Psychological Freedom – How To Be Really Free In 2021

7 min read

It seems, human beings have long been on a quest in search of freedom since life began on this planet. It holds so much meaning.

To be free psychologically is the most fundamental freedom, we don’t realize, is at the heart of all the freedoms we hold dear.

Let’s dive right into it.

Psychological Freedom
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What Freedom Means

The dictionary says freedom means, “the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint”. 

As well as, “absence of subjection to foreign domination or despotic government” and “the state of not being imprisoned or enslaved”.

Seemingly narrow definitions, and yet, if we read into them we find the depth of what we’re discussing to be psychological freedom.

The freedoms we hold dear include the right to physical, religious, expression, movement, due process of law, privacy, bodily autonomy, etc.

The heart of all of them is the absence of subjection to foreign domination or despotic governing of our mind, or the state of not being imprisoned or enslaved with mind control or coercion.

To be truly free is to be aware of having choices and the possibility of being free to act on those choices in a way that would serve ourselves and our community best.

By working on building your self-worth, to be able to say, “I am enough”, will give you the new perspective you need on the road to being psychologically free.

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What Is Physical Freedom?

Physical Freedom is literally to be free of action, to move about, to speak, to do things, to work, to act on the physical world without hindrance or physical restraint.

Being physically free in life is to be free to take action or not, what we’d like to say or not, what we’ll put into our bodies or not, etc. The oversight to this is that if one’s actions infringe on another person’s physical freedom there is a cost to that or a punishment.

Our history is filled with who lost their physical freedom to choose the life they wanted because of slavery, human trafficking or oppression. To this day, it’s a reminder how important being physically free is to us.

What Does Mental Freedom Mean?

Mental freedom is the ability to choose to detach from external labels. To make choices for oneself – even the ability to choose our thoughts and beliefs through gathering information from all sides of a discussion.

We all get stuck with negative thoughts that might have occurred to us during tough situations.

We could choose to hold onto those negative thoughts, which will turn them into beliefs if thought long enough. It then becomes a state of mind and eventually part of our personality over time. We’re now a slave to rigid thinking or not mentally free.

Also, if all our choices are made for us and we blindly follow along only giving our attention to those that say they’re taking care of us, without gaining the knowledge of all sides for ourselves, we’ve given up our freedom.

Of course, we normally like to think and believe that those in leadership positions within various institutions have our best interests at heart.

However, there have been many instances in history where our beliefs have been proven wrong on this. Giving up our intellectual capacity to research, ask questions and share our knowledge in order to gauge what choices to make for ourselves can be catastrophic.

Just following along with government or medical mandates that tell us they have all the knowledge and what they’re saying is the right thing to do, led to suffering, salvery and holocausts in the not so distant past.

“Sometimes you have to free a people from the prison of their own minds in order to save their lives.” – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Functional Freedom: A Psychological Model of Freedom In Decision-Making

In a recent study by Stephan Lau, and Anette Hiemisch on Functional Freedom, published in NCBI, their concept describes functional freedom as a capacity people have that varies depending on certain conditions of a decision episode.

It denotes an inner capability to consciously shape complex decisions according to one’s own values and needs.

Mental Freedom
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High Functional Freedom

The Person Is Extensively Rational

  • Has high cognitive skills
  • Has good introspection or self awareness
  • Has high self control and self regulatory skills

The Process Is Extensively Reflective

  • With mental stimulation
  • Considering the pros and contras
  • With inner dialogue
  • Reconstructing dispositions and rules

The  Structure Is Underdetermined

  • With many valuable options
  • Unknown situations
  • Conflicts between motives

Low Functional Freedom

The Person Is Marginally Rational 

  • With psychiatric disorders
  • Low cognitive and self-regulatory skills

The Process Is Unconscious

  • The person acts by matching the problem
  • Acts through habit
  • Has automated processing

The Structure Is Determined

  • With a dominant option
  • A low choice 
  • A known situation

High functional freedom in decisions is when the decision procedure is highly reflective, thus, when the decision’s structure is highly underdetermined, and the decider is highly rational and skilled.

On the contrary, decisions functionally unfree are characterized by automated, fast, and easy decision-making that demands no further skills, rational requirements or conscious values. 

This doesn’t mean the latter decisions are inferior to free decisions, or are to be refrained from. At times, many everyday decisions are likely automated and subconscious for good reasons, like breathing, for example.

