The Existential Moment typographic logo

The Existential Moment – On Freedom and Responsibility

Invictus

By William Ernest Henley

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul.

Unfairly imprisoned for 27 years in apartheid-ruled South Africa, Nelson Mandela refused to succumb to the chains of victimhood, blame, and rage, instead embracing the powerful message of self-mastery and determination of the poem “Invictus.” For Mandela, “Invictus,” meaning “unconquered” in Latin, was a guiding light of inner freedom in dark times of brutality, isolation, and hopelessness. The mindset helped turn a prison into a crucible of resilience and a man into a beacon of inspiration of hope, forgiveness, and unwavering strength

At the heart of “Invictus” lies the powerful refrain: “I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul.” Put into perspective by over a quarter century of unjust imprisonment, the mantra reminds us that we possess the agency to shape our destiny, despite oppressive circumstances. We can choose not to be a victim of circumstance but rather the architect of our outlook.

E-H Therapy theory holds that four existential givens (or paradoxical polarities) permeate the therapeutic space. Freedom, in particular, plays a critical role in healing and growth. It comes up in therapy in different guises, such as guilt and responsibility, wanting, wishing, and deciding, and so on. Notably, freedom stands in tension with the constraints on our being (e.g., biology, history, environment, conscience, etc.).

All too frequently, clients blame and seek advice. They focus outside, looking for explanations for what brought them to therapy or for what might help. This mindset limits freedom and, thus, therapeutic potential. As therapists, we are limited to offering support or maybe a bit of guidance.

However, assuming responsibility (e.g., how they contribute to their life’s circumstances) provides the potential for transformation. As Mandela’s remarkable story remind us, we, too, hold the power to shape our destinies and become the masters of our own fates. Helping on this journey, working with experience in the “here-and-now” and expanding presence, is a central part of our role as therapists.

Links to Related Blog Posts:

Read more posts about freedom in E-H therapy on EHI’s blog.

Read more posts about the existential givens in E-H therapy on EHI’s blog.

Read all the Existential Moment series posts on EHI’s blog.

Existential Moment Author: Scott Gibbs, LMFT, EHI Board Member-at-Large | Website: www.mscottgibbs.com | Twitter: @Novum_Organum

Share this post

Related Posts:

The Existential Moment typographic logo

The Existential Moment: Supporting and Celebrating Freedom

“The road to freedom is a difficult, hard road.” – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. 

These words resonate deeply as we reflect on the significance of Juneteenth, commemorating the end of slavery in the United States. On June 19, 1865, enslaved African Americans in Galveston, Texas, were finally informed of their emancipation, more than two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed. This day, now celebrated as a national holiday, Juneteenth, symbolizes the long and arduous journey toward freedom for African Americans and the ongoing struggle for equality and justice.

Juneteenth is more than just a historical milestone; it is a celebration of freedom and a reminder of the resilience and strength of those who fought tirelessly for their liberation. As we observe Juneteenth this month, we are called to recognize the importance of meeting our past and embracing the present in our journey toward freedom.

Read More »
The Existential Moment typographic logo

The Existential Moment: The “Good Enough Mother”

The “good enough mother” (later “good enough parent”) concept is not just a cute catchphrase but a powerful view into the parent-child relationship. It describes a mother who provides an environment that meets the child’s needs adequately but not perfectly, allowing the child to experience and manage frustration in a safe setting. This approach, often overlooked or assumed, plays a pivotal role in helping children develop resilience and independence as they learn that the world will not always cater to their needs immediately or perfectly. Winnicott argued that being a ‘good enough mother’ is crucial for healthy emotional and psychological development, as it balances care and challenge, enabling children to grow into well-rounded adults.

Read More »
  • Search EHI's Blog

    Upcoming Events

    Ongoing series on Existential & Humanistic therapy

    Get Updates

    Join our mailing list and get the latest in news and events.

    Blog Archives