When we sit with our patient in this moment, without expecting or demanding that he change, love is able to enter the room. All we can do is describe his defenses, their price and function. We cannot take down his walls. And we have no right to do so. He has every right to keep his walls as long as he thinks they are useful. Therapy is not a place to bully patients. It is a place where we help the patient see how he bullies himself. Therapy is not a place where you take away the patient’s defenses. It’s a place where he sees how his defenses take away his emotional freedom.
Our unconditional acceptance of his every reaction stops him in his tracks. A lifetime of rejection by others ends. He has the shock of his life: you see, accept, and are curious about him and his defenses in this moment. You don’t demand that he change. You only describe what is. As a result, often for the first time, the patient experiences a demand for change, but from within himself!
When we seek emotional freedom, we often mistakenly seek freedom from emotions. Freedom from sadness, guilt, rage, and shame. But the freedom we seek will never come from becoming “free” of our humanity. Being human is our destiny.
Every day for the rest of my life I will feel sad, anxious, angry, shame, love, and joy. Every day these multi-colored clouds cross the sky. My freedom will not come from no longer feeling. My freedom will not come from arguing with the reality of my inner life as it keeps pouring over the waterfall. Water, foam, trees, trash, sticks, leaves, silt, all rush toward the falls and disappear below.
As a therapist, I will not become free by arguing with the waterfall sitting across the room from me. And his freedom will not come from rejecting whatever is flowing through him. We don’t insist that he be only a “happy”, “intimate”, or “rageful” waterfall. We simply accept and remain present to his waterfall however it flows. Thereby, he learns to bear the waterfall that he is and becomes transformed by that act, again and again.
Erich Fromm wrote about the ways we seek freedom from something. But freedom from is a life on the run. There is no freedom from reality. In contrast, Fromm proposed that we have freedom to: freedom to love, freedom to be with what is, freedom to become transformed by uniting with the emotional truth of this moment. Freedom to embrace outer and inner reality.
We seek freedom in forms it never takes, in places it’s never found: freedom from reality, from conflict, from feelings, from death. So strange, isn’t it? True freedom is not freedom from reality but within reality: freedom to embrace conflict, feelings, death—your inner life, moment by moment. That’s emotional freedom.