I've been reading through the posts and I get the feeling that many people feel that they have no control over their actions; they are driven. What if you and they knew that it is up to the individual to determine their own response to e-mails, to stress, to unrealistic demands - to whatever they encounter? You and they have a choice. What makes people so readily give up the power over their own lives?
Deep. You are right - most people have a choice. They can choose to leave at any time to pursue other opportunities. But they stay since they know they have to put a few years in in order to get a better opportunity elsewhere. And so they've effectively reconciled themselves to staying for a few years.
Now, in terms of determining responses to emails, stress and unrealistic demands, individuals do have a choice, but they can't control the consequences. That's where the issues rise. Let's take email responses. You have a choice to do the following:
a) Ignore the email/saying no without a justified reason - This angers your boss, since he or she is still waiting on your recognition of the emai/task-at-hand, and so this could lead to many things - negative attitudes, bad reviews, and unfavorable opinions provided to others.
b) Follow the instructions in the email - None of the above happens, your bosses like you, and continue to provide more work to you, and put you on tough jobs, making your life more painful.
So you likely go with b), and effectively give up control. There are many who would say exactly what you're saying: you always have a choice to leave. I will not disagree. The issue though, is that after we've made that choice, there's this illusion of choice we have that doesn't exist. And because of that,we suffer, knowing that there's ways to improve this but we don't have the power to do so. Sometimes, we know it can't be improved, so we vent as a way to release our stress, and then keep plodding along until we reach a point where we can't take it anymore or accept that this is the best path for us career-wise.
Now, there are several choices we can make, and strategies we can utilize, to survive successfully at any Firm. But it could only be utilized effectively to an extent.
It's the same reason why the smartest people choose to be bankers at goldman sachs and hate their lives instead of choosing to be teachers or working in non-profits and feel fulfilled. They made that choice. It's sad. But they do it for the same reason we work at these firms, it's all about the benjamins unfortunately.