As adults we tend not to deeply explore our unique needs and what we really want out of life. So how do we free ourselves? Here’s an interesting take in an article from *The Book of Life.
Throughout childhood we’ve complied with the demands of authority figures, learning obedience to the idea that we must do and experience many unpleasant things in order to become better people in the long run. We follow an agenda that is not necessarily concerned with our happiness, and any feelings of boredom and distaste with this miserable approach must be somehow wrong.
We grow up assuming that what we particularly want should never the important factor. We choose a path that – to others – is the right thing, not too objectionable and perhaps even impressive. In the process, we rationalise our frustrations by telling ourselves there is no other option: we need the money, our family would be disappointed, people like us have to put up with it. And so we see the idea of freedom as something appealing or self-indulgent that we’ll attain when there’s nothing else to do.
The mid-twentieth century British psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott encountered many patients – often high-performing and prestigious people – who were in acute distress because they had never felt the inner freedom and security to say no. As children, their earliest caregivers would have viewed any expression of their authentic feelings as an insurrection that had to be quashed.
Winnicott proposed that health could only come about from counteracting this tendency to subordinate too quickly – and too trustingly – to the preferences of others, including people who might claim to care a lot about us. He said we could be “bad” in a good way, without breaking the law or becoming aggressive. In his vision, we could find the inner freedom to do things others might find disconcerting on the basis that we, our authentic selves, have a sincere wish to explore them. It would be founded on a very profound view that others can never ultimately be the best custodians of our lives, because their instincts about what’s acceptable haven’t been formed on the basis of a deep knowledge of our unique needs.
In our fantasies we’ll be free to take long trips, do all that reading or learn to play an instrument, or write that book. At its core, however, freedom really means no longer being beholden to the expectations of others.
With our newfound freedom we’ll be willing to let ourselves disappoint, to upset or to disconcert others in doing so. We will live with the idea that our central choices might not meet with general approval. But we don’t mind too much – because we’ve become free.
To be free, ultimately, is to be devoted to meeting our own expectations.
*The Book of Life is sponsored by The School of Life, a global organisation dedicated to developing emotional intelligence