Set Yourself Free
Here in the United States, we celebrate July 4 as a national holiday commemorating our country’s freedom and independence. This year’s holiday sparked my thoughts about personal freedom – the kind of freedom that exists within each of us.
What does it mean to be free? How does one become free?
I believe that individual freedom starts from within, and that we each would define it differently. What follows are some guideposts on the path to personal freedom.
- Let go of judgment. Most of us spend a high percentage of our time judging ourselves and other people. We beat ourselves up for the smallest transgressions and have difficulty forgiving ourselves for the large ones. Our inner critics make up stories about what we “should” and “shouldn’t” be doing or being. They sabotage us through judgments like “who do you think you are?” or “you aren’t good enough” or “what a stupid thing to say”, and other equally destructive comments.We project the same level of judgment on to other people. I know I’ve done it. Judged someone else, and felt just a little better. It’s the old tear-someone-else-down-so-I-can- feel-better syndrome. It’s the root of gossip and it feeds off of itself. We often judge others so we don’t need to look at ourselves.
- Release the rules. We are all conditioned into maintaining a set of rules of behavior. This socialization begins in our families, continues in school, with our peers and filters in from society at large. We become adults with set of rules for behavior that sometimes hold us back – keep us chained into an existence that doesn’t work for us. It can be challenging to break free of these “rules”, albeit necessary to live a life of personal freedom.Here are some examples: “Don’t brag.” Now I’m not a fan of bragging. The difficulty with “don’t brag” is that it can get translated in our minds into “don’t accept compliments”, “it’s wrong to say something positive about myself”, and for some people it even gets twisted into “It’s wrong to think highly of myself and my skills and abilities.””Be nice,” is another favorite conditioning rule. Again, there’s nothing wrong with being nice when nice is the authentic way to be. “Be nice” can morph into “Always be polite” or “Never, under any circumstances, act anything other than nice,” or “Don’t ever express or address your true emotions.”
Sometimes we need to state exactly how we think or feel. The truth is that we are free to express ourselves in a way that’s authentic to us. At times, that expression may be assertive or angry or sad or exuberantly happy. Other situations call for us to ask for exactly what we need at the risk of someone else feeling uncomfortable. And sometimes, we just need to be truthful, and the truth isn’t always nice.
Letting go of judgment and releasing your rules are two important elements of personal freedom. What will it take for you to set yourself free?