Decision Making; When Right Feels Wrong

Posted by on June 10, 2014 in Addictions, All Blog Posts, Codependency, Decision Making, Individual Therapy, Relationship Counseling

When the Right Decision Doesn’t Feel “Right”                                            Have you ever made a decision painstakingly, with heart and mind engaged, with best intentions, yet felt sad, unsettled or downright anxious about seeing it through?

 You will read  about trusting your intuition.  Well meant advice may tell you that when the right decision is made there will be a feeling of peace.  It will just feel RIGHT.  While that may be true in many, best case scenarios, what about the decision that doesn’t feel good no matter how carefully you make it?  You can deliberate for hours but still anxiety, regret and second guessing prevail.

In my private psychotherapy  practice, the focus is often on recovering from trauma, addictions and other difficult life experiences.  Tapping into your intuition or learning more about yourself and your own preferences can be a great way to make the right decision for you in the right circumstances.  However, many of my clients are dealing with a different kind of decision making process.

It is shocking and hard to believe but their uncertainty and inner angst comes because of this difficult bottom line…the RIGHT decision isn’t actually one of the options available to them.  This is a different kind of decision making process.  One that requires wading through the sludge of conflicting core values and emotions, lost dreams or broken hearts and looking at the decision in the context of the reality that surrounds it.

For instance, Janet doesn’t want to have to choose between not speaking with her son right now or enabling his addiction to alcohol and opiate medications.  She has tried many other things before coming to this point.  The shades of gray were comforting but ineffective and ultimately destructive to her own life.  It took many years but now she faces this decision as his dependence on alcohol and the unpredictability of his behavior grows.  This decision is the reality of where she is now in her life.  The option she wants as badly as life itself, for her son to recover from his addiction and self destructive actions, is not available to her no matter how much she longs for it.  That is something only her son can do. Both of Janet’s available options, and the myriad of others she has tried or considered in the past, fall far short of this dearly held wish.

 A man trying to decide if he should trust his wife again or separate after discovering she had an affair doesn’t have the choice he wants available to him.  It is past that point and though he did not have the affair, he has to navigate a world that is forever changed by another’s actions and make the best choice available to him.

These sorts of decisions happen often in the world.  The expectation that the “right” choice will feel good to make does not apply in situations like these.  Expecting it often adds further to the  pain of choosing between two “bad” choices.  It can keep you in a limbo of not making the best decision available because you are waiting for that certain feeling associated with right decisions in which there is at least one  preferred option.

Here are some ways to know if you might be making a decision without a best case, right choice:

You are deciding something related to a situation that another person’s         actions  have caused.

You are deciding something related to a situation that your own poor decisions or mistakes have caused. 

You find it so hard to contemplate the available decisions  that you prefer to stay in a fantasy that if you do nothing the option you wish was available  will materialize.  In the meantime, you or your life is harmed.

You are having to make a decision where the choices available feel like a lose-lose.  (i.e. No matter which decision you make you have strong negative feelings associated with it or must go against one of your core values.)

Making decisions in these situation can be very hard.  Insult to injury is expecting to feel some satisfaction or happiness as you make this type of decision.  If there is anything positive it will likely emerge once the initial pain of making the “right” decision in a bad situation has faded into acceptance that you made the best decision you could.  If you feel stuck and do not know which way to turn, remember that it is healthy and a sign of growth to accept the reality of this difficult situation, to make the best choice you can while fully processing your feelings and perhaps grieving that your preferred choice is not available.

Some tips to help you make these choices:

Talk to others but remember that some may not understand that you are in a situation where there is no “right choice” for your intuition to find.

Practice self care.

Honor that you have two conflicting values and only one of them can be acted on.

If there is no immediate harm that comes from not making the decision, give yourself time to pause and reflect on the pros and cons of each choice.

Again, if there is no immediate harm, consider polling yourself every day, hour or some other block of time.  Which choice do you lean toward that day and why?  Look for the general trends.  Use the results as a guide to act upon when you do act.

Most of all, remember that when you do make the decision, it is unlikely to feel good or satisfying.  Have a self care plan in place to avoid backing down or undoing all your courageous deliberation.

Being honest with yourself and facing reality is a sign of strength.  Increasing your tolerance of difficult situations and the feelings surrounding them is a sign of growth.  Moving forward when it is needed is courageous.  I wish you courage as you make the best decision for you.

Alice Petty-Hannum is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and a Registered Addiction Specialist who helps people escape the bind of decisions like these as well as reap the growth and empowerment that comes from surviving difficult situations.  


  1. Thanks so much for this, Alice. At various times in life I find myself struggling to ‘accept the unacceptable’ and your advice is right on target and beautifully written. I can see a couple of other topics on offer here that I’ll be reading up on another day so I’ll be back! Best wishes — Mary

    • Thank you Alice
      Sad to seperate from my husband
      Unworkable suffering abuse and behaviour changes after his addictions and combination of life lessons with our children suffering also.
      Friend recommended me to you

  2. Thank you so much… I really needed this.

  3. Thank you for this.

    I had to make a decision when my circumstances due to my own poor decision making and self-pity has me backed into a corner I never imagined I would be in.
    It’s a long story and I won’t go into all of it, but after I made this big decision just today, I walked to the grocery store and started crying on the way home that I don’t feel good about the decision I made.

    I appreciate that you’ve said it’s okay that I don’t feel good about it. That it is the best decision I can make right now with what I have at hand.

    This post calmed me down. Thank you!

    • Thanks to you Cat and to all who have taken the time to read and respond to this blog over the years. I am honored to be able to help you understand the bind such decisions present and glad that you find my article helpful. Best wishes and be kind to yourself as you face these situations!

  4. This is fantastic. Thank you so much.

  5. I needed this article. Thank you.

  6. Thank you. My heart was very conflicted but you showed me that I have to do what’s best even if I don’t get that RIGHT feeling. Learning that it is ok to feel this way truly helps.

  7. This is exactly what I needed to take in. I have been waiting for a sense of it being the ‘right’ one in making the decision that I need to make.
    Knowing that it’s okay and expected that I feel uneasy gives me solace and relief.
    Thank you so much

  8. Hi, this piece is very helpful. I recently made a decision related to a relationship where I had to act because of other person’s actions, and I felt staying as well as leaving hurts, but laving is the right thing to do but it is not easy. The feeling of sadness and regret is temporary and I hope it passes away soon. Most importantly, you helped me understand why making the right choice is not always the easiest.

  9. Thank you so much! I now understand why I feel what I feel.

    I’m always doubting if I made the right decision but firmly did it because it is needed even though I don’t want to. I thought that I should feel right if I made the right decision yet I don’t and always cry, afraid that I’ll regret my decision.

  10. Thank you so much for this article. I came across it after I searched “can make the right decision and still feel badly?” It was an attempt to find someone else who understood what I’m going through. This article has made feel less alone, and ok not feeling perfect about the path forward (even though it’s the right choice.)

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