The Wish For Personal Freedom vs. Reality
"Brother. Sister. So you want to be free. To live your life the way you want to be."
These are the opening lyrics to a song recorded by the artist, Seal.
I seem to be hearing a lot about the subject of freedom in my therapy office lately. Of course, this is coming from patients who enjoy living in a country which has the Bill of Rights; the Bill of Rights guarantees us many freedoms, such as freedom of speech, the freedom to practice the religion of our choice, the right to a trial in the case of being criminally prosecuted, and many more. Abraham Maslow, who studied and wrote about the human being's potential for positive development, would say that it is for this very reason-the fact that we already have all these freedoms-that we might be able to imagine even more.
What the people I am thinking about now are hankering for is freedom from societal constraints.
Here are some examples: A 25 year old male patient (who is with me due to drug abuse, now 'clean and sober'), completed junior college, had planned to go on to a four year university to earn his degree but now has decided he doesn't really like school and that is it very freeing to him to consider giving up college. He has been in a steady relationship with a young woman and now has begun seeing others and recently broke up with her. He has declared that it feels so much better
to him to 'play the field'. He was athletic and has freed himself from the constraints of being a part of a team. He enjoys playing the guitar and it comes to him rather naturally. So, he is planning to become a musician and imagines making lots of money very easily. His first role model, his Dad, actually earned his advanced academic degree during the early years of Jason's youth. His Dad is now in his profession and still working very hard. Thus, Jason had an example of someone spending a lot of energy on achieving a goal and realizing that goal. However, rather than looking at it this way, he sees his Dad as being too serious. He avoids his Dad because he doesn't want to be around anyone who might rain on his parade. So although he began following in his father's footsteps, he, for now anyway, has chosen to veer off into a different path.
The second patient I am struck with as I think about this wish for freedom is a 46 year old woman, a breast cancer survivor who, just as she was about to make the 5 year mark, cancer-free, has been diagnosed with a metastasis. She is now in a situation where the cancer will not be cured. It can be managed for awhile. She will, (over a long period of time) gradually feel worse and worse. She now calls it a "condition"; it is a chronic, progressive, terminal condition. Right now though, she is functioning almost normally---working, attending to her teen-age child's needs, and generally maintaining her life. But, she had an affair, an affair with an old work acquaintance. This man, whom she hadn't seen in years, had previously been a flirtation, someone she was quite attracted to. But that was long before the cancer diagnosis and she is a married woman so she resisted the temptation. Her rationalization for betraying her husband now is that she has this horrible condition and she should, therefore, be able to do what she wants. She feels somewhat self-righteous about how she is suffering, what she is facing, and her right to do as she pleases and have fun now, while she can.
What do you think about these two situations? Are these people making the right choices?
I've been noticing this wish for personal freedom as, at least, a sub-theme, in a number of my cases lately. Probably it has always been present but being so prominent in these two cases has high-lighted it for me. Other ways that people may more commonly and less dramatically try for this sensation is through consuming alcohol to disinhibit themselves or by going to places where they are a stranger; some people think, especially when they are in a foreign country, that common sense and common courtesy no longer apply.
What are some other methods that people may use to feel free? I'm interested in hearing your thoughts on this.
So, how possible is it to have it both ways---not too possible I think. It's sometimes called "having your cake and eating it too."
As children, we clearly don't have much freedom (school, parents), as adolescents we long for the apparent freedom of adulthood because, as teens we still have school, parents, rules, curfews, etc. But it seems that the glittering world of adulthood actually has even more rules, regulations, codes, obligations, and responsibilities, which we find out when we get there! Not so glamorous, huh!
But to live in harmony with others, we can't steal, run our car as fast as we want no matter where we are, ignore whatever role we might be playing in any institution and think only of what we want for ourselves, arrive at work whenever we feel like it, etc. Other people will get mad! Other people will protest!
The achievement of a college degree or a high school diploma or a certification in a trade or craft requires more than just obeying the law. It also demands self-discipline. However, this kind of training means it will be easier to be hired in a desired job. It usually means a higher income.
A radiologist, in this country makes an incredibly high salary-about $350,000. per year. But doctors have to complete 24-25 years of school and residency programs. It is a prolonged period of self-discipline and there is a pay-off.
"Freedom is just another word for nothin' left to lose." Janis Joplin, song title: Me and Bobby McGee.
I think that we can function very well and be healthy mentally if we simply take the constraints of the business, legal, and social world as a given and don't try too hard to escape. After all, we always get to think, privately, whatever we want!!! A true and permanent freedom.