What are inhibitions
Inhibitions are the mental brakes that prevent people from showing their true feelings or thoughts. Sometimes they are a conscious form of self-control, like 'biting your lip' when it seems risky to say something. Often, they are unconscious, only showing up as patterns of behaviour or habits of speaking.
They can be helpful, keeping things in balance; or personally harmful, causing intense feelings of guilt and anxiety. When harmful, they often lead to neuroses (mild but distressing psychiatric disorders that interfere with life while not putting one out of touch with reality), as well as severely limiting a person's lifestyle or relationships.
What causes inhibitions
There are several theories, mainly deriving from the work of the psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud. Though regarded as largely psychological, inhibitions reflect the way the body normally works.
For example, it is well known that hormones (chemicals released into the blood to effect changes in particular organs, such as making the heart beat faster) always seem to have an opposite that inhibits that action. Thus, one hormone stimulates blood sugar, while another another lowers the blood sugar level.
The mind seems to work by a similar system of checks and balances. Strong emotions such as love, or anger are inhibited by the mind also recognizing what else is going on,
Unrestrained anger may express itself as shouting at someone or even assaulting a person physically. If that person is rather large, the rational brain commonly steps in and controls anger.
At an unconscious level, inhibitions may make one avoid, for example, going to parties. The conscious thought is 'I just don't enjoy noisy, crowded rooms', but there may also be deeper fears, for example a fear of being punished for enjoying oneself. If such fears are not recognised they may never be dealt with or abolished.
How can inhibitions be understood
There are three sources of inhibitions. They can stem from the way a person is brought up by parents and family. They can be part and parcel of the culture (religion, laws, morals) in which one is raised and educated.
They can be a part of one's inborn character, as seen in aspects of personality that are the essence of differences between people. This mixture of personal and group experiences varies enormously from one individual to another.
Understanding oneself takes education, self-awareness and being prepared to talk to others. Sometimes a particular event or series of events that took place in childhood can be the key to a particular inhibition.
Styles of parenting, either over-strict or too lax, are also thought to be important in forming inhibited behaviour.
Can inhibitions be treated
Treatment is certainly possible, if necessary. Inhibitions are universal and only rarely cause problems, but many forms of therapy are now available for anyone obviously troubled by doubts or anxiety. However, there are no magical cures, and most treatments take time to effect any lasting change.
When should I see my doctor
If persistent anxiety or fears that you cannot understand are disrupting your life, it is time to seek help. Lack of confidence, inability to form relationships, or sudden panics are signs that medical advice is needed.
Sexual problems are also a common complication of inhibitions. The sooner they are addressed the better.
What will the doctor do
A referral will probably be made to a psychiatrist, who will take a full history of your problems, detailing your childhood, schooldays, family relationships and present situation. Depending on the symptoms, therapy will be carried out on an individual, couple or group basis.
It may take a behavioural approach, working to abolish particular fears (for instance, agoraphobia, a fear of open spaces). By contrast, the psychoanalytic approach aims to uncover hidden inhibitions to get them under control.
Length of treatment varies. Simple phobias (intense fears about a particular thing) may be cured in one or two sessions. Deep-seated problems with relationships, perhaps due to intense anger or self-doubt, may require months or even several years of regular therapy to resolve them.
The Oedipus Complex
This is named after a Greek myth about a man who killed his father and slept with his mother.
Freud theorized that young children love the parent of the opposite sex with a sexual intensity.
Thus boys view their father and girls their mother, as rivals to be feared and eliminated.
Maturity, in the form of adopting their parents' values and self-control, resolves the conflict.
Failure in this is said to result in various sexual and social inhibitions.
Inhibitions are not like the measles. By definition they do not show up as something obvious Generally, they create tensions which may be brought out in certain situations, like taking examinations or meeting new people.
Finding it hard to relax, avoiding things, repeated failures or mistakes, or even physical symptoms like headaches or stomach pain, may all be signs of inner distress.
Recognizing that these problems have causes will bring relief in itself. Working on self-relaxation, or talking over your behaviour with friends or relatives is also useful.
Specific self-help books are widely available.
Overcoming the awkwardness of seeking professional advice is an achievement in itself.