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Self-Development: From Bondage to Freedom

Self-Development: From Bondage to Freedom

Freedom is necessary for self-development. Without it, the child would be unable to experiment with different selves, which would stunt their development and growth. There are a number of ways in which the self can develop and a multitude of ways in which the child can experiment with them. Freedom of choice offers the child a healthy environment where the self may grow, develop and be nurtured, which facilitates self-actualization. Conceptualizing freedom as a negative property is difficult, but there are two ways in which freedom can be negative: freedom as bondage and structured freedom.

Freedom as bondage qualifies itself most readily as an over-abundance of freedom. With no direction or guidance whatsoever the child becomes frustrated in its attempts to develop a self. When there are too many options to choose from, the self develops into a conglomeration of identities. The child fails to develop a strong ego from which all other development stems. The result is a fragmented, easily shattered ego-centre. The id becomes the primary source of identity for the child, resulting of course, in entitlement, self-centeredness and pleasure-seeking as the fundamental aims in life. Without a core identity, the child has no opportunity or ability to self-actualize. This confused identity stunts the child’s growth and results in an under-developed youth and adult with little to no insight, a difficulty in developing healthy attachments or relationships, and a lack of direction. In the end, that which was always meant to facilitate development and growth binds the child to a constant state of decay and stagnation.

Structured freedom is perhaps the more insidious of these negative freedoms, and is caused by the parent’s desire for the child to take a certain developmental path. In this state, children are offered all the freedom they desire, but only as long as it fits within the parent’s conception of healthy development. Common examples would be religious freedom: the child is offered a structured environment in which to grow, and so long as that growth happens within the structures of their particular religious doctrine they will experience freedoms unlike any other. This is promised to them by their church, their parents, extended family, or any person which the child has contact with within this religious community. The child is provided with friends and peers with whom they can associate and are fed beliefs and ideologies that are “right”. The self develops centered around this core belief: all parts of the self develop as a result or reaction to the religious ideology. This does not produce persons, it produces ideologues. Ideologues that monotonously repeat rhetoric with no agency or free-will.

One example of reactionary structured freedom can be found in abundance in the fringe elements of the radical-left and the far-right. These fringe political ideologies are teeming with fresh examples of structured freedom. It is not good enough to feel strongly about a social issue, it must be force-fed to the child and dictated to them as law. That is, instead of providing the child with essential freedom and guidance, their world and development is structured for them by the parent. The parent in a way dictates how the child will develop by steering them in a certain desired direction. This creates confusion in the child. The parent will tell the child that they love them unconditionally, leading them to believe that the parent will love them no matter how they turn out. This, of course, is not true. The parent has a particular result in mind. They subtly provide the child with clothing, toys, philosophies, religious options and other such things that insidiously “guide” the child towards this favored outcome.

For instance, a parent who vehemently desires that their child be accepting of every person regardless of race, religion, sex, gender and so forth, may disavow the Bible because of their personal experience being raised a Christian. They may believe that the Bible preaches hate and intolerance. In turn they repeatedly remind their child of this interpretation, preaching the awful things Christians do and pushing them towards alternative choices. In their diatribe the parent fails to realize they are limiting the child’s choices, and very clearly putting a contingency on acceptance. In this case what the parent should be doing is offering their child information on all religions and allowing the child to make an informed decision based on their newly acquired knowledge. If the parent truly wants the child to develop as an autonomous self with agency and free-will, (s)he will provide the child with as much guidance and information as possible so that the child can develop in accordance with their own decisions. The child should not be forced to develop their self in accordance with the wishes of the parent so as to avoid confrontation or strain on the relationship.

Will these decisions be influenced by others outside of the self? Undoubtedly. We as humans exist as interdependent beings. No decision, no thought, no action, no aspect of development is entirely independent from influence. Without others to experience our person as real and sentient, we fail to exist in totality. No person has complete and total agency. Our choices are informed by our culture, our social obligations, our relationships, and our attachments, without which we would be nothing.

Freedom in principle is not the absence of control. Our freedom includes guidance and influence. This does not mean we are controlled by those around us: we have the ability to choose the options presented to us. We choose our own path, our own destiny, our own development. Freedom is understanding your agency and fostering it. It is the parents’ role to foster personal development through this agency.

Self-development and self-actualization are necessitated by this agency and by our freedom. Freedom that does not bind us, freedom without contingencies, freedom with guidance and interdependence. We cannot be free to know ourselves until we allow ourselves to develop our true selves, and this is impossible if we are continually stunted by those around us.

This post was syndicated from Psych Central. Click here to read the full text on the original website.

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