Newly liberated chumps often struggle with freedom. It seems a crazy thing to write — Freedom? I LOVE FREEDOM! — what’s not to love? But a lot of gaining a life is realizing that “chump” is no longer in your job description. What now fills the place where an entitled, impossible-to-please fuckwit used to stand? Agency? Hmmm. Not so sure what to do with that agency thing.
The German psychologist Erich Fromm described this condition in his seminal book Escape from Freedom (1940). Fromm distinguished between “freedom from” something (like fuckwits, as negative freedom) and “freedom TO” (gain a life, as positive freedom). He argued that “freedom from” can be destructive unless it’s balanced with the creativity of “freedom to”.
In the process of becoming freed from authority, we are often left with feelings of hopelessness (he likens this process to the individuation of infants in the normal course of child development) that will not abate until we use our ‘freedom to’ and develop some form of replacement of the old order.
Unfortunately, a lot of chumps spend their “freedom to” chips on attracting another fuckwit, or as Fromm would put it, submitting to another authoritarian regime. But damn, we’re so GOOD at being chumpy! It feels so dysfunctionally normal!
If we stay in the chump condition, we eliminate uncertainty. We give our authority to fuckwits who will tell us what to think and how to act. (And where we missed a spot.)
Which brings me to this letter I got. (I get a lot of this sort of letter.)
Dear Chump Lady,
I am struggling with making a decision concerning my son’s 5th grade graduation. I just finished a 3-year custody battle with my son’s father. He is a flaming narcissist with borderline and paranoid features. He has proven himself to be a very abusive man and that is why he only has therapeutic visitation with our son. There is no restraining order in place yet. The judge has warned my ex that he shouldn’t go anywhere our son is including the school. I don’t know why I’m so conflicted about whether I should invite him when the answer seems pretty clear. I guess I want to avoid being accused of parental alienation. At he same time, inviting my ex would open the door for him to begin his vicious cycle of abuse all over again.
Dear Newly Liberated Chump,
Managing your child’s relationship with his father is Not Your JOB. Your duty is to follow the specifics of the court order. You don’t have to send out engraved invitations to your ex for every event in your child’s life. He can read the school calendar just like you can. If it’s not his custodial time and he’s confused about whether he’s permitted on school grounds for a graduation, he can speak with his attorney. Managing all those details for him? NOT YOUR JOB.
Will he accuse you of parental alienation? Oh sure. He might. He’ll probably accuse you of a lot of things, like failing to sufficiently appreciate his splendidness. Is there any grounds to an alienation claim? I don’t know, ask your lawyer, but in my opinion (and I’m a chump, not a lawyer), I doubt it. Elementary school is full of awards ceremonies and events and “graduations.” (It’s entry to middle school, not medical school.) You really think a judge with an overbooked docket wants to hear about your ex’s hurt feelings over a 5th grade graduation ceremony?
Fuckwits like to rattle sabers to get you to submit. You don’t have to submit. You can shrug. Or yawn. Or pick the lint out of your navel instead.
Here’s your problem, Newly Liberated — you’ve escaped FROM the fuckwit. Now you need to escape TO that new life. Hand in notice on your old chump career, and write your new job description.
Which is also everyone’s Friday homework assignment. Replace the old order!