Wednesday, January 20, 2021

The Complexity of Wanting

I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do, I do not do, but what I hate, I do.
St. Paul, Romans 7:15, New International Version

How many times have you found yourself in a state of wanting what you don’t want to be wanting? Too many to count? Welcome to the human condition.

What is YOUR “drug of choice”: beer? hard liquor? pot? other drugs? cake? ice cream? other foods? gambling? online flirting? sexting? flirting at work? anonymous sex? porn? shopping? online gaming? contact with an ex-lover? pain pills? mindless tv? The list goes on.

An important thing to note here is that none of these things are intrinsically bad. In fact each of them can play quite a nice role in one’s life if handled in a balanced way. What’s “bad” (i.e. self-defeating & destructive to human relationships) is when we develop an obsessive/compulsive (addictive) relationship with any one (or more) of them.

why do you want the things that you don’t want to want?

The reason you want the things that you don’t want to want is simple: you have had a variety of experiences where your drug provided you with instant gratification, positive mood alteration (intoxication) and temporary relief from anxiety, restlessness, boredom, depression and/or fear. Make no mistake—both your mind and body remember these experiences very well. Thus, you have conditioned yourself to where whenever you feel ‘negative feelings’ you immediately start itching for that which you don’t want to want.

Of course the complication is that “drugs” are very temporary solutions to the complex emotional pain/discomfort that is unavoidable in adult life. Most importantly, they provide such an easy/quick solution that you don’t get the opportunity to exert effort towards building the emotional and psychological muscles that are needed to help you deal naturally/healthily with negative feelings. Each time you escape your feelings by getting a fix from your drug, you are depriving yourself of an opportunity to learn to manage/influence your own moods and attitudes from within. Dependence on the drug grows. You know the rest of that story…

want therapy in NYC?

Nobody wants therapy for its own sake. What we humans want is healing, growth, love, connection, competence, confidence, etc. We want to feel and live better—internally and externally. Therapy can be a great tool in that endeavor, but it is certainly not the only option.

When people do choose to see me for therapy in NYC (for anxiety, obsessions, compulsions, depression, codependency, addiction or anger management), I engage them early on in a conversation about what they truly want in their lives, beyond the short term gratifications and quick fixes that they may be caught up in. Sometimes people don’t even know what they want in the big picture. In such situations we start there, and the therapy helps them to start creating a vision for their lives. Thus begins the process of growing out of old habits of living and into new ones that enhance life on a variety of different levels.

want better relationships?

What I find in my therapy practice is that what people really want almost always involves finding/creating/building more love into their lives: deeper interpersonal connections, more mutually satisfying relationships with others, better relationship to self, less interpersonal conflict, less social anxiety, more comfort within one’s own skin, etc.

It often seems to me that Martin Buber’s maxim that “all real living is meeting” is somehow built into the human condition. People seem to just intuitively realize at one point or another in their lives that what matters most is the quality of the relationships we have—with others and with ourselves. This may be the primary “want” that is most worth pursuing in life, because without a network of mutually satisfying relationships everything else is bound to feel empty.

want a new understanding of wanting?

So, whenever you find yourself wanting what you don’t want to be wanting—try to stop, pause, take a breath and remind yourself that what you are REALLY wanting is to be connected to another person. You are wanting the comfort that comes from that primordial human experience of togetherness. Recurrent experiences of restlessness, boredom and anxiety are your body’s signals telling you that you are too emotionally isolated in your life. And drugs only deepen the isolation, over time.

This conscious recognition of your deep existential need for interpersonal intimacy is an important part of changing how you understand and relate to your own experience of “wanting.” If you remind yourself of this daily, then one day at a time it can give you more clarity about (and influence over) what choices you make, what you prioritize and how you live your life overall.

Isn’t that something you want?

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