Freedom and responsibility - two sides of the same coin


12 Jun 2014 |  for counsellors | by Bill, writer at UK & Ireland Counsellor Directory


"Freedom means that one is responsible for one's own life choices, actions, one's life situation." - Irvin Yalom : Love's Executioner, and Other Tales of Psychotherapy

Often counsellors hear their clients saying "I have no choice", which in reality can mean that the choices in question feel so difficult that they do not see them as possibilities. 

But failing to notice that we do things by choice - or fail to do them - can leave us feeling helpless and disempowered.

One of the best-kept secrets of interpersonal relationships (and politics) is that choice, responsibility and freedom are synonyms - different ways of expressing the same concept.

Erich Fromm, in his excellent book on ethics, Man for Himself, identifies this: "Responsibility and respond have the same root, Respondere = "to answer"; to be responsible means to be ready to respond.".

To have freedom is to have responsibility for your choices; to have responsibility is to have the freedom to choose. Where there is one there is always the other.

When a client says "I have no choice" it can help to ask what are the choices they don't have.  Or ask them how it might feel to say out loud "I choose to ...". -  "I choose to stay in this difficult relationship."; "I choose to be frazzled and run after my family"; "I choose to bale my son out every time he gets into debt."

Positive psychotherapeutic change tends to increase our sense of freedom, but in doing so it may make us more aware of our responsibilities. It may make one’s life richer and more fulfilling, but not necessarily easier.


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