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Denying Yourself Pleasure: Why We Do It and How to Stop

I work with many clients who struggle with anxiety or depression related to many reasons whether it is due to their personal or professional life. My job as their clinical therapist is to help clients understand possible reasons/triggers that are causing their anxiety and/or depression, and then possible coping strategies to help. After several sessions with some clients, I have noticed once they start reducing their symptoms of anxiety and/or depression, they then become uncomfortable with this feeling of happiness or pleasure. It is almost as if they have told themselves that they cannot feel pleasure or happiness.

I recently read an article from Goop that touched on this very topic, “Why We Deny Ourselves Pleasure” featuring Boston-based therapist Aimee Falchuk in a question/answer style article.

Below are some key points from Falchuk why individuals deny themselves pleasure and ways to stop this from happening.

  • Why do we deny ourselves pleasure? Falchuk describes a number of reasons why individuals deny themselves this sense of pleasure. Essentially it starts in childhood. If you can think back to when you were a young kid, you likely had to get permission from your parents to do things you liked, such as hanging out with your friends, going to get pizza, going on field trips, and buying toys. The sad thing is, many times once people become adults, they never grow out of that stage of dependency, as they are still searching for others to give them permission for pleasure. For some people, this “permission” comes from validation or acceptance from others. Through always wanting validation and acceptance from others, we are robbing ourselves of independently creating our own pleasure/happiness. I often encourage my clients to physically write a permission slip to themselves to “do something they enjoy”.
  • How can we experience more pleasure? The first step in experiencing more pleasure in your life is to look internally at the ways you are blocking or denying pleasure in the first place. There are a number of questions to ask yourself to get you started in exploring how you might be blocking pleasure from yourself. Falchuk describes getting in touch with your mind and body when it comes to denying yourself pleasure. As far as the mind, ask yourself what pleasure was like growing up for you. Maybe you received a misrepresentation as a child about what pleasure is for you which maybe affects you today. For example, maybe as a child you felt guilty for enjoying your time with your friends because your parents were upset with you for not helping around the house during that time. Falchuk then reminds individuals to see how they could be denying themselves pleasure in their body. Are you allowing yourself to take deep breaths throughout the day? Do you allow yourself to move freely, maybe through some relaxing yoga classes? Being present in the moment is the core of experiencing pleasure, as pleasure is simply a felt experience in the here and now moment, not worrying about past events or future events.
  • Is feeling pleasure selfish? No! Falchuk explains that at an early age we are taught to do things for others, while that is a kind thing to do, we rarely are taught at a young age the importance of doing things for ourselves, which is the core of both self-love and pleasure. Air pilots have it right about putting your oxygen mask on first, because we are better able to help others when we have helped ourselves first, which is not selfish!

If you are currently struggling with denying yourself pleasure, it may be a good idea to connect with one of our skilled counselors at Symmetry Counseling today. You can contact them at 312-578-9990 to set up an appointment.

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