Freedom To

Freedom To

Freedom To

 

“All we have to do now

Is take these lies and make them true somehow.

All we have to see 

Is that I don’t belong to you 

And you don’t belong to me, yea yea

Freedom!

You’ve got to give for what you take

Freedom!

                                                               – George Michael

 

     Why do I miss George Michael so much sometimes?  I didn’t know him personally.  He wasn’t even my favorite musical artist in the 80’s.  A couple of years ago I was accidentally drawn back to his music.  It was then that I remembered how his voice of freedom rings out very clearly in his songs and performances.  And then he died.

     If we are going to collaborate and discover the best ways to support life, we need to be free.  Freedom of our bodies and minds supports adaptive information processing and adaptive information processing in turn supports our body/mind to be free to experience life.

     Early in my adult life I stumbled upon an awareness about how freedom and love go hand in hand.  While at a conference in Washington D.C.  I attended a plenary talk given by a national leader in the world  of LGBT (at the time) rights.  She spoke with such a matter of fact way about the love inherent in the groups of LGBT community who were banding together to have a voice, protect themselves from oppression, and live.  As she described the LGBT communities she had met, she noted how nurturing and caring these communities were in the face of oppression. How they ate, danced, celebrated, grieved together.

     The visions I had were of an active vibrant community nurturing and caring for each other as they bonded around their plight.  While I was naive to think the groups she spoke about were experiencing anything new or not without problems that can arise from relationships solely created around trauma, I sensed the speaker was acknowledging something salient to  humanity as a whole.  That in each historical moment there is work to be done individually and collectively to make the world a better place.  No one gets through this world without something disturbing that happens we need to shake out of our system.  Not if we are paying attention.

     Like an animal emerging from the freeze response of trauma, these groups were “tremoring” with social activity that was good for their hearts and minds.  In so doing they were processing their experience.  They were not only shaking off the negative effects of living in a dangerous world, but letting go of sensations and feeling that might lead them to interpret that they were to blame for it and worthy of being left behind.

     Somewhere in all of the excitement and contemplation of that week I realized how freedom, love, and processing our unique history were all related.  In particular, how these things were bound together in a non-judgmental environment, where truth telling restores hearts and minds rather than serving to punish them.  With all of the talk about “coming out” in the air I left with the awareness that I was coming out as someone who wanted to organize my mind/body around strengthening loving relationships.  I wasn’t gay and I didn’t notice any particular source of direct oppression in my life at the time.  Yet, something told me I wasn’t completely free until everyone was.  I could sense at the time that this feeling of connection with humanity was not a trivial, personally relevant awareness, but something well beyond my local experience of self.

     It wouldn’t be long after that experience that I began to learn from my clients about punitive styles of relating that include direct or indirect ways of forcefully manipulating others to organize their mind/body around false truths that seek to protect the weak at heart from experiencing their own sources of pain and suffering.

     I learned just how afraid many of us are to connect our mind and body on the inside let alone to connect our mind/body with the mind/body of someone else.  As depicted to the right by one client, we are sometimes embedded in relationships organized around a preoccupation with the heart and mind of someone outside of ourselves.  Why does this happen?

      Whether it be a caregiver, employer, religious leader, or the faceless economic system we live in, we sometimes lose our awareness of our own voice, desires, and dreams. We are sometimes forcefully fed a life that is not of our own choosing.  We pretend we are free and submit to what we think will keep what is in our closet from being found out and used to cast us out.

     Erich Fromm (March 23, 1900 – March 18, 1980) was a social psychologist (among other things) who wrote about freedom and love, bringing us an appreciation for the connection between the personal and the social.  In his classic work, “Escape From Freedom” he suggests two interesting ways to look at freedom.  There is freedom from and freedom to for example.

The freedom from being the experience of having things removed that might restrict our experiences compared to the freedom to which involves the presence of constraints that allow us to express our intellectual, emotional, and sensual potentialities.  In other words, he laid the groundwork for considering what needs to be present to allow for freedom.  Merely removing perceived obstacles to a child’s expression of self (freedom from) during their formative years when they require social interaction to internalize resources (freedom to) that will later promote independence, does not suffice.

     If you have experienced any type of personal or collective oppression and are a parent, it’s not unlikely that you have an appreciation for freedom from, equally important and perhaps more of a challenge to parenting and governing is becoming comfortable with promoting freedom to.  Long before betrayal trauma theory, Erich was hot on the trail of our willingness to submit to oppressors that are all too willing to tell us how to feel and what to feel about. He suspected that we all fear isolation and abandonment, not just those of us who suffer from formally diagnosed mental illness.

     The lust for power is complemented by the enticement of submission.  We are all vulnerable to supporting tyranny and perhaps the more vulnerable of us are the most.  In Erich’s cosmology we, “escape from freedom”, into the arms of submission to another.  We give up the hard work of being ourselves in exchange for being cared for by someone who may or may not be willing to manipulate us. A tyrant is most aware of this as they always despise the dependency of their subjects as if unable to tolerate the reflection of their own submissive tendencies.

     The hard work of resisting submission is perhaps most profoundly seen in the example of the American Civil Rights Movement.  Its a cruel example of the way African Americans have essentially been blamed for American slavery by the maintenance of systemic injustice that keeps many from experiencing the freedom to.  The African American “freedom fighters” sang of freedom “in the jailhouse…in the school house…in the white house…(I always like to add in the house!), because they knew they may have had more freedom from but were falling desperately short of freedom to.

