Responsibility, Freedom, Empowerment, and Mental Health
How to empower yourself by decluttering your mind.
Posted November 21, 2021 | Reviewed by Abigail Fagan
- Freedom and responsibility are essential to mental health.
- Freedom comes from becoming self-aware and taking responsibility. Taking responsibility involves decluttering your mind.
- The more responsibility you take, the greater the peace of mind, freedom, and self-empowerment you’ll experience.
From an existential perspective, freedom and responsibility are inseparable. They constitute the foundation for understanding our experience, developing our sense of identity, and leading a purposeful and meaningful life.
Psychological or personal freedom, as opposed to political freedom or liberty – although it impacts our ability to make political choices – relates to our capacity to make choices in taking action, which in turn determine the possibilities and opportunities we create for our future. Your life is (and will be) the sum of all the actions and non-actions you take (and don’t take).
Personal freedom represents the highest value in existentialism. This kind of freedom is internal freedom and requires self-awareness. Lack of self-awareness means living a life dominated by the illusion of freedom and without existential choices.
The illusion of freedom
Real freedom is internal, as it relates to becoming aware (and later free) of the psychological and social conditioning that was placed upon us since the day we were born and has been progressively reinforced to us ever since.
Given our fragility and vulnerability, as the child that we once were, it was useful for us to learn to be obedient and compliant by fulfilling the wishes and expectations of our caregivers. At that time, we had no choice but to be dependent in order to be taken care of. This was the genesis of our inauthentic or false-self (e.g. being a perfectionist or a people pleaser).
As we grow up, however, this dependency is no longer useful. To become a free adult, we need to learn to let go of this dependency. This includes the constant pressure to conform with and to please others.
Failure to do so means living in a permanent child-like state trapped inside the body of an adult. It means to keep making unconscious life choices out of compulsion or conditioning. Over time, this will very likely compromise our mental health (e.g. experiencing depression, anxiety, and even despair). These are the psychological indicators telling us the time to reclaim our authentic or true-self (our freedom) has come.
This reclaiming of our true self entails becoming self-differentiated by decluttering our minds and unburdening ourselves from external expectations, belief structures, roles, duties, and obligations that were imposed on us. This process of self-liberation doesn’t mean we don’t need to fulfill any external expectations, or don’t have beliefs, roles or duties. It means that we choose them freely by making conscious life choices.
Freedom, then, means becoming aware of what we can do to reach our full human potential. Only when we have choices, can we exercise our freedom. This requires self-awareness.
Freedom and self-awareness
There cannot be freedom without self-awareness. To be free means to have choices to choose from. The only way to have choices is to become self-aware, so self-awareness gives us life’s choices. Self-awareness is having clarity about who we are. This includes knowing our personality, strengths, weaknesses, thoughts, attitudes, beliefs, and emotions. Self-awareness also allows us to understand others and how they perceive us, and our responses to them. It is the first step in creating what you want, where you focus your attention and reactions to determine where you go in life. The benefits of gaining self-awareness include greater clarity and peace of mind.
Most importantly, self-awareness is transformational, as it derives self-transformation – it transforms how you view yourself and are viewed by others. Once we become self-aware, we are then in a position to know what to take responsibility for. Personal freedom comes by taking responsibility for making choices to live authentically.
Taking responsibility is empowering and leads to freedom
Taking responsibility empowers us by making us accountable for our own behavior, to think critically, perform well under pressure, and handle challenges with ease.
Owning our decisions provides us with a powerful focus on what we want. Responsibility begins with knowing what we want and creating a plan to get there – not because of a sense of duty, but from our own desire.
When we take responsibility, we take ownership of behavior and its consequences. We accept our choices and their outcomes – without blaming others or life’s circumstances. This makes us strong and resilient.
The degree of freedom we experience in life is a direct proportion of the amount of responsibility we take.
Seven benefits of taking responsibility
By taking responsibility we:
- Live more meaningful and purposeful lives
- Experience personal (inner) power and authority
- Create individuation
- Attain differentiation
- Embody our truth
- Create freedom for ourselves
- Feel empowered, capable, and proud of ourselves
In what area of your life could you take only 10% more responsibility today?
What your life would be like if you were going to do this today?
Overend, P. (2021). Working with power in existential therapy. Existential Analysis: Journal of the Society for Existential Analysis, 32(2), 309-321.
Salicru, S. (2021). A practical and contemporary model of depression for our times—A timeless existential clinician’s perspective. Open Journal of Depression, 10(2), 54-89. https://doi.org/10.4236/ojd.2021.102005
Spinelli, E. (2007). Practising existential psychotherapy: The relational world. Sage.