Another lesson learned by these “remarkable survivors” had to do with autonomy or making their own choices. Whereas in the past, choices were made to please others, get rewards, or avoid punishment, now they do so with a sense of personal freedom and volition. Many of us walk around as if half asleep. We really don’t experience the world fully, because we’re half-asleep, doing things we automatically think we have to do. An example of autonomy from the interviews is the following:
“Now I even say ‘no,’ but before I would’ve been paranoid to say ‘no,’ now I can say ‘no, not today, that doesn’t suit me.’ (Q: Any guilt there?) No, no guilt there. And there was no guilt when I made the decision not to go back to work next year…It’s not what I want to do…I’m very happy with what I do now, and it’s much easier to make a decision on the spur of the moment, and go to see a movie because you feel like going to see a movie, or sitting down and trying to sketch even though you know you’re not good at it, but it’s so peaceful and pleasant. That’s all.”
Although, the two themes of authenticity and autonomy were the most consistently expressed among the long survivors two other important themes repeatedly came up. These were, “a changed life” and “greater meaning in life”.
Terry Pfau DO, HMD