Counselling in Oxfordshire

Bill Imlah :: Counselling in Oxfordshire

Blog » Want more freedom? Then take more responsibility

12 Jun 2014

"Freedom means that one is responsible for one's own life choices, actions, one's life situation."  - Irvin Yalom : Love's Executioner, and Other Tales of Psychotherapy

Sometimes someone in counselling will say to me "I have no choice", which, without exception has meant that the choices in question felt so difficult that they did not want to see them as possibilities. 

In those cases I will encourage the person to notice the aspects of their situation that exist as a result of their own choices, because failing to acknowledge when we do things by choice  - or fail to do them by choice  - can leave us feeling helpless and disempowered.

One of the best-kept secrets of interpersonal relationships (and politics) is that choice, responsibility and freedom are synonyms  - different ways of expressing the same concept: where you have choice, you have both responsibility and freedom; where you have no choice, you have neither.

Erich Fromm, in his excellent book on ethics, Man for Himself, identifies this: "Responsibility and respond have the same root, Respondere = "to answer"; to be responsible means to be ready to respond.".

To have freedom is to have responsibility for your choices; to have responsibility is to have the freedom to choose. Where there is one there is always the other.

So when someone tells me "I have no choice" I sometimes ask them what the choices are that they don't have.  Or how it might feel to say out loud "I choose to ...". -  "I choose to stay in this difficult relationship."; "I choose to be frazzled and run after my family"; "I choose to bale my son out every time he gets into debt."

Positive psychotherapeutic change tends to increase our sense of freedom, but in doing so it may make us more aware of our responsibilities. It may make one’s life richer and more fulfilling, but not necessarily easier.

Images used in this blog.