Agency and Emotional Bondage

Agency and Emotional Bondage

My Dad has battled Parkinson’s disease for the last 10 years. While he’s had an amazingly resilient attitude about it all, I’ve watched his frustration with losing the capability to do things he loves, and as it’s progressed, even simple daily tasks. I often think about how helpless it must feel for him to still have a mind that is fully alert, but trapped in a body that slowly loses its functioning. Any kind of physical bondage has an immense impact on a person’s freedom and sense of identity. Emotional bondage and captivity can pack just as powerful of a punch. 

When we think of being in emotional bondage our first thoughts might be of external forces- addictions, habits of the “natural man,” or the actions of others. But more often this bondage comes from internally imposed expectations and fears. These fears trap us and suffocate us. Like the walls closing in, they slowly etch away at our agency until we feel small, helpless, and captive. Fear can take so many different forms- fear of loss of love, fear of pain, fear of loneliness, fear of disappointing others, of not being enough, of anger, of having hope and being miserably disappointed, of losing value and worth, etc.

Regardless of the core motivator, these fears strip us of our freedoms to think, feel, speak up, have needs and boundaries, act for ourselves, and experience joy and hope.

I believe in a God who wants us to maintain our full capacity for agency; our full ability to think, feel and act for ourselves. He wants us to be freed from this emotional bondage.

I’ve always liked the phrase, “any virtue taken to an extreme can become a vice.” I have many clients who are naturally loving and kind but have become enslaved by these attributes. Rather than kindness coming from a pure place freely given, it originates from fear. They are so consumed by the potential consequences of “not” being loving and kind, that they lose their own sense of identity and inherent worth. 

When fear enslaves us, we end up with a mess of boundaries. Either we struggle creating any boundaries because we are afraid of the accompanying pain, loss of love, anger, or guilt, or we swing to the other end of the spectrum and create extremely rigid boundaries due to fear of loss of control, being taken advantage of, not meeting expectations, etc.

With either scenario we are left with little room for compassion, empathy, and love for ourselves or others.

How do we free ourselves from this emotional bondage? There is power in simply becoming aware of these fears and expectations that bind us. I think the next step is getting back in touch with our core identities. Getting to know our thoughts, feelings, and desires. Those often get so lost when fear takes over. What also seems to get lost is the truth about ourselves and others. When my client’s and I explore their fears, they typically have some strong underlying beliefs such as:

“If I inconvenience someone they will resent me”

“If I express an unpleasant emotion I will lose their love”

“People expect me to be perfect”

“If I let someone in they will abandon me, hurt me, or take advantage of me”

“My only value comes from being or doing _________”

“No one cares about my feelings so I have to look out for myself”

While some relationships may actually be this fragile, that says so much more about the pain and emotional struggles of the other person. In my experience, most people don’t have such extreme expectations of others and have no intent to cause harm. We all have bad days where we don’t exhibit the best emotional responses or actions, but most typically have good intentions.

The main point is that we can’t heal from the emotional bondage until we are willing to see the truth. Agency isn’t just about having the freedom to make choices, but seeing the world truthfully. And then once we see the truth, we have to be willing to act on it and engage differently with ourselves and others.

This can feel incredibly risky and terrifying. Good thing we’re not alone in attempting these changes.

Isaiah 61:1 says, “….He hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound.”

Christ didn’t come just to release us from physical captivity or the captivity of sin, but also to free us from emotional bondage. It is the light of Christ that helps us take off our warped lenses of fear and see the truth about ourselves and others. And it is the power of Christ that strengthens us to become new creatures and act on this truth.

Healing from my own fears that bind me has been a lifelong process, and I’m sure will continue to be so. However, I fully believe the fruits of this labor are worth the struggle. I believe we fought for agency long before we came to this earth, and that the battle for agency continues on here. We can experience so much joy, peace, and freedom as we allow ourselves to be released from fear and strengthened to see ourselves, others, and God through truth.


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