Autonomy & The Responsibility of Choice

The power of the human will can be frightening if it is set toward destruction of self or other. It can also evoke a sense of awe as we consider the sacrificial giving of a determined hero. In either case, the human will, our option to make choices, is a God-given gift that should be respected by others. Intrinsic in the human nature is the deep desire to have freedom to assert our preferences.

Defining Autonomy

According to Merriam-Webster dictionary, Autonomy is defined as…

“The quality or state of being self-governing.” Synonyms are: free will, choice, self-determination, volition and will. Antonyms are: dependence, subjection, coercion, compulsion, constraint, duress, force and pressure.”

Understanding Coercion & Manipulation

Many dysfunctional relational patterns in families, churches and work environments suffer from the grip of manipulation and control. Forceful leadership and parenting styles often produce surface change and end up create power struggles. Perhaps you know of someone in your family or community who resists change and continues a dysfunctional lifestyle. We may attempt to make someone to change only to discover the other person is resentful and distant. In other words, disregard for an adult’s right to be self-directed could yield the appearance of positive change. If we force our own agenda we are being manipulative. Coercion goes against respect for autonomy and can reinforce our loved one’s denial in their area of dysfunction,

Understanding Autonomy & Volition

Patterns of interaction are influenced by individual member’s readiness to make positive change. The more we allow others to express their preferences, the more freedom will be experienced in the relationship. Respecting the right of another person to come to a decision is showing mature love which is not coercive or manipulative. Too often we find ourselves over-riding another person’s volition or fussing about what someone else should/should not be doing. Communicating love sometimes means being silent and allowing natural consequences to teach alternative choices. It can also mean that our hearts will ache while we wait for loved one to choose a wiser path. We are challenged to come along side of that person and respect their independence. The challenge is to find for ways to support our loved one’s freedom to discover truth without alienating them.

Further Biblical Study

  • The God who gives us the choice to respond (Josh. 24:15, Deut. 30:19, John 3:17-21)
  • The God who knocks (Rev. 3:20)
  • The God who intercedes for us (Rom. 8:26; Heb. 7:25)
  • The God who asks what we want (John 5:6)
  • The God who wants us to ask (James 1:6; John 14:4,Luke 23:42)
  • The Father who waits until we come to our senses (Luke 15:11-32)
  • Timely spoken word (Prov. 25:11)




Author: Beth Holloway, MA, LPCA for Miller Counseling Services, PC

Beth Holloway, MA, LPCA

Beth Holloway, MA, LPCA is a Licensed Professional Counselor Associate and has more than 12 years’ experience in the mental health field. She has recently joined the Miller Counseling Services team and specializes in counseling individuals and couples who have experienced all types of losses including abuse, domestic strife, and trauma. She enjoys leading group therapy classes in the areas of Divorce Recovery, Spiritual Enrichment, Couples and Parent/Child Relationships, Grief Processing and Depression Recovery. Beth has had the privilege of traveling all over the United States and to more than 10 foreign countries and has been enriched by learning about people from diverse cultures and ethnic groups.

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