“I feel like I live my life at 60%. I know there’s a lot more happiness out there that I’m sure I could have, but I’d probably also have to feel more of the downside of everything, too.”
You know those bad days that we all have from time to time, when we feel hemmed in by life and nothing seems to be going our way? And we’re wallowing in self-pity, wondering why everyone else seems to be having it so good? Don’t be shy – we’ve all been there.
Those are the days when you think you couldn’t feel any more downbeat about the track your life is currently on, an expensive car pulls up to the kerb, the door opens and the person who gets out looks exactly like you thought you should have been by now.
Or you see the perfect couple with their perfect smiles and their perfect clothes suddenly duck into a perfect restaurant for a perfect romantic meal while you trudge on, in your sweats and trainers, no make-up and hair that makes you look like you got ready in front of an aeroplane propeller, wondering if your budget this month will stretch to something from the Finest range.
And you think: They’ve probably got the perfect life with not the slightest care in the world.
Looks, though, can be deceiving. Take that quote right at the start of this piece, for example. If you knew the guy whose said that to me, you’d never believe it.
Hugely successful, at the top of his professional game, earning a multiple seven-figure salary. Loved by everyone who knows him, a doting father and a wonderful partner who loved him fiercely.
And here he was, sitting in front of me this week, sharing that he wasn’t showing up fully for life – or for love – despite a deep desire to do so, putting his relationship at risk and feeling totally lost.
So, why is it so difficult for us to allow pleasure into our lives? Why do we keep ourselves from feeling real pleasure in not just our working lives, but also in dating, love and relationships – the places where we might hope or expect to experience it most?
The answer is simpler than you might think, although the problem itself is more complex.
I’ve seen it in that guy who holds back from initiating lovemaking when in bed with his wife, making her wonder if they should stay together.
It was in the woman who never revealed to her best male friend how much he means to her, and then felt her heart break when he told her he’d begun seeing someone else.
And it’s in me, too. I hold back from pleasure, too – most recently worrying that I might be asking for too much in my own relationship and pushing my partner away as a result.
This particular dynamic shifted thanks to the support of an incredible couples coach who made me realise I’d been inadvertently denying my partner the pleasure of stepping up to meet me where I deeply desired to be met. (Yes, the best coaches out there get coached too.)
As a result my partner and I have experienced the joy of greater affection and love as, together, we’ve stepped into a higher level of commitment.
In our work together, the guy who felt he was only experiencing 60% of his potential happiness has discovered the deeper underlying fears that keep him from stepping fully into pleasure and connecting intimately with the person that he loves the most.
In doing so, he’s moving beyond those fears, knowing there’s immense potential to experience the pleasure of life lived at 100%.
And the woman who, deep down, wanted more from the platonic relationship with her friend has shifted focus to her own pleasure, which is what she needs most, and is now navigating the next phase of life from this place of centred grounded presence. And who knows how that story might end?
I have learned with time and experience that pleasure is not only conducive to creativity and joy of being, it is also an excellent indicator of what possibilities around love and intimacy might open up when we turn towards it.
Here are the common reasons why we hold ourselves back from pleasure:
We’re afraid we’ll lose control
Opening up to pleasure requires us to open up to others, and that can make you feel incredibly vulnerable when you’re not quite sure what the outcome may be. So we convince ourselves that it’s to stay shut down to a certain degree and not face the overwhelm of the unknown. This is such a powerful sense that it can feel literally life-threatening.
If we learned very early on in life that the unknown or unpredictable is best dealt with by shutting ourselves off from it then that coping mechanism in dealing with the unknown can also show up in bed however many decades later.
Only with a very solid sense that, no matter what happens when we reveal our heart’s desire, it will all be okay can we embrace that risk and follow our desire.
We’re afraid we might get hurt or rejected
It’s risky to reveal what you want. We worry that it may tip the balance in an existing established relationship and cause damage that may not be able to be repaired.
If a truth is spoken it can’t be taken back, so what happens if that truth is not accepted? Or that we are judged for our wanting? What then? The entire nature of our relationship may change, leaving us exposed or isolated, maybe even alone.
Maybe that will cause you shame or embarrassment. Perhaps you’ll be rejected or you’ll lose a valued friendship or you’ll be be left wondering if you’ll ever find someone who wants the same things you do.
And yet it’s only by embracing and fully accepting ourselves and what we desire, and sharing our deepest truths, that we allow others to see and experience us for who we truly are, and to then fall in love with the ‘real’ us. Over and over again.
It enables us to feel a sense of true freedom even within a committed relationship. And if we open ourselves up to feeling things fully, we will inevitably also feel more difficult emotions as well.
But allowing yourself the space to experience a fuller range of emotions takes practice. especially if you’re not used to it. So, it’s important to know there are ways to begin feeling again that happen slowly at the right pace for you so you can avoid shifting into overwhelm and closing down even further.
Some call this emotional resilience, and in my experience it’s a body, heart and mind practice. All of us feels. All parts of us. And so we have to learn how to work with all parts of us to be able to be open to feeling and experiencing pleasure in healthy ways.
It really is possible to feel pleasure fully and survive it, and feel the real fulfilment that people are very good at projecting, but not always great at embracing.
I’d be thrilled to show you the way.