         I was shown just how everyday the biopsychosocial dynamics related to submission are by a client a few years ago.  He told me the story of a time he was playing a rather high stakes poker game with some friends.  My client had a full house and was excited at how great the odds were for a win.  Across the table was a friend.  A successful trial lawyer known for his ability to intimidate his opponents in the courtroom.  Like a Jedi mind trick, the lawyer (who had a straight and knew my client had more at stake to lose) waved his hand surreptitiously and mouthed, “I’ve got this” in a benevolent gesture to save my client from losing the hand. Preoccupied with the emotional and behavioral signals of the lawyer and tuned out from his own internal signals, my client tossed his cards in.

     Just a card game right?  Maybe.  But how many times do we “toss our cards in” when we are sitting with a good hand in life because of the familial or cultural signals that say, “trust me, I’ve got it, you don’t want to risk it!”?

     In high school I watched female guidance counselors tell my female friends interested in medicine not to pursue medical school because, “You’ll just end up getting married and having children and waste all of that time and money.” Undergraduate and graduate students enter the world of work to be told, “I’m sorry you can’t try what you learned in school, let me tell you how the real world works.”  When faced with how hard it is to promote the freedom to within our socio-cultural-political systems parents are given anti-depressant and anti-anxiety agents to numb the signals that the real world is failing them.

     In other words, we say to each other “I’ve got it”, let me save you the pain and suffering of having your hopes and dreams dashed out by the “real world”.  “Just go to this school, work in this field, take this pill, trust me, I’ve got it.” Meanwhile our hearts and minds tell us there is more, but we submit, let go, and give up on life.  In this kind of social climate we readily let go of our inner subjective awareness of what it feels like to be alive and look outside for the “objective” path to well being and happiness.

     Systemic oppression survives on the everyday as much as the outrageous behavior of individual tyrants.  Like this tree, life finds a way to be.  It just has to be given what it needs.  How do we keep our heart in our chest to inform our mind and organize our body around living not just making a living?

      We don’t need to make life.  Life just is.  We are born into a historical moment with lots of work to do that we can participate in.  We can become preoccupied with making sure no bicycles get in the way, or emphasize giving the tree what it needs knowing that even if a bicycle shows up it will find a way.

     When restraints are removed, whether physical, emotional, chemical, or social, we aren’t just free.  That’s too easy.  What we find is that we come to life.  Our hearts pump and lungs expand.  Our minds light afire with ideas about how to address the work that needs to be done in our time.  We look around and take stock.   Our personal history will to a large extent determine whether we will engage in an open accepting way with the outside world or withdraw from it and hide our heart and mind from what we see that needs work “out there”.

     What I saw in that LGBT activist long ago was a reflection of her awareness of a biological tendency rooted in our evolutionary heritage as natural living creatures to connect through time and space.  Like the tree, we don’t have to make that tendency, just be given what we need to go with it.  Unlike a machine that an outside creator fixes, we come with resources beyond anyone’s knowledge.  And our unique subjective experience makes each path toward freedom different.

     We are all influenced by the technology of our day when thinking about human behavior.  In Erich’s time, Freud’s psychoanalysis still loomed large and with it the “hyraulic model” of the mind.  Like this “steam punk” to the left, Freud used machine based models of the mind to describe how our instincts are at war with culture.  We were seen by Freud as “driven” toward the consummation of the needs associated with our instincts.

     Culture was formed when we established social structures that suppressed these needs to keep us in check.  Our goal was to “sublimate” our drives and find pro-social ways of living without completely repressing our drives which would cause psychopathology to take hold.  Goals in psychotherapy were focused around loosening up the rigid hold our “super-ego” had on allowing the “ego” to indulge in the “id’s” innately evil pleasures.

     What Erich helped move forward however, was the idea that the brain and culture are co-created.  He moved us closer to what modern day attachment theory shows us about our innate tendency to connect and communicate about the world around us in effort to collaboratively meet our needs in social groups.  I once used the image to the right as the background for my business card.  I called my approach to psychotherapy “Life Enhancing Information Processing”.  The spirit of this approach was born out of using the caregiver-infant attachment dyad as an analog for the psychotherapeutic relationship.

     Rather than seeing ourselves as innately driven toward anti-social ends I see my clients as choosing to use psychotherapy to support a tendency to nurture the capacity to take in, understand, and accept what happens or dismiss, avoid, and forget.  These are the resources that can move us from a freedom from and establish skills to live in a world where the freedom to reigns.  Our negative experiences can become our inner wisdom that supports a culture of restoration rather than one of punishment.

      The undercurrent of the fear of social isolation is the bedrock on which tyrants come to power.  Whether that tyrant is a child who rules the roost or a megalomaniac bent on genocide, punitive responses to the challenge of bringing freedom to all just end up adding fuel to the fire of the next tyrants self destructive plot.  The pinnacle of the securely attached dyad is the capacity to stay connected despite the emergence of panic and shame that results from things falling apart at times.

     The processing of our autobiographical history is a part of what binds us together in truth and love.  It may be the innate goal of our attachment system itself.  On the other hand we are born into a particular environment that may or may not be prepared to go with that evolutionary flow.  If we come to believe we do not deserve to experience the freedom to an attachment informed psychotherapy may be a helpful cultural resource that has emerged out of its own history of scientific and intellectual oppression.

     The presence of the resources that allow us to embody our story and use it to innovate and create in the world is how love and freedom go hand in hand.

 

“All we have to do now

Is take these lies and make them true somehow.

All we have to see 

Is that I don’t belong to you 

And you don’t belong to me, yea yea

Freedom!

You’ve got to give for what you take

Freedom!

                                                                  – George Michael

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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