Drawn from the Greek word, hedone, which means pleasure or delight, hedonphobia is the persistent and excessive fear of pleasure or the inability to enjoy pleasurable experiences.

Symptoms of Hedonophobia

In order to be a diagnosed condition, specific phobias must present with specific behavioral and/or mood patterns that have been established over a period of at least six months in those under age 18 and for longer periods of time in those over 18. Faced with situations or conditions where pleasure may be anticipated or expected, these persons would suffer from persistent, extreme fear (anxiety) that is overwhelming and constant. Other identifying symptoms could be severe anxiety in the presence of pleasurable stimuli, often appearing in the form of a panic attack.

The hedonophobic’s normal day to day life is interrupted by avoidance of expected pleasurable events, or in anticipation of pleasure, and their distress response makes it impossible for them to function as they normally would in social, familial or occupational/educational settings.

It would appear that most people have a type of guilt about feeling pleasure or experiencing pleasurable sensations, due to cultural background, training (either religious or cultural) that eschews pleasurable pursuits as frivolous or inappropriate. Sometimes social guilt about having fun while others are suffering is common for those who feel undeserving or have self-worth issues to work through. Then there is a sense that they do not have any pleasure due to their lack of performance or because they have done things that are deemed “wrong” or “undeserving.”

This is frequently seen when a person has been taught that a strong work ethic is all that makes them worthy of the good things in life, or some religious training that emphasizes that pleasure is not as sanctified as suffering. In these cases, a certain amount of guilty pleasure is understandable and can be worked through in counseling/therapy.

Also common is the notion that certain pleasures are “bad” and not to be enjoyed. Again, religious training will sometimes make sexual pleasure a “no-no” outside the bonds of marriage or in unions not sanctified by religious ceremony, depending on the training. Family beliefs and guilt is common with sexual exploration, especially at a young age. There are many ways to create guilty feelings around pleasure.

If a diagnosis is made, it is best to treat the condition by exploring the origin of the beliefs leading to the phobic response. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) for hedonophobia  is an effective intervention with phobias. Medication would be a last step in treating this condition and indicated only when the phobic responses severely interfere with normal daily functioning for the client.

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