a smile, “but I had to make a decision (she emphasized) as to what tradition fit with my evolving beliefs and would nurture my own faith journey!” I congratulated her on her new proactive approach to decision-making. I wish more people had the good fortune to learn it so early in life!

Not everyone is so lucky. Jack was forty-three when he called requesting individual counseling because he was “emotionally paralyzed” and couldn’t make a decision. His closest friend since childhood said to him recently, “the highway is full of flattened squirrels who couldn’t make a decision, you are driving over yourself! Your daily decision to not make a decision is eating you up from the inside out!”

In our first session Jack explained that he was married to his childhood sweetheart for twenty-one years—the only girl he ever really dated!  They had two children, a nice home and a job he enjoyed.

A year ago he and a few other employees attended a training program in Colorado. A colleague who had just lost her husband following a long battle with cancer asked to talk with him one evening. When he arrived in her room she was crying and quite upset. She explained how supporting her husband through all his treatments and final two months on hospice had totally drained all the life out of her. “I can’t talk to anyone, even my children, about how empty I feel!” she wept.

“I had no idea what to say or do so I just sat there and listened. Eventually she asked if I would be willing to just hold her. I felt extremely awkward but did sit beside her on the bed and held her while she continued to cry. Somehow we ended up in bed together and I spent the night with her—actually the remaining two nights!”

“When this first happened I blamed my wife.” Jack went on to explain that his wife had several health issues following the birth of their second child that limited their sexual relationship significantly. Although their family doctor recommended a book outlining a variety of positions, techniques, and alternatives, his wife was resistant to trying any of the suggestions offered there. “Eventually I just gave up,” he said.

“Now I realize that what happened in Colorado was totally my fault and I want to tell her everything, but I’m terrified telling her will ruin—maybe even end—my marriage. And what would that do to my kids? I can’t do that to them! But my friend is right, it is eating me up from the inside out! Not making a decision is making it worse every day!  What do I do?”

 I explained that I can’t make decisions for clients; however, I could help him identify and explore his options. As we talked more about the past year, he revealed that his depression and guilt had grown, his self-care had deteriorated, and he had withdrawn not only from his wife, but also friends and family.

The more he talked, the more he realized that carrying on that way didn’t seem like a viable option. His self-esteem was spiraling downward and he saw no way of turning it around while continuing to hide his actions from his wife. “Actually by not deciding whether or not to tell her what I’ve done, I’m actually deciding to lie every day. Avoiding making a decision is probably the worst decision I could make!”

Once he came to that realization, Jack wasted no time in confessing to his wife, taking full responsibility and suggesting marriage counseling. The process of working through the betrayal was difficult and it was not certain at first that the marriage would survive, but Jack’s voluntary confession and total acceptance of fault went a long way in reestablishing trust. Eventually—like many who go through difficult trials together—they came out the other side perhaps even stronger than before.

Brett Jordan on Unsplash.com

“I shudder to think what would have happened if I hadn’t made the decision I did. I’m not sure the marriage would have made it—or even if I would have!” I can’t think of a stronger endorsement for facing issues head on than that!

As has become standard protocol, I bounced this month’s post off two friends who have now been labeled my “bouncers.” The most direct of the two said, “This one hits close to home; but I’m wondering why you didn’t write about a very difficult decision you and Rita have been attempting to face and work through for at least the past six years!”

It appears I have an honest “bouncer” not just for my writing, but more importantly for my life journey as well! I immediately realized he was absolutely correct in pointing out the personal relevance this issue has for me right now and probably why I was attracted to it as a blog topic to begin with! I guess I have my homework assignment and topic for my next post!



  • Have you ever avoided making a decision in the past that you wish you would have faced directly? If so, what consequences and complications resulted from your decision to not make a decision?
  • What caused you to avoid making that decision or avoid making other decisions?
  • Can you think of a situation where you decided to make a difficult decision and followed through? What was different in this situation than the previous one?
  • What were the resources or strengths you drew upon to make the decision and then follow through with the decision?
  • What possible negative consequences result in avoiding making a decision? Can you identify any possible benefits?
  • Do you have any difficult decisions you are presently deciding not to face? If so, what are you frightened by, what is preventing you from making the decision?
  • What resources do you have or could access to support you in following through? Is your faith, your God, a help or a hindrance?

Banner Photo by Mohammad Bagher Adib Behrooz

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October 3, 2023 12:11 pm

Another great article. Always thought provoking.

October 4, 2023 8:50 am

This one really hits home for me. It’s the bricks in the bag that continue to weigh us down when we don’t make those difficult decisions to face the tough stuff or our fears!! As time goes on the bag just gets heavier and heavier. Once we make that decision though to confront the tough stuff – the weight starts to lesson and lesson and we can start to get our lives back. Thanks Terry for all that you do!!

James Buskirk (Jim)
James Buskirk (Jim)
October 4, 2023 2:51 pm

Ouch! This one woke me up. I/we have several big issues to confront and procrastination has been working so well for me/us.
I really look forward to these articles please keep them coming.

Suzanne Barron
Suzanne Barron
October 5, 2023 11:18 am

Years ago I had counseling sessions for a time. I remember my counselor saying that many people avoid counseling because they think only weak people ask for help. My counselor said that the opposite is true. It’s the strong people who are ready to face their problems and make decisions who are the folks who seek counseling. My counseling sessions were the catalyst that helped me to make decisions and move forward with my life.

October 6, 2023 4:06 pm

Once again a thought provoking, soul searching article. If we choose not to make a choice, in fact, we have made one-avoidance is never the answer. Just adds to the guilt and emotional baggage so many of us cling on to. Thanks again o wise sage

Ron Wildasin
Ron Wildasin
October 7, 2023 11:41 am

Living with procrastination on important issues is very draining. What a relief I have experienced when my focus is short, a decision is made, and I can move onto more decisions that continue to come throughout life’s challenges. It has not been easy.

Ron Wildasin
Ron Wildasin
November 5, 2023 6:10 am

You hit the nail on the head. What an important subject that has bothered me for many years. My daughter, who lives near me, has already said she will take me in when that time comes. Many years ago I had the foresight to get long term care insurance, but I have ignored how to begin sorting through all the stuff in my house that needs to go. What a burden that will be for my kids if I leave those decisions for others. Thank you for pushing my buttons. Now is the time.