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Rebellion and Freedom

Reflections about internal conflicts, boundaries, societies and creativity

Sometimes we can think we made the wrong decisions in the past, and that it is too late to change. Saying that it is never too late to change feels somehow reductive. It is more complex than that: there are often boundaries and restrictions that can make change feel impossible. We need to go through a lot of internal processes before we are ready to change.

Safety and Restrictions

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Limitations are often imposed by our societies as well as by ourselves. I’m thinking about all the boundaries and restrictions we have in relation to others. They are usually created with the aim to keep us safe. However, like the high walls erected to defend a city, during a siege they become a prison and a trap. The citizens want to escape, but they are trapped by the same structure they built for protection.

So we have this internal conflict where a part of us wants to break away from conventions and self-imposed restrictions. This is fuelled by the need to explore and experiment. A creative energy that pushes towards the unknown. This is the dichotomy between the compliant-self and the rebellious-self.

The Rebellion

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The internal conflict feels impossible to resolve. Sometimes it feels impossible even to address. So we end up leaving it, or worse, suppressing it. The turmoil rages, creating frustration and angst. Those powerful feelings are often expressed in art and politics, projected onto others because it is too hard to own them. This switch between polarities feeds the sense of uncertainty. How much safety do we need, and how much uncertainty can we tolerate? The rebellion starts when we dismantle internal restrictions. It explodes when it can no longer be contained. The act of rebellion is powerful, strong and liberatory. There is something appealing and even charming in the rebellion, and yet rebellion is destructive. Sometimes things need to be destroyed before they are rebuilt.

What is freedom?

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From a psychological point of view, both compliance and rebellion come from an adapted part of the self (Berne, 1957; 1958). Rebellion ignites as a reaction to something. The act of rebellion is, by definition, ‘against’, in opposition to’. The way through this internal dichotomy needs to be pro-active (as opposed to re-active). In Transactional Analysis we talk about ‘The Free Child’ (Berne, 1957; 1958). Freedom as a creative force that generates something new. Freedom is curiosity and innovation. It is easier to move against the status quo; it is harder to generate the difference. An important element for freedom is spontaneity. Freedom is more than simply challenging what is already there. It needs to be something original and unique. That is what makes it special and valuable.


Berne, E. (1957). 'Ego states in psychotherapy', in American Journal of Psychotherapy, 11(2), 293-309.

Berne, E. (1958). 'Transactional analysis: A new and effective method of group therapy', in American Journal of Psychotherapy, 12(4), 735-743.