The control freak can often masquerade as the most humble: depriving themselves or sacrificing for others. But is deprivation any way to live?
Do you always take the smallest cookie, the ugliest-looking piece of fried fish, or the worst seat on the tour bus?
Are you proud of the minimal amount of material possessions you require to be happy?
Do you feel more comfortable working than relaxing?
Do you avoid indulging in rich food, fine wines or shopping trips – and do you regard others who do so as weak-willed?
Do you feel uncomfortable treating yourself to a massage, a facial or indulging in any other sort of self-nurturing?
Are you a saver, not a spender? When you do spend, do you feel guilty?
Do you avoid your favorite food at all costs because it’s fatty, sugary or otherwise “bad?”
Do you think denying yourself pleasure makes you morally superior to others?
You might be a control freak leading a deprivation lifestyle.
America and indeed all of Western civilization has a long history of glorifying self-deprivation. The Puritans eschewed drinking, dancing and any kind of sensual pleasure as the work of the devil – but our tradition of deprivation can be traced much further back than that.
The Greek philosopher Plato argued in 400-ish BCE that one’s physical body and soul are two separate identities – and that the spiritual side was by far the superior half. Christianity’s apostle Paul was heavily influenced by Plato’s ideas of dualism, and St. Augustine and the Catholic Church later affirmed his teachings with vigor through the ages. Pleasure was dangerous. Sex, gluttony, inebriation and all the urges of the body were to be denied by the righteous.
Even if you don’t consider yourself religious and have never studied Greek philosophy, the long-held ideals of our history are embedded in your cultural brain. Like the monks who flagellate themselves and sleep on wooden boards, there is a potent strain of thinking in our culture that holds up self-deprivation as a morally superior lifestyle.
But is it really healthy? Can one really deny the divine pleasure of a ripe, juicy peach? The heavenly feeling of a soft, warm blanket? The exquisite joy of a kiss?
At the root of deprivation is the need for control. Like anorexics, those who deny themselves pleasure are trying to control one tiny bit of this crazy, chaotic, uncontrollable world. You may not be able to stop wars, poverty and mass shootings – but you can definitely stop eating anything but raw food. Pleasure is not free from peril; the obesity epidemic, STDs and alcoholism are three potent examples. If you deny yourself all fatty foods, all wine and all sexual relationships, you can avoid the dangers that pleasure might bring.
But is this any way to live? Maybe Plato was wrong. Our sensual selves are undeniably tied to our spiritual lives, and it’s time to banish the guilt and shame that so often goes along with pleasure. There is a massive gulf between enjoying a decadent piece of chocolate cake now and then, and binging on sugar until you become obese. You are strong enough and smart enough to navigate this gulf.
What gives you great pleasure? It’s time to bring it back into your life. If you think you need help, consider consulting a licensed therapist. Thanks to Obamacare’s new rules, mental health care is more affordable than ever – it’s just a co-pay away. Asking for help can be one of the strongest decisions you ever make.
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