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Choice, Indecision, and Guilt

Guilt Word Means Guilty Feelings And PangsAny time we make a choice, we choose one thing and not another. One path is taken; another is abandoned. One choice lives, another dies. Why do I say dies? The Latin root of “decide” is “de-cidere.” The meaning of “cidere” is “to kill,” as in homicide and suicide. Every choice is a murder. To avoid this murder, we may keep ourselves stuck in indecision. Thus, to avoid indecision, we must bear the guilt of killing a choice.

We cannot do everything in this life. Choices are nearly infinite; our lifespans are finite. Although we hope to have it all, we can’t. We always make choices, even if the choice is not to decide. Choices trigger guilt because when we choose, we choose what we want. And what we want may not be what a loved one wants. By our choices, we reveal to loved ones that we are not them. We want what we want, and they want what they want. And they should! Why? Because they are not us.

We risk hurting people when our desires differ from theirs. For example, someone might want to be our friend, but we don’t want to be their friend. Or perhaps a client wants to make an appointment, having heard wonderful things about our work, but we don’t have time in our schedule. These acquaintances may feel disappointed, and we may feel a twinge of guilt, knowing that if we had extended ourselves we could have pleased them. But if we had extended ourselves in these situations, we would have merely chosen to avoid the guilt that comes from saying no to the desire of another person.

We must be able to bear this guilt over choosing, over killing choices, and over killing certain kinds of relationships. Once we choose one future, we kill off another future. Once we choose one kind of relationship, we kill off another relationship. Once we choose one person, we do not choose another. Even a polyamorous person chooses not to be monogamous. Every choice for one thing rules out other choices. Death, guilt, and limits are woven into the very fabric of our lives.

When faced with indecision, ask yourself these three questions:

Am I making this choice based on desire or fear?

We often let fear make our decisions, allowing fear to control our lives instead of us. We almost always fear change. That doesn’t mean we should not take the next step. It means that this feeling of fear is the next step toward change. When we desire change, fear of change will arise. Our task is to walk toward that fear, for fear points to the depths of ourselves that we long to find.

Am I indecisive because I don’t want to disappoint someone else?

If you are yourself, you will always disappoint others who wish you were the same as their fantasy. If you accept that they are disappointed, they will more quickly be able to accept the reality of you. If you remain indecisive for fear of disappointing others, you will disappoint yourself. You will crucify yourself on the cross of their wishes.

Am I indecisive because I don’t feel ready?

We are never ready for life. Life shows up whether we are ready or not. We learn through living, not through waiting. When you accept that we are never ready for life, you can walk into life, ready to fail, ready to fall, and ready to learn. And through this emotional courage of learning through living, you will find the wisdom you have been looking for.

If we cannot bear the guilt that comes with choosing, we make the suicidal choice: indecision. Through indecision we try to avoid the murder of making a choice. But by not choosing, by remaining stuck, we kill off our lives, trying to stop the river while the river continues to flow. Or we wait for life to make the choices for us and it does. As time goes by, the time for college passes, the time for having children passes, the time for a career passes, and then finally the river flows over the waterfall, and we are plunging to our deaths, wondering why we were paralyzed. And then we face the guilt over our unlived life, the life that could have unfolded if only we had made a decision.

Choice, Indecision, and Guilt

Jon Frederickson, MSW

JON FREDERICKSON, MSW is co-chair of the ISTDP Training Program at the Washington School of Psychiatry where he has been on the faculty since 1988. He currently teaches mental health professionals around the world. He is the author of The Lies We Tell Ourselves: How to Face the Truth, Accept Yourself, and Create a Better Life. For more info, please visit

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APA Reference
Frederickson, J. (2018). Choice, Indecision, and Guilt. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 25, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 2 Jan 2017)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
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