Reality Check: The Need to be Free

Here in the “true north strong and free,” you might think that everybody understands freedom. According to Dr. Glasser’s choice theory, we all have some level of the need for freedom. We may all have the need, but there are still differences among us.
Some people, with a high need for freedom, perceive any restriction as unbearable. For others, the need is not so strong. Freedom matters to all of us, but it matters more to some than others. Our need for freedom also depends on what we want, doesn’t it?
For example, let’s say you’re told, “You will not leave your job to go sailing round the world.” How would you react?
If you’ve never wanted to sail, then this is no problem. However, if sailing the world is your longstanding dream, having it snatched away would really hurt.
Why does this matter? Throughout the pandemic, loss of freedom caused a great deal of dissatisfaction for some people, but it wasn’t a big deal for others. If you don’t have a strong need for freedom, then trading off reduced freedom for increased safety sounds reasonable. If, however, you do have a strong need, it sounds unwarranted.
Lack of sensitivity and understanding of these different levels of need created conflicts. Warmth and connection are not inspired if your deeply cherished picture of freedom is met with disrespect or even mockery.
If we want to get along, it’s helpful to recognize and respect that other people may view their needs differently than we do. It can also help to examine ourselves—what does it take to satisfy your need for freedom? Let’s look at some possibilities.
Some people connect freedom with having plenty of money. You might remember “Freedom 55” or seen ads for lottery products that suggest that winning brings freedom. Pictures of lakes and cottages and people lounging imply that once you have enough money to stop working, then you are free.
That idea of not having a boss, with its implication that you can “do as you please,” is appealing, isn’t it? Does getting rid of a boss bring freedom? For some people, entrepreneurship does help to satisfy that need. Even though entrepreneurs are still working for someone—customers—and may be working hard, there’s freedom to set your direction, define your schedule, etc.
But freedom isn’t defined by money or workplace for everyone. For some, it’s the wish to be “left alone.” Freedom might mean owning property which is yours to handle as you see fit. Your freedom picture might include freedom to travel, to walk on the beach, to visit mom in the nursing home, to grow your own food, or other activities that we might not think of as “freedom” until we’re not permitted to do them.
Freedom to you might mean being free from conflict, aggravations, or unfairness. Perhaps it’s important to you to be free to say what you think without fear of being mocked, judged or jailed. Perhaps it’s the freedom to express your faith in a way that you see as meaningful and worthy.
Perhaps freedom for you is as simple as having your morning coffee in peace.
Thinking about what you need to satisfy your need for freedom can be a useful exercise, especially if you feel frustrated but don’t quite know why. Is freedom a significant need for you? What do you require to satisfy that need?

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