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wundayatta's avatar

When you grow impulsive and make less than optimal choices, are you aware that it is happening?

Asked by wundayatta (58349 points ) October 20th, 2009

I have been a person who prides himself about being self-aware. I try hard to understand my hidden motives. I try hard not to fool myself about the potential problems that may result from a course of action. I use that knowledge to avoid mistakes and maximize the beneficial impact of my choices.

Since I have started to get sick (with bipolar disorder), I started making poor decisions, even though I knew they were bad decisions. I had a much harder time controlling my impulses than I ever had before in my life. It was the weirdest thing. I would watch myself deliberately driving into train wreck after train wreck, screaming at myself not to do it, and yet seemingly unable to stop.

My therapist says it’s because of the problems in my brain, but it is hard for me to accept that. It makes me think that I have some hidden self-destructive motive that makes me choose hedonism over delayed gratification.

I am aware that I am making stupid choices, and yet I still do it. When people claim that they didn’t know what they were doing because they were drunk or had otherwise incapacitated decision-making, I find it hard to believe. You are not who I am asking.

If you make bad decisions knowing the impact of those decisions, can you give an example? Can you describe what is it like? What do you think is going on inside your brain? Do you think you are crazy?

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25 Answers

Beta_Orionis's avatar

Yes, yes, yes. The best example I can give is that I am a compulsive skin picker. Have been since the age of 5. I know it’s awful, bad for me, and unsightly, but It’s basically painful to avoid it. I scream at myself as well, I agonize as I watch myself remove layers of skin, but there is some weird disconnect between my actions and my mind at the moment. I can’t for the life of me understand why, and I’ve always considered myself crazy. Most others do as well because they haven’t experienced the begging, pleading, even violent and abrasive demands to stop that bounce around inside a locked room somewhere in my mind. Then again, perhaps that is the qualification for crazy. I just wish I could stop.

Judi's avatar

This experience may help you to find empathy for those you used to “find hard to believe.” Self control is a wonderful thing. It is more upsetting to the person who looses it than it is to the people who love them. You never really understand until you’ve been there.

timothykinney's avatar

I find that I become more aware of making bad choices when I am diligent about meditating regularly. Often, I find that I have a threshold of sorts. After I become aware of making enough bad choices (or bad enough choices) I am motivated to start making good choices again. So I could say that meditating doesn’t help me make better choices, it helps me make better choices sooner.

efritz's avatar

I’d be surprised to know of anyone who has not experienced something like this . . . maybe not as extreme, but it’s rare to find someone who has complete self-control. I treat certain family members terribly, and even as I am doing this I feel like a complete and utter douchebag. I think I’m afraid they won’t like me, which is lame, because they’re family. And then I wonder if it’s my fault, or theirs, and on and on . . . it’s a vicious cycle, hard to break. Thought cycles really are a bummer :(

drClaw's avatar

Absolutely! I have done some stupid things in my day, some may even say morally reprehensible. I have always been one to think before I act and usually when I make a poor choice it was/is made consciously. Not to say I don’t do stupid stuff without thinking, everyone does, but when it comes to the big stuff (especially when I was in my teens) I definitely thought it through ahead of time.

veronasgirl's avatar

No, the last time it happened to me I ran straight into the fire with a blowtorch in hand.
I made horrible decision after horrible decision, but at the time I didn’t realize they were bad choices. In the back of my mind I knew what I was doing was not healthy, but I couldn’t stop myself, and I didn’t know why, I just acted. Sometimes it isn’t until you hit rock bottom that you realize why you did the things that you did. For me, I realized that I hadn’t wanted to be me anymore. I wanted to be somebody else, and someone provided me with that opportunity and I took it. I was obsessive and I alienated a lot of people in the process, it consumed my thoughts and actions, and I didn’t want to snap myself out of it. Sometimes there are just situations where you just run into the fire, and at the end when you are charred and burned beyond recognition, you realize why you did what you did, and if you are lucky, you can walk away with a well learned lesson.

