Existential Psychology

Running Away From Commitment

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The most visible aspect of running away from commitment occurs in the context of romantic relationships but when we dig a little deeper we see that it’s a global orientation that affects all facets of life, meant to maintain the integrity of Self through securing perceived freedom for Self.

We say perceived freedom because from the existential point of view the commitment averse definition of freedom is incomplete. We can call the commitment averse definition freedom from or negative freedom.

Negative freedom cuts the ties that bind, breaks free of the chains that oppress, rids oneself of any and all entities that seek to control. There’s no question that negative freedom is an essential prerequisite for freedom in the full of the word. Free individual choice is impossible when psychologically, emotionally, or physically compelled by some outside entity. When you have no say in the matter you’re not responsible for what you do, some other entity is, and therefore ridding yourself of these compulsions is a necessary prerequisite for any free act.

But the existential paradox is that you can’t remain in that space of negative freedom for long. At some point you have to make a choice, you have to take some action, and when you do you bind yourself to that choice, to that action. But this binding is qualitatively different from being compelled since it comes from a place of responsibility, a place where you have the final say in the matter not some outside entity. We can call this self-willed binding freedom for or positive freedom.

Negative freedom and positive freedom are both necessary for freedom in the full sense of the word. Running away from commitment of all kinds can, at bottom, be seen as the attempt to perpetually remain in that space in between negative freedom and positive freedom due to the false unconscious belief that a freely willed commitment is one and the same thing as compulsion. When negative freedom is thought to be existential freedom in the full sense of the word then any and all commitments mean the loss of freedom and therefore maintaining freedom means running away from commitment.

But the irony is that people who can’t commit to anything in life are compelled as surely as if some outside entity were forcing their hands. Their fear of being unfree makes them unfree. It’s just that they’re compelled to not commit rather than to commit, compelled to no-action rather than action.