Freedom is not the absence of commitments,
but the ability to choose
- and commit myself to-
what is best for me.
Freedom is an important value in this culture. But the word and concept of freedom are used so "freely" that they have almost lost any real significance. One of the often used meanings, at least psychologically, is an absence of commitment. Often people say they don't want a relationship (or a job or a home) because it will limit or take away their freedom in some way.
What does this mean? Of course the answer is different for each person, but generally it seems to be a fear of losing oneself, or some essential part of oneself by committing to or agreeing to something. The idea of limiting possibilities, of closing certain doors can be terrifying.
The real issue may be determining what is important, knowing how to look deep inside and make a choice or take a stand for what truly has value. As the quote above states, true freedom isn't a lack of commitment, but the ability to know and to choose what is truly in each individual's best interest. Often this fear of commitment comes from a disconnection from the place of deepest desires within. Without a clear connection to the deeper, true self, deciding what is truly desirable, what is worth committing to, may feel overwhelming or impossible.
The work of psychotherapy usually involves digging deep to find the true self and its desires, longings and passions. When those become clear, choice and direction become much easier. And commitment no longer feels onerous or limiting, for it is a commitment to one's true self: taking a stand for what is right and true. This is real freedom!
Peggy Handler, MFT, is a psychotherapist in San Francisco's Noe Valley