What's Behind Our Choices
Why do you make the choices you do?


Chaunna, a wife and mother of 2, has gained 150 pounds in the past five years, and is considering gastric bypass surgery. "I feel like it's almost my last option," says Chaunna, who's tried dieting and exercising, but says, "nothing's working." At her current weight, she finds it difficult to play with her kids.

She fears that if she undergoes the surgery, and doesn't make it, her children will grow up without a mother — like she did. "This is the biggest decision I've ever had to make in my life," she says. "If I don't have the surgery, I'm going to walk around like a walking time bomb ... and if I do have the surgery, I'm in fear that I won't wake up."

Her husband says he'll be supportive whatever she decides to do. "I want her to be happy," he says.

"I know that I'm physically a candidate to have this surgery," says Chaunna, "but emotionally, I don't know if I'm ready yet." She asks Dr. Phil, "Please help me because this is a decision of a lifetime."

Dr. Phil encourages Chaunna to look at what motivates her choices. Chaunna says she eats emotionally instead of expressing herself because she often doesn't feel that anyone is listening to what she has to say.

Dr. Phil reads the letter she wrote to the show asking for help, in which she used the word "fear" 27 times. "Would it be safe to say that every decision you make is based on fear?" Dr. Phil asks. "Does it make sense to you that if something is motivating your choices consistently ... and you don't change that, it will sabotage anything that you do?"

He continues, "What are you afraid of that has caused you to accept this weight gain? What has kept you from looking in the mirror and saying 'This is not OK! ... You have two children that depend on you and you are putting their mother in harm's way?'"

Chaunna is afraid that even if she loses the weight, she'll put it back on, and it will feel that much worse.

Dr. Phil tells Chaunna his opinion about her having the surgery. "Watch my lips. Absolutely, unequivocally, no," he says. "You're not ready. This is an optional surgery. And you are scared to death."

Dr. Phil, who's a pilot, uses an analogy. Before making decisions in an emergency situation, his flight instructor taught him, it's vital to get the plane's wings level and the nose up. You can't start pushing buttons and pulling levers until then.

"You aren't ready," Dr. Phil tells Chaunna, "because all of your choices are fear-motivated at this point ... You need to go back and look at all of the choices that you've made, and find out where the fear basis for that choice was."

Dr. Phil continues, "This isn't about diet. It's about taking away the fear that makes you sell out because you don't think you're worthy of or can handle what it is you want. You can, and I will help you do that. Let's fix the motivation to your choices, and then let's talk about how to fix the problem of what you read on the scale."


Nicole is in a relationship that she calls "open." She says that the guy she dates has told her he's reluctant to commit because somebody really good could come along.

"On the nights that I don't hear from him, I find myself driving by his house to see if he's home or who he's with," she says. "When I tell him the relationship is over, he asks me to stay and I keep willingly going back."

She fears being alone, and wants Dr. Phil to help her "find the power to make the decision to get out of this relationship."

"What do you know about yourself that makes you so afraid of being alone with yourself?" Dr. Phil asks. "You have allowed this guy to use you, to humiliate you, to condescend to you ... and you say that's OK because you don't want to be alone?"

What drives our choices, Dr. Phil explains, is our personal truth — what we believe about ourselves when nobody's looking. He encourages her to read Self Matters, telling her, "you're telling me that you're self doesn't matter!"

Dr. Phil also points to a "hierarchy of needs," explaining that the most base needs we have are survival and security. The next level is self-esteem. "Are you making choices with this guy that are making you feel good about who you are?"

When Nicole tries to explain why she stays with him, Dr. Phil jokes, "Wait a minute, because my heart won't stand it if you tell me he's your soul mate!"

Referring to his Life Laws, Dr. Phil says that "the most you get in life is what you ask for." For example, a car on the market for $10,000 is not going to sell for $12,000. Likewise, if Nicole is willing to accept a guy who just pops in for a "roll in the hay" when he's got time, he's not going to offer her more.

"So let me be fairly clear about this," Dr. Phil says. "You need to leave here, do all the reading and studying that I've assigned you in Self Matters, and then kick his ass to the curb!"

"You will not hear me say that I know how you feel," Dr. Phil tells them. "I have not buried a child, and I know at least enough to know what I don't know."

But he can help them look at the choices they have made. Harry's father left him and his siblings when he was 4 years old, so Harry wanted to be there for his own kids. He wanted his time with Jason to be quality time, not discipline time.

Jackie does not feel the same regret as Harry. "I believe that Jason made choices. I know how he was raised. I know the love that he had. I know that he never ever learned from us that it was OK to do what he did," she explains. "Somehow I feel like Harry thinks that he's taking responsibility ... He could not have been a better father to his son."

"Is that true?" Dr. Phil asks.

"I guess you always think you could be better, but I thought that for the most part I was there for him," Harry answers.

Harry goes to Jason's grave once a week so he can feel like he's still there for his son, he says.

"How can you grieve and reach a point of resolution in your relationship with Jason when you carry this horrible burden of guilt? Those two things don't seem compatible to me," Dr. Phil says. "Do you have a goal of letting him go?"

Dr. Phil says he's seen parents try everything to deal with a drug-addicted child, and there are no guarantees. "You can't play what if," he says. "We have a lot of choices we can make, but controlling someone else's life and their choices is not one of them."

Harry still faces a critical choice. "Is this going to be something where you choose to suffer in a horrible pain the rest of your life, or are you going to choose to create meaning to the suffering?" Dr. Phil asks. "I want you to make a choice to change your relationship from one of pain when you think about him to one where you can let him back into your heart with some joy again."

Dr. Phil has Harry close his eyes with his wife standing behind him, as he tells them a story about heaven. "There was no pain, no suffering, no drugs, no hurt. Every single day, all of these young people would light a candle and would go on a walk through heaven with God. But there was one young man who would never go. He'd always just sit to the side. And the kids asked him one day, 'Why don't you light your candle and go with us?' and he said, 'Because every time I light my candle, my dad's tears put it out.'"

That boy, Dr. Phil says, was Jason. "Don't hold him a prisoner. How long you grieve and hurt does not reflect how deeply you love and care."

At Dr. Phil's prompting, Harry says, "Jason, I did the best I could, and I've got to let you go ... I'm sorry if I let you down, but I did what I knew how to do ... I love you and I miss you so much. But you're in a better place. Mom and I have to move on. We'll never, ever forget you. You'll be in our hearts every day. I love you son."

Dr. Phil also sets them up with a therapist at no cost.