Not to be confused with Non-self.

Self-denial (also called self-abnegation[1] and self-sacrifice) refers to altruistic abstinence – the willingness to forgo personal pleasures or undergo personal trials in the pursuit of the increased good of another.[2] Various religions and cultures take differing views of self-denial, some considering it a positive trait and others considering it a negative one. According to some Christians, self-denial is considered a superhuman virtue only obtainable through Jesus.[3] Some critics of self-denial suggest that self-denial can lead to self-hatred and claim that the self-denial practiced in Judaism has created self-hating Jews.[4]

Religion and self-denial

Self-denial can constitute an important element of religious practice in various belief systems. An examplification is the self-denial advocated by several Christian confessions where it is believed to be a mean of reaching happiness and a deeper religious understanding, sometimes described as 'becoming a true follower of Christ'. The foundation of self-denial in the Christian context is based the recognition of a higher God-given will, which the Christian practicer choose to adhere to, and prioritize over over his or her own will or desires. This can in daily life be expressed by renounciation of certain physically pleasureable, yet from a religious stand-point inappropriate activities, sometimes referred to as 'desires of the flesh', which e.g. could entail certain sexual practices and overindulgant eating or drinking. In the Christian faith Jesus is often mentioned as an positive example of self-denial, both in relation to the deeds performed during his life, as well as the sacrifice attributed to his death.

Self-denial based on sex

Self-denial in women is linked to cultural definitions of femininity which women have internalized to such an extent that self-abnegation had become basic to women's experience.[5] Judith Plaskow observed this and argued that it was more linked to women then men because they were to follow this Christian virtue because of their detriment. Women are seen in a domestic perspective and self-denial puts all things women were once exposed to the side so they can be committed to their marriage and family. The way women are portrayed hasn't changed much throughout the years because the patriarchal perspective continues to be present. Through self-denial women have to sacrifice their interests and goals to satisfy not only family, but many times social norms. They are not allowed to be independent but more so are trapped to be the individual they are expected to be. However, in men, this is different. Masculinity is linked to self-denial when put in a male perspective. Men's self-denial is both a source of men's existential alienation and part of the infrastructure of men's power.[6] When men go through self-denial it is interpreted as self-improvement as put by the book Manliness in which they emphasize self-denial as a comparison to the image of the goal of Superman in "What does not kill me makes me stronger.""[7]

Negative effects

Self-denial involves avoidance and holding back of happiness and pleasurable experiences from oneself that is only damaging to other people.[8] It is a form of microsuicide because it is threatening to an individual's physical health, emotional well-being, or personal goals. [9] The individual gives up all potential chances and opportunities for themselves to be happy because they are committed to the happiness of others or a philosophical cause. It is a potential sign of suicide if this self-denial becomes extreme because by giving up desires and goals in life the individual becomes to self-destruct themselves as a whole and even those surrounding them. Especially in families self-denial can become an impediment to happiness because it constantly evokes disputes. It can especially affect children when they have a self-denial parent because it tends to push children away then later feel guilt for leaving them behind. Self-denial can become a repetition in children that are presented with this and to future generations. It affects everyone that surrounds a person with self-denial because it limits individuals from fully developing and causes those to feel angry or guilty. It decreases honest communication amongst families because of the fact that those going through self-denial don't understand the harm they do to others.

See also


  1. Arthur I. Waskow (1991). Seasons of our Joy: A Modern Guide to the Jewish Holidays. Boston: Beacon Press. p. 31. ISBN 0-8070-3611-0. Retrieved September 2, 2011.
  2. Tina Besley; Michael A. Peters (2007). Subjectivity & Truth: Foucault, Education, and the Culture of Self. New York: Peter Lang. p. 39. ISBN 0-8204-8195-5. Retrieved September 2, 2011.
  3. Brian Stewart Hook; Russell R. Reno (2000). Heroism and the Christian Life: Reclaiming Excellence. Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press. p. 2. ISBN 0-664-25812-3. Retrieved September 2, 2011.
  4. David Jan Sorkin (1999). The Transformation of German Jewry, 1780-1840. Detroit: Wayne State University Press. p. 4. ISBN 0-8143-2828-8. Retrieved September 2, 2011.
  5. Darlene Fozard Weaver (2002). Self Love and Christian Ethics. New York: Cambridge University Press. p. 79. ISBN 978-0-521-52097-3.
  6. Victor Seidler (1991). Recreating Sexual Politics(Routledge Revivals):Men, Feminism, and Politics. New York: Routledge. p. 37. ISBN 978-0-415-57289-7.
  7. Harvey C. Mansfield (2006). Manliness. New York: Yale University Press. p. 115. ISBN 978-0-300-10664-0.
  8. Robert W. Firestone; Joyce Catlett (2009). Ethics of Interpersonal Relationships. Great Britain: Karnac Books. p. 210. ISBN 978-1-85575-605-2.
  9. Robert I. Yufit; David Lester (2005). Assessment, Treatment, and Prevention of Suicidal Behavior. New Jersey: Wiley. p. 210. ISBN 978-0-471-27264-9.
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