Do You Have Trouble Making Decisions?

One child hits another. The adults force the two to hug each other and make up. What do they learn from it? How does it influence the difficulty they may have in making decisions as an adult? In this article, we'll tell you.
Do You Have Trouble Making Decisions?

Written by Elena Sanz

Last update: 17 November, 2022

The ability to make decisions is fundamental in any area of our existence. However, although making decisions is simple for some, it’s extremely complicated for others. Obviously, there are certain dilemmas for which it’s recommended we take our time in making decisions. However, there are others that don’t warrant either much time or expenditure of cognitive energy. For example, when you want to give a little present to someone you don’t know too well. What should you give them? Chocolates are a good idea. But which ones? You’ll probably choose the best sellers.

Indecision is closely associated with error tolerance. It’s an issue that goes beyond genetics. In fact, it seems that it’s closely associated with our education.

For example, if the punishments you received for the mistakes you made when you were young were really harsh, you may have internalized the fear of making mistakes.

In this case, your rational side tells you to seek support. Consequently, you leave aside your emotional side and relegate your intuition to the background. However, intuition is what helps you make quick decisions in complex situations.

Living with indecision

Obviously, there are different degrees of indecision. Furthermore, it’s not always a disadvantage. In fact, prudence can often be a lifesaver. Having time to reflect can help you obtain more information and classify it better to make a decision.

Research has found that indecisive people make more sensible attributions when judging the behaviors of others. Instead of jumping to unfounded and hasty conclusions, they adopt more flexible thinking and incorporate diverse perspectives, leading to more balanced judgments.

However, taken to the extreme, this trait can block you. Every choice you have to make seems monumental and, until you decide, you suffer real anguish and stress, as well as guilt for not being able to resolve the issue quicker. You might even give the impression of being an insecure and unreliable individual, who doesn’t know what they want and constantly changes their mind.

If you’ve ever wondered why this difficulty occurs, its origin may well be found in your childhood.

man thinking slowly
Constant indecision generates stress and suffering, even blockage.

Indecision is a matter of trust

Making a decision implies choosing an option and taking responsibility for its consequences. Furthermore, it means giving up on all the other, possibly better alternatives. Looking at it from this perspective, as you can see, it’s no trivial matter. In fact, you require trust in yourself so you can be assured that you’re making the right decision.

You wouldn’t leave your future or the decisions that impact your life in the hands of an irresponsible or incompetent person. Quite the opposite; you’d look for someone capable, whom you trust, and who you believe knows what they’re doing.

You need to have the same confidence in yourself when you’re going to make a decision. If you’re indecisive, it’s because you don’t trust your ability to choose, and if you don’t trust yourself, it’s because you’ve never had the opportunity to develop this capacity.

It’s during childhood that we learn to develop this ability. However, there are certain types of upbringing that make it extremely difficult.

Are you indecisive or disconnected from your emotions?

In normal evolutionary development, children have times when they start to claim their own independence and autonomy. They become aware that they have their own voice and want to express themselves, be heard, and have their opinions respected.

One of the key moments in this regard is around two years of age when infants begin to say “no” to everything and start having tantrums. If this process is respected and tolerated, if the child is allowed to give their opinion, express themselves, and decide, they develop self-confidence and the ability to choose.

However, in many homes, this impulse is repressed throughout childhood. This means the child becomes indecisive and disconnected from their emotions. Here are some examples you may have experienced yourself.

Bodily sensations

Children are capable of detecting their bodily signals of hunger and satiety. But often, adults, concerned about food, force children to finish everything on the plate, even if they already feel full.

The same goes for temperature and wind chill. Too often, children’s feelings are ignored and they’re either bundled up or left uncovered, based on how hot or cold their parents feel.

Social relationships

Imagine the following scene. Two children are fighting in the park and one hits the other. The child who’s been hit is furious and upset (obviously), and yet the adults force them to ‘kiss and makeup’. In effect, they’re asking their child to demonstrate something that goes against what their emotions are saying. Indeed, the child who’s been attacked is being forced to offer a show of affection to the person who’s harmed them. This is extremely confusing for them.

Does this situation sound familiar to you? It’s certainly a scenario that many of us have experienced, having to immediately forgive and apologize to someone (child or adult) who’s harmed us, without being allowed to feel and understand our emotions.

Repression of emotional expression

Emotional repression is really common in authoritarian or disrespectful parenting styles. From these perspectives, if a child cries, shows anger, sadness, or disagreement, it’s viewed as bad behavior and is prohibited.

If you’ve grown up with this kind of approach, when you had a tantrum, you may have been yelled at, threatened, or left alone until you got over it. It’s also likely that, when crying, you were told that it was weak and that you should stop. Furthermore, if you expressed your anger, adults would get angry with you, say you were naughty, or withdraw their affection.

In short, you weren’t allowed to feel or express your emotions, you had to suppress them and hide them and ‘be good’.

Invalidation of emotions

Finally, emotional invalidation is a really common practice in many homes. It consists of minimizing or ridiculing a child’s emotions, instead of giving them value and space.

For example, if something makes them anxious or nervous, they’re told that they’re silly and scared for worrying about everything. Or, if they express their discomfort about something that’s been said to them, the response of the adults is “Stop getting so upset over everything, nobody can say anything to you without you whining”.

In short, everything that the child feels is branded as exaggerated or inadequate. This leads to them growing up feeling like they can’t trust their emotions because they’re never seen as appropriate.

Father criticizing his little daughter
Emotional invalidation in childhood can generate a certain distrust toward what we feel in adulthood.

If you’re really indecisive, start listening to yourself

If you identify with the above situations, you’re probably indecisive as an adult. Your emotions are a fundamental compass in this respect. When you’re making important choices, you can carry out a decision-making process by gathering information and comparing pros and cons but in small everyday situations, this doesn’t work.

At these times, it’s your feelings and emotions that guide you and help you make a decision. However, if you’re disconnected from them, you’ve run out of resources. In effect, you don’t know what you feel or what you want. That’s because, from an early age, you learned that your emotions were unreliable. Therefore, you began to ignore them and made decisions based on pleasing the adults around you. Now it’s you who has to make decisions but you don’t know how.

If you’re in this kind of situation, it’s time to begin to reconnect with your bodily and emotional sensations. You must give them a place and pay attention to them as soon as they appear. Start using them as a guide to making decisions, even if it feels weird at first. With practice, you’ll see that they’re your best friends and you’ll stop feeling indecisive all the time. That’s because you’ll be able to trust yourself.

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How to Stop Being Indecisive
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How to Stop Being Indecisive

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  • Ferrari, J. R., & Olivette, M. J. (1993). Perceptions of parental control and the development of indecision among late adolescent females. Adolescence, 28(112), 963–970.
  • Schneider, I. K., Novin, S., van Harreveld, F., & Genschow, O. (2021). Benefits of being ambivalent: The relationship between trait ambivalence and attribution biases. British Journal of Social Psychology60(2), 570-586.
  • Slovic, P., Finucane, M., Peters, E. & MacGregor, D. G. (2007). A heurística afectiva. In C. H. Antunes & L. C. Dias (Coords.), Decisão: Perspectivas interdisciplinares (pp. 25-68). Coimbra: Imprensa da Universidade de Coimbra.

The contents of Exploring Your Mind are for informational and educational purposes only. They don't replace the diagnosis, advice, or treatment of a professional. In the case of any doubt, it's best to consult a trusted specialist.