What you desire and what makes you happy are often different. Standing in a realtor’s window and having a momentary fantasy about a home in an unaffordable neighborhood is not a problem. Nor is imagining greater recognition by someone you admire. What is a problem is when you are unaware of what you are up to and get lost in the desire. That’s the thing about objects of desire: they are easy to get lost in. We create roadblocks to being authentic when we believe that fulfilling a desire will lead to an end of craving. When, in reality, it perpetuates it.
Without clear awareness of your relationship to your desires, you can get caught in a trap. The trap is that you believe you are moving toward what will make you happy, when instead you are creating dissatisfaction.
I worked with Janeen, a tremendously talented and creative woman in her late twenties. She came to therapy as she was taking a courageous leap to pursue her creative interests full time. What was tripping her up was not lack of talent or effort. Her desire trap was to be recognized by others. She would become deflated at any rejection – so much so that it was difficult to engage with her work for a time. Her real successes were less salient to her. Intellectually, Janeen knew that following her chosen path meant building on her gains and accepting that there would be disappointments along the way. Emotionally, she did not respond in such a balanced way. Janeen knew that she needed to address her dependence on external validation if she wanted to pursue her passion in a healthy way.
It was natural for Janeen to want her work to be recognized. Her desire for recognition was a trap for her because when Janeen felt rejected, she lost access to her authentic desire to be creative. The need for validation took precedence. In fact, her need was so strong that the people and places who did not recognize her work by default became more important to her. In this way, the desire for recognition was a trap for Janeen, potentially derailing her ability to pursue her dreams.
There are different types of desires. The same desire can be pursued in both healthy and unhealthy ways. It is your relationship to the desire that is important to understand. Again, relationships to desires are usually not healthy or unhealthy but, instead, are often a combination. Below are common desires.
The desire for sensual pleasures or material objects is familiar to everyone and most of us make efforts to get them. There is sometimes a fine line between pursuit of a desire and over-valuing it. If too many of your resources are going toward what you desire, for example by chronic overwork or spending a lot of time thinking about things you want to buy, then you are prioritizing desires over experiences. This hinders authenticity. Try to be aware of the difference and notice when an appreciation tips over into a craving.
There are the desires to be something or someone you are not. 'I want to be more fit, more informed, more relevant, more patient, more whatever.' Be particularly careful of these desires because they can masquerade as a healthy desire for self-improvement. These desires come from an internal stance of not being enough and cannot be fulfilled. Perfectionism comes from this type of desire. Perfectionism is the need to be perfect. This is a trap because it encourages you to compare yourself to others, and even when you are feeling good enough, this situation is only temporary. The desire to be something other than you are inevitably leads to looking outside yourself for validation.
Another familiar desire that can trap you is the desire to get away from – to numb or blunt yourself. You can do this in a myriad of ways: drugs, alcohol, food, video games, porn, oversleeping, hypersexuality. These desires come from a fear of being overwhelmed. They come from an inability to look at what is happening inside. Like the other desires, these can become compulsive and physically take on a life of their own.