TitsMcGhee's avatar

I am usually aware of the “bad” choices I make, which I feel makes me more able to “own” my decisions. Most of these decisions revolve around drinking, smoking, or having sex, but it also extends to things like skipping class, watching a movie instead of doing homework, eating something unhealthy, giving into bad habits, etc., etc. I usually weigh the pros and cons of my decisions as much as I can (the more impulsive I get, the more difficult that becomes), but I also tend to follow my emotions and my heart moreso than my logic and my brain. I don’t think I’m crazy, I just think that I need to do certain things sometimes, even if it might otherwise be considered “bad.” When I become upset is when I end up greatly regretting something that I did not fully think out, or when I become too rash.

dpworkin's avatar

Oh! If only I were. eventually figure it out, and often, even most of the time, establish some kind of structure to keep the same thing from happening again. Unfortunately for me, these structures don’t seem to extend themselves to similar circumstances, so I am always fucking things up somehow or other, even with the best will in the world.

jackm's avatar

It may sound weird, but in my opinion that is the beauty of the human mind. We can commit contradicting actions and hold contradicting thoughts. This allows us to make mistakes. (that could turn out to be beneficial) It is analogous to genetic mutations in evolution. We would learn nothing if we were juts logical robots responding to things in sets ways.

So instead of getting angry at yourself, compare it to the alternative. I’d say we are better off.

hug_of_war's avatar

I am definitely aware, I just get this “I don’t care” attitude until shortly afterward when I realize I really shouldn’t have done that because I sure do care now.

nisse's avatar

I’m not sure it’s possible to be 100% aware, although you can try and watch yourself for warning signs, it’s a constant struggle.

This example may be very trivial compared to your deep question, but i think playing poker has really illustrated the fact that making bad decisions really sneaks up on you and is very hard to catch. Poker players call it tilt, it’s when you’re on a string of bad luck, you almost inevitably start making bad decisions (usually without being aware of it, or sometimes just to punish yourself). It’s very hard to catch yourself in time, many people are struggling with “tilt control”.

I think making these bad decisions are normal human responses to feeling injured.

The worst injuries are from things out of your control, such as getting dealt a shitty hand, or in real life perhaps losing a job or having a rough childhood.

It’s also given me some insight in to what my warning signs are (feeling like i got screwed without deserving it is a big red flag that bad decisions are on the way).

So yes, i am aware of making bad decisions (in more serious settings than the poker table too), and i think the trick to stop it is to monitor your warning flags and so to say “leave the table”, but in real life, this might mean just shutting up, or leaving the scene.

poofandmook's avatar

With me, it’s different things.

I have a weakness for food, big time. I know that I shouldn’t be eating X because that’s for tomorrow but if it’s something really good that I’ve been looking forward to, it doesn’t usually make it until the next day. I can’t even tell you the reasoning that goes through my head, other than, “oh well I want it.”

Also, (and I know I talk about my relationship all the time, I’m sorry) when it comes to the boyfriend, I’ve made a lot of poor decisions that ended up being good ones. I was already in a relationship when I met him, but I pursued him anyway. The relationship I was in was dead, and I didn’t want to leave until I knew I had someone else, so when I knew things were going to work out with the new one, I dumped the old one. That was a poor choice. Then recently, I paid $360 for a plane ticket, fully knowing he might not have been able to come, but on the chance he could, I didn’t want to miss out on the flight we wanted (the flights had been rapidly dwindling, as it’s right around Christmas). In both cases, I didn’t care. I knew they both could’ve blown up in my face, but luckily for me, they worked in my favor. I tend to lose rational thought when it comes to him. I want what I want, and I’m going to get it, regardless of the cost. (I’m sure that would reduce drastically if we weren’t long distance)

I also do it when I “call out sick.” I don’t do it often, but sometimes, I almost cry thinking about having to go in to work, and I’ll call out… and I know it’s a bad decision but my thoughts are, “I DON’T CARE I FUCKING NEED IT.” Yes, all in caps. It’s usually that big.

tinyfaery's avatar

Yes, but I just don’t care. It’s like watching my life happen from the sidelines. I see it coming, and I’m aware as I do it, but I just don’t care enough or have enough energy to do anything about it.

Blondesjon's avatar

You just described how I’ve lived my life for 38 years.

Somehow it has worked for me.

dpworkin's avatar

@Beta_Orionis That doesn’t sound crazy to me. It sounds like garden variety OCD, which is eminently diagnosable and treatable.

Stop suffering, and go let someone help you with it.

