Are You Really Inhibited?

Are you  inhibited? What does inhibited even mean? Is it just another one of those value judgments that we use to hurt each other?

What Does Inhibited Mean?

According to the Free Dictionary, to be inhibited is to restrain, to prohibit and forbid. Inhibited also means to act with self consciousness rather than naturalness.

Merriam-Webster defines inhibit as “to discourage from free or spontaneous activity especially through the operation of inner psychological or external social constraints.” So to be inhibited is to lack spontaneity and to be subject to inner and social conventions.

It sounds like an infection!

Inhibition Is Not A Trait

Inhibition is essentially social restriction. It is how we turn people into participants in a culture and economic system. In many ways, inhibition becomes a form of self discipline that can be false. There is nothing wrong with self discipline; however, misdirected self discipline is destructive.

Inhibition is a society’s way of laying claim to our energies.

How Inhibition Takes Hold

Inhibition take hold through numerous forms of social control:

  • values 
  • accepted ideas about purpose
  • roles
  • rules
  • approval and disapproval
  • rewards and punishments

These are substantial forms of social coercion and inhibition.

How Inhibition Is Experienced

Internally we experience social expectations as a wall of some kind. Since humans learn through imitation, we inevitably acquire the walls that are given to us as children by imitating adults. Our brains send us an error message if we go against our inherited “self” or what is expected of us. That means that biologically we are wired to conform.

If your early training was rigid and perfectionistic you may have developed some very restricted ways of living, so you will experience your inner critic taking over the minute you deviate from the script.

Is Materialism Another Form Of Inhibition?

Western society currently devalues some inhibition because it is antithetical to the materialistic model.

In fact to not be materialistic is often considered laziness or an inhibition of the work ethic.  Since freedom and materialistic hedonism are linked in the cultural story, people who opt for and advocate less materialistic living models can be perceived as dangerous when they really are not.

Although there is nothing wrong with wanting to enjoy life, it can be perceived as  mean-spirited to advocate simpler living in a materialistic culture where people depend for their survival on their jobs. Unfortunately, in a world of more than 7 billion, even simple living is becoming a challenge for the planet to sustain. As a result there is considerable tension around issues of materialism, basic needs and sustainability.

But I have digressed.

Why Societal Models Are Usually Wrong

Western society is a great example of how societies make mistakes, because like all societies they have values that are rigid and therefore shoot themselves in the foot.

Western society values, progress, growth and positivity. It does not value balance, sustainability, and health. The mistake that has been made is that our values are directly in conflict with nature, which is an elaborate system of mutually reinforcing life forms and patterns.

Western society, in ignoring the reality of nature, has tried to rewrite the book of life and is failing. However, the societal values are inhibitions against change. So materialism is a form of inhibition.

Why You Cannot Adopt Societal Values

Societal values are a blend of restriction and support for behaviors that serve a certain purpose. The values themselves are restricted to certain outcomes.

They usually have a distorted view of necessity. So supporting growth (materialism) may seem like a necessity, when self restraint for environmental protection is really what is needed.

That is the danger of societal values. They may be positive in some respects, but when they become entrenched, we lose our flexibility and our ability to make the changes we need.

Rethinking Inhibition

The more we are in touch with necessity and nature the easier the whole subject becomes. We then can work with our needs and the realities of limited resources in a productive way. Accepting reality lets us accept that we cannot have everything, but we can probably have our real needs met.

Accepting reality lets us look for what is necessary and important in any situation so that we are appropriately expansive when we can be and appropriately self restrictive when  it makes sense. That is what it means to live naturally, like the animals in the forest and birds in the sky. It helps us be agenda free and fully alive – and that is a great place to be.

About Maria Hill

Maria Hill is the founder of Sensitive Evolution. She is the author of The Emerging Sensitive: A Guide For Finding Your Place In The World. In addition, she has created the immersive Emerging Sensitive Program of "sensory processing yoga" using frameworks to help sensitive people master their sensitivity and turn it into the asset it can be. She also offers the Emerging Sensitive Movie Club focused on movies and discussions about living in the world as a sensitive person and navigating the challenging cultural shifts of our times. She is a longtime meditator, reiki master, student of alternative health and Ayurveda. Maria is also an abstract painter whose portfolio can be found at Infinite Shape and also very interested in animal and human rights and the environment.


  1. Seth Wallace on February 23, 2013 at 11:26 pm

    I have struggled with this issue and have yet to find a satisfactory conclusion. If I allow myself the freedom to live as the birds in the trees and animals in the forest, I will soon find myself impinged by society’s prison doors. If I act in concert with my innate libidinal and destructive drives (e,.g, id), I shall be called a monster. If I restrain myself and act in accordance with social norms, I am not in harmony with my baser instincts. I understand that the concept of common sense and balance is being emphasized but sometimes wonder how much more mental energy we might be able to devote to spiritual growth if we didn’t have to hone our egos & superegos, thus facilitating less primal coping mechanisms. Are we better off now? Or were we better off without social trappings? Seth

    • Maria on February 24, 2013 at 8:12 am

      Hi Seth,

      Thank you for your thoughtful questions.

      I think one place that we all get hung up is in thinking that in being civilized we are leaving our baser instincts as you describe them. Civilization is not so civilized. Just because we wear clothes when we compete like crazy people for status and money, does not make us superior to or animal relatives.

      I was thinking this morning about how we are taught to think of life as a void that has to be filled, and maybe that is where we go wrong. If there is not void to be filled, our “baser” instincts live in natural harmony with the world around us.

      Notice how animals live. They are not insatiable and so they are able to live harmoniously for the most part. I am always impressed with how animals are happy to have their stomachs full, a place to sleep and good companionship and they are happy. Yet they are considered uninhibited for living that way and we would not be. We are considered inhibited if not being self indulgent 24/7.

      So my suggestion is to not see life as a void to fill and let a natural way of living emerge for see and see how you feel.

      All the best,

  2. Seth Wallace on February 24, 2013 at 6:23 pm

    Thank you Maria,

    A natural way of living….something I have long searched for. I don’t claim to fully grasp this issue as well as Id like but your response reminded me of a potentially helpful concept. As a highly sensitive person I can also be a very angry person. When I think of living in harmony I often fall prey to equating the externalization of my anger with the destruction of what provokes me (made worse by years spent training my body and mind to respond primaly – yet choosing to acquire a PhD and associate with many who perceive a cross expression as offensive and threatening !) I am working on why Id do this to myself lol! . Yet….you reminded me that wolves….who can be vicious actually engage in supplication. When one wolf challenges another…..the battle ends when the loser extends his neck to the winner who hten mouths the losers throat but spares the opponents life… example of the “naturalness ” of forgiveness and preservation of life.

    • Maria on February 27, 2013 at 8:24 am

      Life does not have to be vicious. Most vicious behavior in human societies stems from the imposition of rigid orthodoxies. I suspect that our anger is related to it. Let go of orthodoxies to find a natural way and you will be fine.