However, the fact that decisions with a potential for high functional freedom would perhaps be scarce in daily routine, does not mean they’re trivial decisions.

Deliberate decision-making is a key component of functional freedom and typically associated with problematic decisions that bear highly important consequences for our lives.

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Freedom From Wanting

The word “wanting” or “want” communicates a sense of lack. If there’s something you “want” intrinsically means you don’t “have” it.

Generally, being free from wanting is to be in a situation where you don’t worry about things like where your next meal is coming from, how you can clothe yourself and your children or get a roof over your head.

If we put our attention on our lack of having something, by saying and feeling we “want”, much of what we want, must always stay just beyond our reach.

The famous American artist, Norman Rockwell, depicted the Four Freedoms through art. To be free from want is shown in the “Thanksgiving Picture” or “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” painting. It shows a family celebrating at a dinner table filled with an abundance of food to share, well clothed, and happy faces.

Poverty is a defining issue in the quest to build a better world. Most political systems claim the idea that their system alone can create a better world, although if that were true, surely poverty wouldn’t be in such abundance in our society today.

So what exactly have we achieved?

In an otherwise wealthy, prosperous democratic society it’s not enough to just shrug and say our system is still better than any others.

A piece to this puzzle could be our individual and collective psychological freedom. 

Wanting more is a social phenomenon of our time or a reflection of the way we live. There is a difference between a want and a need. Yet, we find, it’s something that is seldom a recognized phenomenon.

In our unconscious behavior, we don’t notice that wanting more often precedes our emotions or actions.

When we start wanting more as a way to measure our self-worth and determine our values, we fall prey to what is known in Buddhism as the “wanting mind.” This wanting is driven by desire, aversion, and anxiety; it creates an illusion of control.

Someone who’s not keeping score, or not looking to be richer, and who’s not afraid of “losing”—who has not let wanting more unduly influence them—is free.

Psychological Freedom and Humanism

Humanistic psychology is based on an approach that embraces freedom of choice, creativity and self-awareness.

It was primarily a recent influence by the work of psychologists Carl Rogers and Abraham Maslow (you may recognise Maslow as the formulator of the ‘hierarchy of needs’ theory, which ties in seamlessly).

They believed there was a need for a positive, uplifting view that focused on human potential rather than human ‘dysfunction’ (Freud’s speciality).

So the new humanistic psychological view is based on the power you have over your own fate, rather than the ways in which your unconscious memories (Freud) or conditioning (behavioral psychology) influence your behaviour.

Even if your brain is conditioned and your unconscious memories have affected your behaviour, humanistic psychology says you are free to choose something different now.

Once you realize this, your brain creates new neural pathways which would open one up to seeing new possibilities in their life.

With a natural drive to achieve personal growth and self-development, one is free to develop a more complex and evolved version of themselves and their life.

Each ‘need’ on Maslow’s pyramid must be fulfilled before an someone can progress to the next level of self-actualisation.

Self-actualisation (realizing one’s true potential) is the highest aspiration on the pyramid, and ultimate goal of the individual, according to Maslow. Similarly, humanistic psychology is designed to help the client achieve self-actualisation.

Freedom
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The Pathway To Psychological Freedom

To be truly free then can be defined as the exertion of the power each individual has to consciously and independently choose from a pertinent bundle of possibilities at his disposal.

You might not be free from financial constraint or illness but you are free to see that it’s possible to do something, by gaining knowledge and information we can share, to change the situation.

The ability to be free lies not in the capacity to say yes to everything but to say yes only to that which really matters to you and that you decided is beneficial for you and everyone else. 

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Where To Start

  • Pay attention to your thoughts and beliefs
  • When they come up ask yourself if they are really true
  • Let go of attachment to your thoughts and convictions
  • Find instances where they are or are not true. Look for both
  • Ask yourself what is another perspective to see this situation from
  • Ask yourself what are all your choices. Find several
  • Educate yourself where necessary
  • Feel in your body, what is more true for you

An attribute to work on building is your self-worth, to be able to say, “I am enough” in order to feel and revel in being psychologically free.

All people have had a past that conditioned them in some way. All people have also had memories that remain unconscious to them and are still affecting them in some way.

Even so, all people are also free to choose, from various possibilities, a more beneficial perspective or path that could improve their lives and other peoples’ lives.

Psychology may help us in seeing the various possibilities that exist around a problem and guidance on changing their mind-set or perception so we can be really free.
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