Beta_Orionis's avatar

@pdworkin Although CSP falls under the category of OCD, it’s an isolated form of compulsion. I’ve sought out help. It hasn’t worked.
Thanks for the concern though.

poofandmook's avatar

there was an episode of Obsessed on A&E that featured a CSP. Very interesting… and much harder than regular OCD to manage.

Psychedelic_Zebra's avatar

and here I thought I was the only one that’s fucked in the head on Fluther.

Janka's avatar

I think most people (and definitely I!) both make bad decisions without realizing at the time, and make bad decision while on some level knowing they are bad.

“On some level” is the key here. While it might feel afterwards that you knew all the time and should have acted differently, often part of that is simply hindsight. When it is, the reality is that at the time you “sort of knew”, but something else in you clouded it and stopped you from using that knowledge. Berating yourself for not doing better, or thinking you must have had a motive you do not realize is in these cases less useful than trying to understand that you can at the same time “sort of know” something, but not “really know” it enough to act on it.

Of course, sometimes people have “hidden” motives, too. It is not possible to say what is the key in your case, but I would try and explore what happens if you assume that your therapist is right.

wundayatta's avatar

Maybe I’ve always had difficulty withholding satisfaction from myself. I’ve never figured out what is going on, though. I can’t stop scratching myself when the itch drives me crazy, and as a result, I have some horrible skin problems. At least they are on my scalp, so they are hard to see. But I have never been able to stop myself from itching, and so scabs keep popping of and I bleed. I guess I’ve been luck, so far, that I haven’t ever gotten an infection.

It’s not just scratching. It’s food. It’s cheese and dessert. It’s love. If it’s something that makes me feel better about myself, even if it’s just for a moment, then most times, if it is offered to me, I haven’t turned it down. In the past, I have sought out something that will fill whatever hole in me that I need to fill, even when it caused huge problems in other areas of my life, such as with my family.

I am constantly wondering why I do this. It’s not like I don’t know the consequences.

Some people say it’s mental illness. Like there’s some switch in my brain that turns off my self control. That could be true. If so, then the only thing I can do is try to get my meds changed if I start doing something stupid, like getting angry at my kids all the time.

But it seems like it can take the meds a long time to kick in. Meanwhile, I still do stupid things with my eyes wide open. That makes me feel like there’s another reason for my behavior. Maybe something else that I’m trying deal with, and I have no clue how to deal with it. If that’s true, it would be really nice to know what it is I’m looking for, because, right now, I feel like it’s two days before the research paper is due, and I have yet to crack a book. Why do I always let things go like this? Where I have to scramble like crazy in order to get something done?

MissA's avatar

@wundayatta

I’m always amazed at how brutally open and honest you are, here with us. You have a gift of being able to dissect air (just kidding…well, maybe)!

“If it’s something that makes me feel better about myself, even if it’s just for a moment, then most times, if it is offered to me, I haven’t turned it down. In the past, I have sought out something that will fill whatever hole in me that I need to fill, even when it caused huge problems in other areas of my life, such as with my family.”

I think that the above statement makes
you a part of regular, sane, society.

wundayatta's avatar

Why is openness and honesty considered brutal?

MissA's avatar

@wundayatta
That’s an old expression, meaning completely honest…open, without regard to the situation.
It was a compliment of sorts.

wundayatta's avatar

I understand the term, I’m just wondering why it got applied to honesty. Why should honesty be brutal? What should talking about everything—or most things—that go on be brutal? Sometimes I feel like I might explode and if I didn’t have a place like this to vent the pressure on, I don’t know what would happen. Some people like it and some don’t. It makes some uncomfortable and others don’t notice. Some people make fun of me and others thank me.

I have complicated feelings about this. But when I got on here I made myself a rule to not hold back if I was going to say anything at all. To not be afraid of what people might think. It’s only the internet. As long as I keep my anonymity, I’m ok. People can beat me up, it won’t matter in the real world.

I sometimes see my honest as a gift for others. For those who are afraid to talk about things they want to talk about. Sometimes it’s a challenge. Sometimes it’s just what I do.

MissA's avatar

I am not aware of the origin of the term “brutally honest”. I suppose that it might be because honesty can sometimes sting or hurt. But, I’ll take honesty over anything else, myself.

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