The Five Freedoms

Satir's Five Freedoms

A Delightful Surprise

Sometimes diligence comes with unexpected delights! While reviewing early family therapy theorists for my licensing exam, I came across this list of Five Freedoms. It was created by Virginia Satir, a pioneering family therapist. I remember spending a day or two in graduate school talking about her contributions. Reviewing her work now, I think she was undersold to me!

Marriage and Family Therapy Pioneer

Virginia Satir (1916-1988) profoundly influenced thought and practice with family systems and other organizational structures. Unlike many of her fellow (mostly male) pioneers in the field of family therapy, Satir focused more on strengths and possibilities than on problems and problem-solving. Her ideas center on the dignity and worth of all individuals. In practice, her work with families was encouraging, dynamic, creative, and action-oriented.

The Five Freedoms

Here is Virginia Satir’s list of Five Freedoms. As you read each one, take a moment and notice what happens to your body as you read it. Does your breathing slow, or quicken? Do your muscles feel tighter, or more tense? Does anything happen to your hands? Your chest?

  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 you feel and think, instead of what you “should” feel and think.
  3. The freedom to feel what you feel, instead of what you “ought” to feel.
  4. The freedom to ask for what you want, instead of always waiting for permission.
  5. The freedom to take risks on your own behalf, instead of choosing to be only “secure.”

Taking stock

Which one did your body react to the most? To what extent do you feel that freedom in your most important relationships? What would be different if you experienced more of that freedom?

How can you exercise that freedom more in one of your relationships today?

Why this is hard

If we experience few of these freedoms in our current relationships, it’s most likely because we are afraid. Somewhere in our development we experienced negative reactions when we saw and heard what was, when we said what we thought or felt, when we felt what we felt, when we asked for what we wanted, or when we took risks on our own behalf.

When pursuing greater freedom, it can help to identify times when those negative reactions occurred. Those reactions could have been major-like physical punishment or the total loss of a relationship-or they could have been more subtle-like a frown on a parent’s face or a temporary sense of emotional distance.

Memories of negative reactions like these can make it so that exercising some or all of the Five Freedoms feels really dangerous. It feels as though we will be abandoned, unloved, cast aside. Within some relationships, this may be true. Some people in our lives haven’t matured emotionally to the point where they can handle us being us. In many cases, however, we might underestimate how resilient our relationships are. We might be operating with unnecessary caution and fear.

Taking it Further

If you want more of the Five Freedoms in your life, I’d recommend:

  1. Pick one to focus on and notice what happens in your body when you read it.
  2. See if there are memories about times when you exercised this freedom. What happened?
  3. See if you can exercise the freedom in your safest relationship, in a small way, today. Write about what happens.
  4. Repeat the process with the other freedoms and build on your gains.

The Next Step

For many people, these issues have troubled them for a long time. If steps one and two above create a lot of feelings of distress, and step three feels absolutely impossible, I’d consider looking for a therapist in your area. A therapist can be a trusted ally on your road to greater freedom!

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