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Pain and Pleasure

A client made an interesting comment which strikes at the heart of receiving pleasure, with food or otherwise. We were discussing why she doesn’t go all out to pursue joy and passion, and she said, “Well, you know, the price of pleasure is pain.” Ouch! As soon as I heard her response, I knew this was a core belief that both inhibited her ability to eat “normally” and prevented her from creating a happier life for herself.

Do you believe that the price of pleasure is pain? Or that there is any price to pay for pleasure? You may not be aware that this is your assumption, so take a minute to examine it. Do you throw yourself into enjoyment or do you get anxious during or after you feel it? According to your belief system, how okay is it to feel joy and have fun? Are pleasure and pain connected in some way? This subject reminds me of another client who told me that she knew she was in love “because it was the most painful experience of my life.” Love painful? It’s obvious that something is deeply wrong with this thinking.

If you don’t welcome pleasure into your life in all its exquisite glory or if you link it with pain, please understand that you will not be able to take better care of yourself nor have a positive relationship with food until you unshackle pleasure from pain. Explore where you learned this belief. Maybe that’s what your parents said or implied or how they lived—pleasure must be denied or followed by suffering. Maybe your parents made you pay in subtle ways for the times you enjoyed yourself, so that you came to believe that fun times need always be punished. Or maybe suffering was a family way of life.

If you can’t delight in things pleasurable without imagining that you must pay a penalty, you will have difficulty not only enjoying food, but creating a life that is bursting with good feelings and good times. Pleasure stands alone and is a must in a life well lived. When you do things you enjoy, the reward circuits in your brain light up like a Christmas tree. If you ruin those moments with guilt or anxiety that you will suffer for happiness, you are purposely turning off those lights. Pleasure is an essential pursuit, a positive end in itself. I emphasize this truth again and again to counter messages you may have received in childhood that make pleasure seem selfish or excessive or downright sinful.

Make a list of your beliefs about pleasure. Now go through them and identify which ones are rational or irrational, and reframe the latter group. Keep working at these beliefs until you can feel pleasure free and clear with no strings attached. Decide how you want to view pleasure and make sure your beliefs support a positive relationship with it.