09/07/2014 05:44 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Permission and Prohibition


As humans we are dependent on obtaining permission from someone, sometimes for almost anything we do!

Permission applies to behaviors whether they relate to our bodies, our minds, our feelings or our socio-cultural behaviors.

Let's begin with our bodies. The baby naturally puts his fingers and toes in his mouth. Understandably, he eventually learns not to. Sucking one's thumb is certainly not permissible after a certain age. We all learn that many bodily functions belong out of public view.

But lack of permission regarding our body can be detrimental. In his fifth decade, Mr. K. thought he was becoming deaf. The doctor found mounds of wax were occluding his auditory canal. When his ears were cleaned, he heard very well. He realized he had never cleaned them because his mother told him not to put anything in his ears.

Most of us learn that our feet are dirty and require no attention beyond washing. But Ms. W. suffered from foot pain and the podiatrist gave her exercises that decreased inflammation and prevented contractures of the toes. We've learned to diminish and regard feet as "inferior," but they are most essential in supporting and balancing our entire skeleton and aligning our bodies.

When we fail to have permission and go against our parents, we may suffer dire consequences. On my recent vacation to Hallstatt, Austria, I learned about Saint Barbara, patron saint to the miners since the seventh century. On the mountainside many visit her prominent shrine. Barbara, a beautiful 29-year-old woman, was beheaded by her father for converting to Christianity! (Fortunately, disobeying a parent doesn't often lead to this extreme!)

Undoubtedly, we grow up without permission to accept our feelings. We often hear a parent say to a child, "Don't be sad. Don't cry." Rarely does time or opportunity allow an exploration of why the young person should or shouldn't be sad.

In psychotherapy the client gains permission to experience all feelings and thoughts, to understand them and to figure out what to do with them. Obviously not all thoughts and feelings are appropriate to express or act upon.

A big lesson in life is having permission to make mistakes. Years of schooling teaches us that mistakes lower our grades. But in the real world, we learn a lot from making mistakes. A classic example is the experience of Dr. Alexander Fleming, who discovered the earth-altering antibiotic penicillin, when his Petri dish became accidentally contaminated by a mold.

Regarding permission and socio-cultural practices, examples are almost endless. Mr. R. grew up in a country where the fish head was considered the most tasty part of the anatomy. In the U.S. he met people who wouldn't eat this food unless it was thoroughly cleaned.

Conclusion: Re-examining our behaviors regarding permission and prohibitions in the realm of body, mind (belief systems), feelings and socio-cultural practices can be beneficial to our health and well-being.