When I was in college, one of my fellow psychology majors asked me if learning about psychological theories made me question whether we had free will. It did not. Although his question did make me read through the theories again, just to make sure I understood them correctly. But I was still convinced of my free will.
In my last post I used the example of an alcoholic father to illustrate how difficult it is to sort out blame and responsibility. If alcoholism is genetic, and his parents were alcoholics, and all of his friends drink, what chance does he have of living a sober life? How much of his behavior is in his control?
What if you have someone who is depressed with no family history of depression and no apparent cause, and she can’t get out of bed to make it to class. Is her depression real? Does she deserve to fail? What about if she refused to go to therapy and start meds?
I mentioned in my last post that these problems require forgiveness. We have to forgive ourselves for having the disorder. We may have to ask for forgiveness from people whom we have harmed. And we may have to forgive people who have added to our suffering.
When I’m depressed, I think everything is my fault. In the midst of an episode, I am angry at myself for not being able to function. I don’t think I have an excuse to be depressed. In those moments, it’s hard to forgive myself for not being able to control everything.
I also mentioned that there is always some part of the problem that we can take responsibility for. It may not be the alcoholic dad’s fault that he is prone to addiction, but he can join AA. He can stay away from friends who pressure him to drink. He can see a therapist.
I believe that knowing our limitations allows us to have more freedom. In my work, clients often try to convince other people that their suffering is real. I tell them that they have limited control over what other people think about their disorder. However, they don’t have to blame themselves. They can take control of what they can control.
Some people think that going to therapy is a sign of weakness. In reality, therapy increases your degrees of freedom. And I want to make sure I capitalize on all the freedom I can get.