Chronic indecision has got to be one of the most painful symptoms of inner conflict, turning sufferers into queasy question marks stooped in a wilted crouch. Okay, maybe that’s a bit graphic—but you get the point.
I’ve written an earlier post on the subject (Indecisive No More), but one reader wanted me to say more about how to overcome this symptom.
He asked: “Are there concrete steps to break this pattern of chronic, debilitating indecision once you recognize what is going on? Are there real action steps that you can address in your writing?”
Suppose I were to give him a highly recommended concrete plan of action to inspire decisiveness. Would he decide to follow that plan? If he happens to come across another recommended plan of action, how will he decide which plan to follow? If he finally chooses one concrete plan over the other, will he decide to stick to that plan when the going gets tough? It’s pretty obvious that indecision turns concrete steps into wet cement.
When we venture into our psyche to get to the roots of indecision or other kinds of dysfunction, we require only one plan of action: we have to make conscious what has been inwardly weakening us and causing our self-doubt.
Let’s get to the heart of the issue. As I said in my earlier post, indecisive individuals are stuck in inner conflict: Consciously, they want to feel decisive, but unconsciously they are tempted or compelled to “know themselves” through self-doubt, uncertainty, and a sense of weakness. Unconsciously, they do not want to make a decision. Instead, they are unwittingly choosing to go on experiencing themselves through doubt and uncertainty, which is an old emotional default position in their psyche. At a deep level, they have known themselves through that familiar frailty as far back as childhood.
Indecision becomes a painful, self-defeating symptom of this inner conflict. As we look deeper, we’re amazed to see that this symptom also serves as a psychological defense. The unconscious defense is formulated along these lines: “I don’t want to feel helplessly stuck in weakness and uncertainty. I hate feeling indecisive. In fact, I want concrete steps. I desperately want a plan to guide me out of this indecision. I know if I had concrete steps, I would be able to move forward.”
Exposing the defense reveals that the desire for “concrete steps” is a sham. Unconsciously, indecisive people have no intention of breaking free of their uncertainty. Their powerful identification with an enfeebled sense of self holds them in a vise-like grip. They need to become conscious of the nature of their affinity for inner weakness.
Inwardly, they’re choosing to cozy up to their old default position, one that’s emotionally associated with weakness and inner passivity. This emotional entanglement in inner passivity, once exposed, can be overcome.
Another defense is frequently employed to cover up one’s determination to maintain the inner status quo. The defense is formulated along these lines: “I’m not determined to go on experiencing myself through weakness and uncertainty. Look at how much I hate being indecisive. It’s very painful. I really wish I could make up my mind.” Again, this is self-deception. The individual, while claiming that he hates his indecisiveness and accepting inner reproach for it, is covering up just how much he’s willing to go on experiencing himself through that familiar sense of weakness.
As mentioned, the best action plan involves becoming more conscious. The problem has to be resolved on an inner level. If you are indecisive, you must learn the meaning of your indecisiveness. Be patient as you work out the inner conflicts and emotional attachments that have been weakening you.
Your indecision is a direct result of inner conflict. You’re unable to feel your inner authority (centered in your authentic self) because two parts of your unconscious mind or psyche—your inner critic and inner passivity—are undermining that authority. These two primitive parts don’t care about your wellbeing. They are narrow impulsive features of the psyche, polar opposites whose instinct is to be hopelessly enmeshed with each other. The only language they understand is aggression (inner critic), submission (inner passivity), defensiveness, passive-aggressive resistance, and denial. Your conscious intervention is needed to subdue the conflict between these two parts and to produce harmony out of chaos. Your effective intervention is made possible through growing awareness of the fundamentals of depth psychology.
For one thing, you learn not to be defensive with your inner critic. People who are indecisive are intimidated by their inner critic and therefore defensive. They’re afraid their inner critic will harass, mock, and punish them for making a bad decision. Their defensiveness is ineffective and it has little success in fending off their inner critic.
Indecisive people put up a defense that goes like this: “I don’t want to be subjected to abuse from my inner critic for making the wrong choice. Look at how afraid I am that I might make the wrong choice. My indecision shows how hard I’m trying to make the right choice.” This defense, however, only makes the indecisiveness more stubborn or relentless.
When we stand up to the inner critic, we learn how to avoid being inwardly defensive. (Read, Defeating the Inner Bully.) Indecisive people also tend to be defensive in their relationships and dealings with others.
When a person’s inner critic and inner passivity are in conflict, he or she is unwittingly a spokesperson for each side of the conflict. Here’s an example of how conflict concerning indecision might drag on, with our inner passivity speaking mostly in a defensive tone and our inner critic in a mocking, sarcastic tone:
Inner passivity: I researched my choices and did my best to make the right choice.
Inner critic: Yeah, it took you ages to make the decision—and then it turned out to be a bad decision.
Inner passivity: How was I to know that! I couldn’t foresee what would happen.
Inner critic: Nevertheless, you did make a bad choice. Who do you think deserves the blame for that!
Inner passivity: God, I feel awful right now.
Inner critic: Now the opportunity to choose the other option is gone.
Inner passivity: That’s right. It’s probably gone. Wait, maybe it’s not too late! That other choice might still be available.
Inner critic: Forget it! You blew it! It’s gone.
Inner passivity: Anyway, I’ll keep trying. I’ll look elsewhere.
Inner critic: It’s hopeless, you fool!
And on it goes, ad infinitum.
Other variations of inner conflict can also play a role in indecisiveness. These dynamics are also accompanied by dialogue between the inner critic and inner passivity:
1 – A person can be acting out a conflict that produces the feeling of being disappointed in oneself and in what life has to offer. Indecision feeds the experience of being perpetually disappointed.
2 – The indecisiveness can be associated with an unconscious determination to feel victimized by life’s challenges. The sense is, “No matter what I do, it never works out.”
3 – An individual can be prepared to feel that, in making one choice, he or she will miss out on a better choice. As one person put it, “I hate choosing between things because I am always curious what would have happened if I’d chosen the other.” This is the passive voice speaking, producing an experience of self-doubt. Self-doubt arises when an individual is not committed to his or her decision.
4 – Behind the indecisiveness is a readiness to condemn oneself for making a bad choice. The defense states, “No, I’m not looking to feel condemned by my inner critic for making a foolish mistake. Look, I am (was) indecisive – I don’t (didn’t) even want to make a choice.”
5 – The behavior can be traced to one’s willingness to struggle in vain—“spinning your wheels”—in an apparent attempt to resolve a quandary. Again, the experience is one of self-doubt and inner passivity.
6 – The indecision can have, as a fatalistic end game, a willingness to produce self-sabotage, as a byproduct of self-doubt, self-rejection, or self-hatred.
Paradoxically, indecision is an act of decisiveness. How so? A decision is made at an unconscious level to torture oneself through the feeling of one’s own self-doubt. This unconscious “perversity” has to be exposed. Though the self-defeating decision is an unconscious one, we pay a painful price for it, and we are—in terms of what it means to evolve—ultimately responsible for it.
Healthy decisiveness means you’re free (or at least working yourself free) of self-sabotage. It means you’re not afraid of making a bad or inferior choice. You trust yourself to make a good choice, yet if that choice misfires you won’t stab yourself in the back (let your inner critic condemn you) for making that choice. You’re able to go forward being decisive, making good choices as much as that’s humanly possible.
My latest book has just been published. It’s titled, Our Deadly Flaw: Healing the Inner Conflict that Cripples Us and Subverts Society (2022), and it’s available here in paperback (315 pages) or as an e-book.