Question Lindsey Science

The "Struggle for Autonomy" in Psychology

What is the "Struggle for Autonomy" in psychology?

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‘Autonomy’ can be simply explained as ‘the quality of being self-governing’ (Merriam-Webster, n.d.). In Psychology, the term is applied to refer to an individual’s ability to make choices based on free will. Humans crave autonomy, as it gives a feeling of control over one’s circumstances: lacking this control leads to feelings of powerlessness, which can in turn cause anger and resentment (Lickerman, 2012). The struggle for autonomy is a construct which appears in numerous contexts across the discipline of Psychology. The basic premise of it is that there is an internal conflict within a person between wanting to be free and self-sufficient, not needing to rely on others to meet one’s needs, and wanting to depend on other people for comfort, support and mutual gratification in meeting one’s needs. The latter could also manifest in a more negative sense: feelings of guilt or shame for one’s actions, either internal or external, can also result in a feeling of lost autonomy. This can manifest in numerous kinds of relationships between people (be that romantic, familial, professional or even clinical), or in relationships between the person and an object or institution (e.g. having to perform proscribed actions to achieve a desired goal, such as attaining a promotion at work). However, Lickerman (2012) points out that rational thinking can assist someone struggling with loss of autonomy on the basis that in completing tasks we don’t want to (therefore losing a degree of autonomy), we are almost invariably doing so to work towards a goal that we do want to achieve. For example, we may acqueise to a romantic partner’s desire over our own in the name of preserving a successful relationship. In this situation, we have ‘voluntarily surrendered our autonomy in the name of our autonomous desires’ (Lickerman, 2012, n.p).


Lickerman, A. (2012). ‘The Desire for Autonomy.’ Psychology Today online. Accessed 18.09.2016 – available online.
Merriam-Webster Dictionary. (N.D.). ‘Autonomy – Simple Definition’. Accessed 18.09.216 – available online.