In my last column I tried to make the case for allowing your loved ones as much freedom as they can possibly handle. Now why in the world would you want to do that? Well, isn't this America?
We have a curious relationship with the whole concept of "freedom," it seems to me. Much as with sex, we love it and glorify it.
On the other hand, we deplore it and we're afraid of it. We acknowledge that a little bit is a good thing, but it's real easy to overdo it and when we do, that's scary and dangerous.
Maybe it's something like playing with nitro glycerin. Mess around too much and it can hurt you. And we just hate to get hurt, don't we?
I'm sure that freedom can hurt you. I just don't think that's a reason to avoid it. There are worse things than getting hurt.
For example, what about living your entire life in a prison of your own design, constructed of fear and defensiveness? Perhaps, you might say, life should be limited. Too much risk is a bad thing. Better to take the safe route. OK, that's one way to live.
But, if you dare, there is an alternative to this protective prison of fear. You could try it in your relationship. Once your partner realizes that he or she is free, then you'll really see what's what.
In the optimal case, this means total freedom. If you dare to take the risk, give your partner carte blanche, then you'll see what they're made of because they'll be free to be themselves.
Despite the fact that we live in a culture that idealizes and even worships freedom, there are many who are terrified by it. They prefer to have an individual or some routine to control them, because to manage their lives freely causes them anxiety.
In an effort to avoid any bad, anxious feelings, these people sabotage and sacrifice their own freedom, voluntarily. You can't give them freedom. They will reject it.
Only those who operate from their real selves are comfortable with freedom and the responsibility for self (and others) that goes with it. They understand that they can't always be successful at everything they try, but they try anyway. Life requires some trial and error. With that come occasional failures and the bad feelings that come with it. To shoot for our own goals and live according to our own choices, we must be ready to endure some frustration and embarrassment when we fail. The real self can handle this.
The false self exists purely for the psychic protection of its creator: from the possibility of being found incompetent, unlovable, unworthy and inadequate; from the possibility of being abandoned or engulfed by others who see us for what we are and don't approve. Everyone experiences self-doubt sometimes. But some of us are completely controlled by it.
This is so normal that we may not even see it as a problem. If being normal is the goal, then I guess it's not a problem at all. But I'd like to point to a different state, if you don't mind; a more evolved one. I don't see what's so great about being normal. Normal means average. What's great about that?
OK, maybe we think it's safe to be normal but is it really? We're dying left and right of diseases caused by our lifestyles. Is that so safe? Depression is endemic. Do you call that safe? People can't stand themselves, so they turn to alcohol and drugs to change the way they feel. Is that safe? I don't think so. I
n the name of safety and normality we've hamstrung ourselves. It's a fear of freedom, unpredictability and chaos. Sometimes we call it the devil. But that makes it seem more evil than it really is.
Now, I'm not suggesting that everyone start doing whatever comes to mind, without censoring our impulses. That would be to abandon humanity entirely.
But couldn't you try to give your loved ones the freedom to truly be themselves to make your love a little less conditional?
Some people believe that the opposite of love is hate. I don't agree. Hate and love sometimes co-exist in the same relationship. We just flip back and forth. Others say indifference is the opposite of love, that the absence of feeling is love's dark side. I beg to differ. I think fear is the opposite of love.
Love is the gift we have to offer, the work we take on to assist each other to thrive and to glory in that thriving.
It is the attention we pay, the hope I have for your success and happiness. It is fear that pulls back the gift and makes your thriving, on your terms, a threat to me. But that's all about my fear, not anything you did to me. We can do better than that.
Hugh R. Leavell has been a marriage and family therapist in Palm Beach County for 18 years. He offers free seminars on couples communication and conflict management. Call him at (561) 471-0067 or visit his Web site www.oneminutetherapist.com.