Est 8 min read
I find that so many of my clients (and even me!), previous to doing this work, struggle to access pleasure and have fun.
There are so many reasons for this, we will dive into a few here. But be sure to get curious about your own personal barriers to accessing pleasure.
First, it’s important to acknowledge that humans have a negativity bias. This negativity bias is important, there's a reason we have it. If you're on a path and boulders are falling down, you want to recognize that because that is a danger, right? You want to remember that, for future times you walk down that path, you don't want to get taken out by a boulder. Our brains are wired naturally to notice the things that are negative, that feels scary, dangerous, or bad; to really highlight those and take note. It keeps us safe. That's our inherent human nature.
Let’s shift that bias a little bit by starting to take in all of your experiences and highlight those pleasurable experiences, not just the uncomfortable ones. For example, if you practice mindfulness, you might notice only uncomfortable sensations like pain, upset, and tension in your body. While it's important to recognize the sensations that are present, get curious, and honor them, it's also valuable to zoom out and notice the pleasant and neutral sensations present in your body.
It can be really helpful to develop a practice of doing body scans specifically when you are feeling good, checking-in to see what pleasurable sensations are present in your body. Sit with them, let the feeling grow, and allow yourself to simmer in it and enjoy that moment. I recommend the Breathing Room app by Rembody for support around body scans, if you're not working with a coach like me.
Explore other ways to zoom out from the unpleasant life experiences and simmer in the pleasurable ones. Perhaps, when you meet up with a friend, you have a practice where you tell each other the most exciting thing that happened to you this week or share about any adventures you're having. Sometimes people do gratitude practices for this reason, although I do find that gratitude practices can have an inherent should present with them. And sometimes it becomes really routine. So just be aware of that.
Second, explore if it feels safe to feel pleasure. For many folks, it doesn't. If you are struggling with nervous system regulation, having a lot of conflict or high demands in your life, were told as a child that it's bad to enjoy yourself, or that we should all kind of be martyrs and put everyone else’s needs first, it may not feel safe to feel pleasure. Addressing what you need to feel safe to be able to access pleasure can be really helpful.
The last piece we will look at is deserve, or feeling/believing that it's ok to make your pleasure a priority over other things/people. This is the one that I find is really complex, nuanced, and layered, but I want to give you a sense of some areas to explore. Deserve around pleasure, in particular, for people who are more caretakers, high achievers, or who have a lot of shoulds, in their minds, this can be really challenging. You might find that when you start to look at this, you realize that you don't feel like you deserve to access pleasure or you don't feel like it's your inherent right, that as a human you deserve pleasure. We all need pleasure. This is really important. It's an important experience to have and it's one of the ways that you fill up and that your nervous system regulates.
We all need pleasure.
Let me just tell you right now, you do deserve to access pleasure, make it a priority in your life, and have fun, joy, and satisfaction. You absolutely do.
But there are some reasons you might not fully feel that in your body even if you believe mentally that you should be able to or you deserve to. Even if you believe you deserve to access pleasure, you may not really know that in your bones or have the practice of it yet.
Here are some areas to explore. What was the messaging that you got as a child around pleasure? Did you get shamed for enjoying things by being loud (squealing/laughing)? Did you get shamed for self-pleasure, like masturbation when you were a child? What was the message around it? Is it shameful? To deserve pleasure? Or to access pleasure? If the answer is yes, you definitely want to do some work around trauma healing through a therapist, coursework, or books. Pleasure activism is one that you might want to check out (I personally have not read it but I've heard a lot of good things about it).
What is your wiring (underlying belief) around pleasure and shame, and can you start to dismantle some of the wirings that hold you back? Start with being curious. Is it possible that it's not shameful to access pleasure and that you’re not bad if you have pleasure in your life? Start to rewire in that sort of way. Ask yourself, what is possible? How can I shift this, but first, you want to be really curious about it and give yourself space to feel how you feel about it.
Let’s talk a little bit about putting others first. A lot of time people come to me and they know all these other things need to happen but pleasure is low on their priority list. That is a form of caretaking of others. This is about boundaries, understanding your value and your worth as constant and non-negotiable, and acting in a way that validates your value. You deserve to be your priority.
This can be really hard to hear because sometimes it feels like you shouldn't be the priority over other things. Certainly, if you have little children who can't get themselves fed, you may need to put that first before going and having a hot tub soak or getting your nails done, or having sex. You might need to take care of the littles first, but you still need to be the priority.
You're the person who is in charge of your body, taking care of yourself throughout your lifetime, and no one else is going to make you the priority. It really is on you to make yourself a priority and getting to a place where it feels okay to do that can be really challenging. You definitely deserve to be your priority and there's nothing selfish about being your priority. It doesn't mean you're going to suddenly turn into the kind of person who ignores all the things around you that need to be done and doesn't take care of other things. In fact, it might make you feel even more resourced so that you can participate in those things more easily so you can feel good about doing that. I recommend the book Burnout by Emily and Amelia Nagoski. They talk about human giver syndrome, instead of being a human being, many of us tend to be human givers. We're taking care of everybody else before ourselves. This is patriarchy BS y’all. Time to fight against it.
Another piece can be fighting against an underlying belief that you’re not good enough. It's really hard to make yourself as equally a priority as other people or even more of a priority than other people because you don't feel like you deserve it.
Take a look at what things cause you to feel not good enough. You may also want to focus on dismantling wiring that others gave you- the messages that there was something wrong with you or you aren’t good enough.
I've had clients share with me that they feel like they're a monster, that they're poison, or there's something inherently wrong with them and that means to them that they are not good enough. If you feel like you are a monster, it'd be really hard to make yourself a priority and feel like you deserve to be cared for and nurtured. Pleasure is absolutely nurturance so start to look at what are the things that make you feel shame or feel you don’t deserve nurturance. Where are the wounds that you need to heal in order to feel like you are good enough, you deserve to be cared for, nurtured, and receive pleasure?
Do you have things from your past or current patterns/behaviors that you feel a lot of shame around? If there are things you’ve done that harmed others (or even ways you harmed yourself) you may feel you don't deserve pleasure because you have fallen short of an ideal. Maybe you weren't able to parent the child the way that you wanted to, maybe you got in a car accident and harmed someone, or struggled with substances, basically anything that you are feeling that your value and your worth are diminished by. Recognize that your value and your worth aren't diminished because you made mistakes. Every human makes mistakes. You're here, you're growing, and you still deserve to have pleasure. It can be helpful to begin to explore shame and self-forgiveness practices. Brene Brown’s books are helpful for this work.
You might be wondering what this has to do with food…knowing you deserve pleasure impacts your relationship with food and your body deeply. From allowing yourself to enjoy your food to regulating your nervous system (which impacts food patterns) to trusting and enjoying your body, pleasure is so important. So, dive in, work on the barriers and go get some of that well-deserved pleasure!
Download your free hunger scale now!
The first step to healing our relationship with food is reconnecting with the signals our body gives us. One of the ways to do that is by checking in with your hunger before you eat. Here's my spin on the traditional hunger scale.