Can We Really Choose How We Feel?

By Kristina Randle, Ph.D., LCSW

Q. In my depressive state brought on not only by issues with religion but past sexual abuse I have been seeing a therapist. He has told me and I do not quite agree with this: We are in control of our own thoughts and actions, therefore how we feel is our choice. I have also heard and read that depression and other mental problems are not a sign that we are weak. How is this possible? If we decide how we feel and we are deciding to feel like crap all the time isn’t that weakness on our part.To choose to live day in and day out with feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness seems pretty week to me. So which is it? Do we really choose?

A. Let me answer this very simply. If we can choose how we feel, why would anyone choose to feel bad? Perhaps because they did not know that they “had a choice” they might need to be reminded that they do have a choice. But once reminded, then every depressed person — the very person who has taken time and spent money to eliminate his unpleasant feelings of depression, would simply “stop” feeling depressed. I guess he just needs to think happy thoughts or remind himself not to think depressing thoughts.

It is beyond comprehension that depressed people feel this way by choice. Many highly intelligent and highly educated people suffer from feelings of depression. Would you dare to insult them by suggesting that they were doing this deliberately or through ignorance? I hope not. They would do anything, they have wracked their brains, searched their souls, all to find relief from these overwhelming feelings.

These people are intelligent and strong but they are powerless to change how they feel. A good therapist and the key word here is “good,” because not all therapists are created equally, can and does provide the cure to depression. To suggest that one can control his or her feelings of depression, or happiness for that matter, is to insult that person in the worst possible way. It is to suggest that they prefer depression and choose to be depressed. The idea that one chooses his victimization, is as true for the victim of depression as it is the victim of cancer. It is not a choice for either individual.

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 23 Mar 2008

APA Reference
Randle, K. (2008). Can We Really Choose How We Feel?. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 22, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2008/03/23/can-we-choose-how-we-feel/