Your Scary Desires

Do you ever feel scared of what you desire?

Posted Nov 02, 2020

One might think that desiring something is the easiest thing to do on earth. Wrong!

Desiring requires tons of courage, coherence, and connection with one's own self.

On average, we are afraid of desiring something because any desire has the potential to mess up the tidy balance of our life. Wishing for something and trying to seize it requires a sort of willingness to die because we know that if that desire comes our way it will change us forever—such as desiring a child, a house, or a promotion.

Even the etymology of the word desire points to this uncomfortable action of reaching out for the stars (sidera) that are far away (de) from us. Desiring is an act that puts us in a very imbalanced position. 

Quitting your job in the hope of a better one. Kissing the man you’ve always liked. Conceiving a baby—these are all beautiful desires. Yet, do you know how much courage it takes to let all that messiness enter your life? Especially as we grow older and finally reach a life that makes somewhat sense to us, letting a star come and hit our planet is quite disconcerting.

It is so upsetting that we prefer to mute the voice of our desire little by little. After all, we forget that job is killing us. Every evening before going to bed, we fantasize about the man we always wanted. We tell ourselves that we will never be good mothers or fathers and after all we do not like kids… and so on. 

In doing so, we disconnect from ourselves. We lose our vital center. 

So, one of the first things I ask when I meet a person who seems apathetic and quietly desperate is—what’s your desire? This superficially innocuous question might take months of hard work to be answered.

The Wisdom of the Ancients

Epicurus wrote in his letter to Menoeceus “A desire is necessary. We cannot be happy or healthy or even alive if we do not have the object of that desire” (Ep. ad Men. 127)

Desire is a vital force that keeps us going in the stream of life. Yet, it is clear that we cannot pursue all that we desire. For this reason, Epicurus distinguishes three kinds of desire: natural and necessary, natural and not necessary, and neither natural nor necessary. This latter is the group of empty desires and rarely is it worth pursuing. Desiring to eat 10 pounds of chocolate is a desire that very easily can be placed in the latter category, for example. For the other two, the job is harder. It is difficult to ponder which category your desires may belong to. Pursuing a job that emphasizes your talents might be a natural and necessary desire; breaking up your relationship because you hit a moment of desperation might be natural and unnecessary.

It is the meaning of this necessity to be crucial to your choice. Often, I connect it with our sense of vitality and stagnation. If you feel that your vital energy is stagnating because you are turning down a transformational call...then maybe that desire needs to be taken more seriously.

The Wisdom of Psychoanalysis

Lacan wrote extensively on the subject. He believed that the main function of desires is to be recognized. When we desire something, we want a part of ourselves to be acknowledged. What we desire is not as important as giving that part of ourselves the space to be seen. 

In fact, if we give that part the space to come out then we can become more in control of the ways in which we want to structure our drives and impulses. For as much as I love sweets (and I really do) I cannot eat every pastry that looks tantalizing to me—I really can’t. Yet, it is important for me to acknowledge that my desire is there so that I can avoid it taking over my drives and transform itself in a neurosis—overthinking whenever I find myself close to the object of my unconscious desire—or projection—I attribute to others what I desire for myself.  

Being detached from the object of your desire and denying its existence can be very dangerous because it might turn you into the person you do not want to become, the parent who wants their children to do what they could not do themselves, or the partner who loses themselves in their relationship with others. 

The voice of our desires is inconvenient and often messy—but it is very important to lend our ear to them and every once in awhile trying to reach for that star even if it means more messiness in our life.