From Both Sides of the Couch

A therapist reflects on her time with patients, and her time as a patient.

What We Yearn for vs. What is Basic to our Well-Being.

Daydreaming about what we desire can get in our way.

I know what I need to do. Since my relapse of anorexia last August, I have encountered a series of physical challenges and to get my brain and body back on track I need to eat well and consistently, get enough sleep, start exercising moderately (not at the frantic pace of my anorexic days) and manage my stress at work. That’s a long list.

I also know what I want. I want to fit into my size 6 jeans. Oh yeah, I also want more of those size 6 jeans I saw in the store. I want to be able to get up at 3 AM, write for 3 hours before I get in the shower to get ready for work and still be sharp at 7 PM at my job as a social worker. I want to be perfect at my job(s) and garner praise and respect from my boss.

It’s essential that I put my needs ahead of my wants. In my case I should forgo my wants altogether because they have the potential to be destructive and they are unrealistic.

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How do I get to the place — emotionally and intellectually — where I’m able to do this? If I want to achieve my long-term goals of living a long and healthy life, being in an intimate relationship and just feeling good, then prioritizing needs over wants is a requirement.

I’m in the process of sorting out the origins of my wants; they seem to have their roots with my father who demanded so much of me as a child and I continue to want to please him. I’m intensely angry with him and I feel that if I forgive him it will minimize the effect his actions had on me. The concept of letting go of my anger seemed inconceivable to me a month ago, but after working on this idea for a while, I am beginning to believe it’s possible. Difficult, but possible.

I can feel the anger consuming me, sapping much of my energy, valuable energy that I could be using to achieve my long-term goals. I don’t want to let go of my anger; I need to let go of my anger.

 

I have patients that spend much of their time daydreaming about their wants. They want their own apartment, they want a boyfriend or girlfriend, they want to leave their husband or wife, they want to stop taking their medication, they want more money. I can understand most of these; they’re natural desires for almost anyone.

Their needs are varied, but the time they spend fantasizing about getting what they want sometimes gets in the way of them achieving the first step — identifying what they need as a stepping stone to improving their emotional health.

It’s hard not to shoot down these wants while trying to get them to focus on more immediate priorities like alleviating depressive symptoms or learning to manage overwhelming anxiety. I want my patients to keep the sun in their sight but for the moment, to concentrate more on the flowers in their backyard.

Needs versus wants. It’s an intricate dance in which our essential requirements lead our desires so we can live a full and loving life. It’s striking a balance once we learn to meet our needs —with a sprinkling of indulgence every once in a while.

 

Gerri Luce is a licensed clinical social worker who publishes under a pseudonym.

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