True Freedom Anxiety and Expectations
With freedom comes anxiety, according to psychoanalyst Erich Fromm in his book Escape from Freedom (1941). He believed we don’t know what to do with freedom once we get it and find new controls and structures to reduce our freedom. Those with long prison histories often return to prison, unable to create structure and consistency outside of prison. Addicts will tell you that getting clean is hard, but staying clean is even harder.
We all have, at some point, tried to implement change in our lives, but found it difficult to break our habitual unhealthy patterns of thinking and behaving. Why? It’s our ego’s self-protection, default mode of mind to avoid anxiety-provoking situations, including the experience of our own feelings. In other words, there is some kind of payoff for us to engage in these unhealthy habits of thought and behavior, otherwise it would be easy to quit, right? Therefore, “freedom is a practice,” according to Thich Nhat Hanh. Making space for and reaping the benefits of freedom within our mind has to be practiced.
According to Fromm, the best use of freedom is self-actualization, knowing and being who you are, not what our ego believes we should be. Although there is an abundance of research pointing to the benefits of self-acceptance, such as greater emotional resilience, more accurate self-concepts, as well as less narcissism and reactive anger, it remains, for many of us, one the most elusive and difficult attitudes to maintain towards ourselves on a consistent basis.
Where there is suffering, there is presence of ego. If our ego blocks us from our authenticity, we can practice being FREE. Faithfully Releasing Ego and Expectations will free us up to stay connected with our true nature, helping us to operate more authentically and contently in the world.
“We are here to practice stepping out of thinking.” – Eckhart Tolle
How do we do this? We must first understand the function of the ego. We all have one, serving to protect us. Our ego is our vehicle for experiencing who we think we are, and how we think the world works, based on our experiences (Hirstein, 2001). Because each person’s past experiences are unique to them, we all interpret our world differently. Research shows the default mode of mind constantly assesses incoming stimuli from our environment, comparing it to stored information, and then continuously making predictions that guide our thoughts, behaviors and perceptions.
However, defaulting to our past conditioning may not be serving us well today. This conditioning leads the ego to conclude it’s own expectations, which can create conflict within our selves and our relationships. The ego’s default mode is self-preservation, which is often at odds with self-acceptance and vulnerability. Peer and family pressure is a great example of this. We’ve all made choices, under pressure from others, in which we chose self-preservation, (like avoiding embarrassment or judgment), over self-acceptance. These and other experiences in our world shape our ego, resulting in the creation of an ego based only upon selected experiences that reinforce self-preservation, not self-acceptance. Understanding this can help us identify when it is interfering with self-acceptance and our need to be vulnerable at times.
Self-image and self-esteem is what we say to ourselves about ourselves at any given time. One of my own revelations of this was when I voiced a thought out loud to my husband, “Here I sit,” and he responded with, “What’s wrong with that?” This helped me begin to challenge my beliefs about productivity and what being a “good” mother/wife looked like. We live in a society that places a premium on being productive at any cost, so it’s no wonder that feelings of being unproductive can quickly tailspin into overall feelings of inadequacy in many areas of our life. Many of my clients have said, “When I experience boredom, I feel unproductive and lazy.” If the feeling of boredom (a common and temporary human emotion) becomes linked with the negative thought, “I’m lazy,” feelings of inadequacy will be triggered each time boredom is experienced.