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Health > Mental Health > Inhibitions


A modest level of inhibition in our makeup is useful, for it helps to put a brake on at least some of our wilder excesses. Too much, can make our lives a misery.

A modest level of inhibition in our makeup is useful, for it helps to put a brake on at least some of our wilder excesses. Too much, can make our lives a misery.

Inhibition and guilt are actually two sides of the same coin-both reflect a difference between our desires and our beliefs. The only difference is that guilt is caused by doing what we know (or think) we should not do, while inhibition prevents us from doing what we know (or think) we should be able to do.

Research shows that inhibited ness is actually very common. We all have our inhibitions, but seldom notice those of other people because it is difficult to notice something that a person does not do. As a result, we tend to conclude that inhibitions in others are true.

Because inhibitions derives partly from moral conflicts, certain groups of people tend to be more prone to it than others. Older people may be more inhibited than young adults because of the climate of moral strictness in which they grew up. Adolescents, on the other hand, have more inhibitions than they like to make out, simply because they have not yet learned to strike a balance between their desire to free themselves of parental restrictions and their wish to retain some values by which their lives may be stabilised. Letters to ‘agony columns’ from young people concerned about their reluctance to ‘do what everyone else does’ are quite common, and there is evidence that a shift in personality towards greater reserve and shyness does in fact take place in adolescence.


Since inhibition involves both a reluctance to engage in ‘outgoing’ behaviour, coupled with a fear of not going so, it can be seen that two components-shyness and anxiety- are involved. Although changes in these traits of character can occur as the result of upbringing and experience, the general level of shyness and proneness to anxiety that we possess is to some extent set from birth and may even be partly genetically determined.

The extent to which a person feels inhibited may nevertheless differ considerably from situation to situation: for instance, there is the type of man who is completely inhabited at a football match, in the pub and at his work in the factory, yet is totally ill at ease in the company of women.


Inhibition can occur in many contexts, but the most usual are in social and sexual situations,. The physical symptoms are those of straightforward anxiety-quickening heartbreak and pulse, hollow feeling in the pit of the stomach, dryness in the mouth, slight perspiration and trembling in the limbs.

In social situations the person will tend to stay in the background, saying little when spoken to and finding difficulty in maintaining any flow of conversation. His (or her) body will be tense, he will site too upright in his chair, sometimes twine his legs around each other or round a chair leg, clasp a drink a little too tightly. He may also have some difficulty in meeting other people’s eyes.

Sexual inhibition is in some way even more unusual in its symptoms, for it can happen even in those who social competence is perfect, who are good at flirtation, who can make their partner emotionally happy but who are physically reticent when it comes to sex itself. This can be frightening to those who are still developing their sexual identities, for they are often totally unaware of their inhibitions until sexual experience occurs.


Inhibited ness might be said to be harmful when it affects a person’s life-style. A person who is sexually inhibited, for example, places a strain on his or her marital relationship from which it may not recover. Similarly, a person crippled by social inhibition can easily become a prey to loneliness and depression if no effort is made to combat these conditions.

But, by and large, the inhibitions that most of us have do need treatment, for they act as a natural defence against excesses of behaviour which we might regret in retrospect. Over-inhibited ness in either the social or the sexual field can, however, now be treated with some degree of success.

A professional therapist will treat social inhibition by building up the social skill of the person-literally teaching them the techniques of conversation and interaction and rewarding them with praise an encouragement for every positive move they make. The process sounds primitive, but it can be very effective.


The outcome of such treatments, which generally last only a few months, although results will almost certainly be obtained long before then, is good. It must nevertheless be strongly emphasised that although change is easy, the integration of that change into a person’s life-style is more difficult and depends on a great extent on whether the person rely desires that change. For some of us, inhibitions are a defence, a refuge from certain aspects of our lives, and the rewards that we experience form throwing away those defenses must be seen to be worthwhile if inhibition is to disappear forever.

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