You Ask Us What We Want....

You Ask Us What We Want....


For those of us who struggle with low self-esteem, desire can be triggering.

You ask us what we want and we say we have no idea. You tell us to stop wasting our days and do what we love, find our passions, pursue our desires. We stare back blankly, noticing a chilly prickle down our throats that might be panic.

You mean well.

You are impatient with us, understandably. You might be tired of watching us stare wistfully into space or of hearing us complain. Urging us to examine our own hearts and find our fortunes there seems obvious.

But such urgings make me feel lightly slapped. They make me feel taunted and scolded simultaneously, as if I knew what I want (I don't) and my desires were being waggled over my head, like dog toys — out of reach, then flung over a fence.

For those of us who struggle with low self-esteem, desire can be triggering.

Even desiring desire can be triggering.

Not only our desires themselves: not only feeling whatever faint and few yearnings manage to muscularly outswim our stifling history and insecurity, but desire as a concept. Wanting things.

Is not okay.

I was raised to believe this. Not by members of some self-denying cult or by the Buddha, who warned that want causes pain, but rather by someone who was depressed, probably traumatized, who believed that we get only what we deserve in this world and that she deserved to be friendless, sad and afraid.

She believed that rather than answer prayers, God-if-He-existed punished us for insolently pleading. It was He (if He existed) rabbit-punching us into the asphalt, its black bituminous blades peeling our knees, piercing our palms, because we outrageously wanted things to which we had no right.

Not just beauty and better health, but complicated undeserved-desire equations such as wanting ice cream after failing math. Wanting new clothes although you never clean your room. Wanting nice friends when (Mom says) you chose nasty ones. Wanting to do things, try things, when you know full well you mess everything up. Wanting apologies from Dad.

Sure, we could want stuff, but with consequences.

Sure, we could want more dessert if we wanted to be huge. We could want that shirt if we wanted to look ludicrous. We could want a career in art or sports or radio if we wanted to fail.

So we believe the Buddha — in his baldest, most misinterpretable sense. Wanting hurts.

Desire's subliminal, limbic-system start, that tender poke and spark, is a work of neurobiological genius, meant to make our species quest its way across the galaxies, build ships and breed. For us who grew up being told that our desires were dangerous, that pert pang is a warning sign.

It softly sickens us.

So we flash-freeze that first flush of desire. Drown it in substances. Deny it, smash it flat. Detach from our own flesh rather than feel. Sublimate it by fawning over others: No no no, YOU choose!

We have been so afflicted for so long that many basic want-based things which others savor, seek and take for granted, we avoid or cannot comprehend, much less experience. For most people, the question is: Will I get what I want or not? Our question is stuck further back in that trajectory.

And that's the key.

Our fear of our desires — which I call "wantophobia" — mainly concerns receiving what we think we don't deserve and/or what we think others think we don't deserve. The perceived crime of our attaining or achieving what we want. The consequences.

Let's pretend that we would never get it anyway. That acquisition is out of the picture. Satisfaction too. Thus we need never justify, explain, face prying eyes, feel shame. Let's tell ourselves that we need never act on our desires (although we can, someday, which is another story for another time) but just identify them in their harmless, inert, innate state. Scanning our hearts and minds like silent navigators scanning moonlit seas, sensing their curves and colors, near and far: Let's believe this is safe.

Let's understand that no one has to know — unless, later, we want them to. Let's realize (not easy for us) that no one can see us or read our minds: neither our parents nor their odd, abusive gods. Let's tell ourselves that this is just a dream, a game, a little spell. Inside our hearts and minds, let's see those swimming pools, those trips to Spain, those doctorates. Let's see that cake.

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