The Hidden Costs of Self-Control

Do you wish you had more self-control? The ability to resist temptation and make disciplined choices seems like a desirable trait, leading to productivity, success, and trustworthiness. However, self-control can also come with costs and drawbacks. It's important to take a more nuanced view of self-control and understand the potential downsides it may bring.

Numerous studies have highlighted the positive outcomes of high self-control. Individuals with greater self-control tend to be more productive, successful in their relationships, and trustworthy. These findings align with the prevailing belief in the value of willpower. However, recent research has shed light on the less favourable aspects of self-control, urging us to consider a more balanced perspective.

You may be seen as robotic, cold, or inauthentic

One of the costs of high self-control is the social and reputational impact. People with high self-control may be viewed as robotic, cold, or inauthentic. Research has shown that others perceive individuals with high self-control as less warm and genuine than those who act on their impulses. This perception of being less human and more machine-like can lead to social exclusion and make it harder for people with high self-control to connect with others.

High self-control may diminish your perceived power and status

Acting impulsively may be seen as a sign of social power, as it demonstrates a disregard for social expectations. Conversely, individuals with high self-control, who consistently inhibit their impulses, may be viewed as weaker and more conforming to societal norms.

You may be excluded from social events or shoulder higher expectations

People may avoid inviting individuals with high self-control to social gatherings, assuming they wouldn't enjoy them or bring an element of spontaneity. Additionally, the positive perceptions associated with high self-control, such as being reliable and self-disciplined, can lead others to expect more from you, resulting in increased burden and reduced satisfaction in your relationships. 

High self-control may affect your emotional life

Individuals with excessive emotional regulation may experience less spontaneous emotion, limited emotional range, and reduced intensity of emotions. This emotional dullness can impact overall emotional richness and may lead to a sense of emotional dissatisfaction.

High self-control may have negative health consequences, particularly for certain groups

Research suggests that high self-control among minority racial groups can lead to worse health outcomes. Overcoming societal barriers while pursuing goals that require significant willpower can deplete self-control and activate stress hormone systems, ultimately affecting health choices and well-being.

There are many benefits to self-control

Despite these costs, it is essential to acknowledge the numerous benefits of self-control. Self-control can enhance health, relationships, personal success, and overall life satisfaction. The key lies in recognizing the potential downsides and striving for a balanced approach.

If you'd like more self-control, you still need to find comfort in occasional moments of giving in to temptation. Absolute iron self-discipline is rarely necessary. 


Lepka S. & Kung, F. (2022, November 18). Wish you had more self-control? You should hear the downsides. Psyche. Retrieved from May 19, 2023.

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