Freedom And Independence

We all seek freedom and independence. We also seek intimacy and union. Often these two drives or instincts are perceived as being in conflict. Sometimes the quest for intimacy and union results in anxious attachment, which makes freedom and independence look terrifying. Other times the quest for intimacy and union results in anxious avoidance which can make freedom and independence seem soothing, at least temporarily.

Take the example of a person who has experienced a lot of insecurity and rejection in the past and who finally finds a partner who accepts them and is offering permanency. Until the experience of the new relationship the person has lived with loneliness and isolation for a substantial period of time. They have known what it is like to be unattached. They have known freedom and independence yet that experience may not have been so pleasant or creative. In that time they may have developed addictions or defensive habits to soothe their emptiness. Now they are involved and are seeking to hold onto their new found connection.

They find they are now so anxious about losing their partner that they become anxiously attached to their partner refusing to consider the implications of possible rejection down the track. For this person, ideas of freedom and independence may now be experienced as terrifying not soothing.

In the other hand a person may have been so traumatised by relationships throughout his or her life that commitment represents being trapped as in "the bad old days of trauma and bondage". It scares them, so much so that they find themselves anxiously avoiding attachment. This person may be seeking intimacy and union yet he or she maintains a distorted belief in the meaning of freedom and independence. So the idea of exiting a budding relationship may temporarily feel soothing.

In both cases, we need to stay open to the possibility that the union may or may not be appropriate for a couple because of individual differences and compatibility issues. That said, potentially pathological avoidance and attachment issues could be involved.

Clearly our experiences can dictate how we see freedom and independence. In general, the earlier in life one experiences healthy attachments the more likely it is that one chooses attachments later in life that are intimate, secure and freeing, simultaneously. In other words this person is more open to healthy attachments and less open to unhealthy attachments. Conversely the more difficult early experiences of attachment the more anxiously attached or anxiously avoidant one may be later in life. In other words, one may be less open to healthy attachments and more open to unhealthy attachments.

In general, the experience of a sense of freedom and independence that is anxiety free, safe and peaceful comes from the appropriateness of involvements or attachments. However, the quest for freedom and independence does not originate from healthy attachments. It pre-exists involvements. It is innate. It reflects our transcendence. Our capacity for transcendence is mysterious and paradoxical in that we bond yet seek freedom and independence, simultaneously.

For example, a person who is a serial dater, who repeatedly and endlessly gets involved only to leave shortly after, is going about seeking freedom, but the seeking is misdirected. In other words their seeking is not bad. Their endless seeking love, intimacy, freedom and independence is not bad. Rather it is misdirected. Their energetic drive to seek happiness is undermined. It is derailed by fixed ideas, both conscious and unconscious, derived from negative experiences or misunderstanding. It is derailed by closed mindedness or prejudice. It is undermined by learnt behaviour which counteracts our transcendent instinct for love and happiness.

The way forward is very much about unlearning undermining fixed ideas about what is possible and not possible. It is about developing openness to one's transcendence. However, the drive for freedom and independence along with the drive for intimacy and union do not go away just because one does not practise openness. These drives just keep re-surfacing destructively. The serial dater for example is conflicted. They do not have the skills to negotiate the internal conflicts within the context of opportunities and risks which arise in their daily life.

Synthesizing external options and negotiating internal conflicts is mostly unconscious. A good example is going to bed stressed and worried over a problem and waking the next day automatically taking action to resolve a problem without consciously having to justify why one took one option over another. Why do we ring our lover, friend or parent the next day after a quarrel when the previous night our mind seemed so convinced and full of reasons not to ring? Maybe over night the convincing justifications seemed to lose something. What they lost was reactivity and what they were replaced by was relevance or common sense.

Assuming one is not rationalising away, in prejudice, the synthesizing of options and opportunities will come in the moment of risk and opportunity. That is to say if we encounter an offer of love or rejection in the risk opportunity moment with openness not prejudice we may find ourselves not avoiding or clinging, and responding appropriately to what is actually being offered.

How do we access that less conscious sense of relevance and let it inform our choices as they are presented? We achieve this by being open to ourselves and not living in defensive rationalising denial. Defensive rationalising denial is a false reality which convinces us we are protecting ourselves when we are not.

Psychotherapy assists, by helping one gain a body felt sense and awareness of how things affect us i.e. a non rationalising state of being or mind. Being connected to one's subjective experience, without rationalisation, is a necessary step in the process of adaptation. Also doing our "objective" research about possible options and consequences of our actions. It also helps to suspend judgement and admit unknowing about whether or not we should ultimately be involved with someone, while acknowledging our experience and objective knowledge about that relationship. Admitting unknowing keeps one receptive to the content of subjective and objective knowledge without one descending into a rationalising state. It helps us to stay open even though we may not feel like staying open.

In this commitment to openness we allow our sense of risk to be exposed to the external option at hand in the here and now. It is that quality of exposure which determines our adaptability. It determines our appropriateness. The opposite of this quality of openness is to hold a fixed position prior to engaging the risk/opportunity moment which reduces our experience in the here and now of what is being offered.

In short, being convinced of anything is the agent for maladaptive behaviour. Openness is the agent for appropriate involvement. All rationalisations are true at one level or another, but more often than not, they are not relevant in the here and now for seeking love and happiness or seeking appropriate behaviour and the right terms of engagement.

Words by John Bacash

Posted on 02 November 2011