Freedom and Individual Potential

Mental health for Fromm consists of realizing one's own unique individual potential, and it requires two kinds of freedom that are primarily dependent on the structure of a society's political, economic, and religious institutions. Freedom from external constraints refers to practical concerns such as freedom from imprisonment, hunger, and homelessness. This is how many people commonly conceive of the notion of freedom. For Fromm, freedom from external constraints is necessary, but not sufficient, for optimal mental health, which also requires the freedom to maximize one's individual potential.

Freedom to maximize individual potential entails productive love and productive work. Productive love consists of interpersonal relationships based on mutual trust, respect, and cooperation. Productive work refers to daily activities that allow for creative expression and provide self-esteem. Fromm hypothesized that people become anxious and insecure if their need for transcendence is thwarted by a lack of productive work and love. Many people, he believed, respond to anxiety and insecurity by an "escape from freedom": the unconscious adoption of personality traits that reduce anxiety and insecurity at the expense of individual identity.

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