The five freedoms

The yellowed edges on the single sheet of lined paper indicated it was old. This hand-written page, entitled The Five Freedoms, had spent years tucked away in a file folder. I don’t remember writing it or filing it away, but it is in my handwriting and in my cabinet.

A Google search indicated that author and psychotherapist Virginia Satir had written The Five Freedoms. I must have gotten them while I was in therapy or a self-help group during my thirties, when I was seeking to reconcile with my past and create a different future. The Five Freedoms are:

  1. The freedom to see and hear what is here instead of what should be, was or will be.
  2. The freedom to say what I feel and think, instead of what I should.
  3. The freedom to feel what I feel, instead of what I ought.
  4. The freedom to ask for what I want, instead of waiting for permission.
  5. The freedom to take risks in my own behalf, instead of choosing to be only “secure” and not rocking the boat.

Reflecting on these Five Freedoms reminded me of an exercise we once did in l’Arche at an assistants’ meeting. The leader read a list of ten or twelve statements, each related to some aspect of our personalities. After we listened to the list being read, we had to write down what we heard, what we remembered. Then the list was reread. We were then told that the items we missed, the ones that did not register with us, are the items we need to work on to incorporate into our lives. I remember that one of mine was about speaking what I believed, number two of the Five Freedoms.

I still struggle with it; my inner critic is powerful and loud.

Shoulds and oughts run through my mind, interfering with my freedom to feel, think, want and speak. I still find myself censuring what I say and doubting what I think and want.

I tend to be a fairly direct person, so holding my tongue can be a good thing for me. But, often I don’t speak, not because I am afraid of offending someone, but because I am afraid of being judged. Even when I figure out what I think and feel, I am often reluctant to say.

It is ironic that I have done a lot of public speaking about my nonprofit work, work that is based on beliefs and visions that have often challenged my audience. In those situations, I learned to put on the armor of God and stand firm in my convictions (Ephesians 6:10-18). But I have not yet gotten completely comfortable in wearing that armor in my personal life.

I have recently been pondering the story of Jesus calling Lazarus to “come out” and then instructing those standing nearby to “unbind him.” (John 11:43-44) Moving beyond shoulds and oughts is a way for me to come out and be free.


Anna Woofenden, 2014



2 thoughts on “The five freedoms

  1. annemarielom

    I found these five freedoms important and informative. I know them to be true but to see them in this form is a blessing. Thanks you for sharing them, Madeline!


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