The whole and its parts

The whole & its parts

A worthwhile idea: autonomy

The Merriam-Webster defines autonomy as “the quality or state of being self-governing”.

Wikipedia goes into a more detailed description, sharing different perspectives on autonomy including fields like philosophy, child development, and medicine. There, autonomy is mainly described as a variety of capacities or an authority we have.

Kant links autonomy with the capacity we have to think and make decisions for oneself. He assumes that autonomy is possible in the areas for which we have some degree of control or power over the events as they unfold.

Nietzsche wrote about autonomy in the realm of the moral fight. In this sense, he linked autonomy to the free self as one accessing self-love and self-respect. He assumed that ethical autonomy could dissolve the conflict between self-love and self-respect and lead to a sense of self-responsibility.

While these descriptions give an idea of what autonomy can be, it is Eric Berne’s description that gives an idea as to how it manifests itself.

According to Berne autonomy is “manifested by the release or recovery of three capacities: awareness, spontaneity and intimacy”

These capacities are all linked to our development since childhood as well as the sense of the culture in which we have grown up and live in today. They have given us ways to live and act, some of which reduce our flexibility and ability to be autonomous.

Awareness can be described as our capacity to see, hear, feel, taste and smell things as pure sensual impressions. It is something we could do as new-born when we hadn’t yet learned to connect them with different meanings. Since then we have learned to use filters and inner voices to decode meaning and transform awareness. Meditation is one of many ways to train our awareness towards a more pure and curious sense.

With spontaneity Berne means the capacity to choose from a full range of options in feeling, thinking and behaving. This choice is there to serve the present situation. Spontaneity means to choose without blanking out portions of reality or re-interpreting them according to our experience or worldviews.

Awareness is about experiencing the world, spontaneity is how we respond to it. In both cases, we avoid for example cultural filters of “do’s and don’ts” which would have deformed our reactions.

Intimacy then is our ability to be open in sharing of feelings and wants with another person. The feelings expressed are authentic which avoids any game playing.

We will only use intimacy after checking that the environment is one in which we feel free and secure to share. An example of intimacy is sharing an error we’ve made and let ourselves be vulnerable in doing so.

With such descriptions of awareness, spontaneity, and intimacy it becomes clear, that they are not always available to us. And that is normal.

It shows that autonomy is a goal as well as a journey.

We are autonomous but always can enhance it by paying attention to how we manifest our autonomy.



(1) TA Today, A new Introduction to Transactional Analysis, Ian Stewart and Vann Joines, Lifespace Publishing, 1987, second edition 2012
(2) Der Mensch im Spannungsfeld seiner Organisation, Ute & Heinrich Hagehülsmann. Junfermann Verlag, 2007

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