This Blog Is About

This blog is about---You! Each and every post is about you. Use it to challenge your usual patterns, as a tool for self-discovery, to stimulate your thinking, to learn about yourself and to answer your questions about others.

Friday, May 20, 2011

So, You Want To Be Free

                                  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.

It seems to me that, as social animals, we are bound to live in the midst of others.  It doesn't seem possible, under that condition, to escape all rules of conduct.  There are some who isolate themselves from other people; we usually call them hermits or a recluse or, an eccentric.  It isn't considered normal to completely cut oneself off from interaction with others.
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.
To enjoy the benefit of a companion who commits to sharing your life with you requires tremendous self-restraint---in what you do (and don't do!), in how and where you spend your time, your energy, and in on-going attention.
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.


  1. I feel that too many people think that being free means they can do whatever they want and that there will be no consequences. Freedom is about making decisions and being willing to face the consequences that go along with whatever that decision is. If a parent will be hurt or disappointed, one must decide if that consequence is worth the decision. If one will get arrested or ticketed for a decision, then one must be willing to face that consequence. Unfortunately, too many people mistake freedom to choose with 'no consequences', and no matter where we live or what we do, there are consequences to our actions. I work with people and am always asking them 'what is your desired outcome'? What are your goals or intentions? What happens if you have no thoughts beyond the immediate 'it just feels good'... Isn't that much like an addict who doesn't think beyond the instant gratification? Freedom is complicated... Good topic of discussion.

  2. Loren, thank you for your thoughtful comment. Considering consequences and focusing on the desired outcome, before making a choice, are good habits to employ.

  3. Dear Anonymous, In response to your comment, no confidentiality has been broken. In the example you cite, the client is a composite made up of experiences of people I have known in my career and personal life. It is real in the sense that it reflects the serious and sometimes dramatic situations that are presented in a therapy office. I do, in fact encourage my clients to read my blog and have only used factual examples with the express permission of the client first. My intention here is good: I am offering what I have learned and am learning, trying to provide a true reflection of the kinds of things we all struggle with in therapy and always wish to offer hope. That is my intention with this blog.

  4. With freedom comes responsibility. People can manipulate the word freedom so they can be lazy. Self-discipline isn't a priority for many of today's youth. I find it sad.

    1. Sebastian. You have brought up another interesting subject---the young people who are entering the workforce. Do you think that their expectations---supplied by society and their parents---enter in to the problem you mentioned?