Do You Know What You Want?

I work with many people who really struggle when I ask them what they want. For many, there is a strong, inner pull to only attend to another’s wants because it is easier. They often will be drawn to someone who is very clear about their wants and goes after them with devotion. They are drawn to this because it is missing within – when you are with someone who does something well, that is not your nature, the point is to learn how they go about it and learn from it. Grow into being better at it and then help them learn your strength, which is to share and compromise. This will improve their outlook on life.

What other reasons do people avoid knowing and pursuing their wants besides being lost in the caretaking role? Anxiety/fear are another big reason. Know your wants involve making choices. Burying your wants is to escape the work of choices. Choice requires mistakes, awkwardness and possible failures. So imagine living with someone who is unbearable. Do you go on in quiet misery for the children or do you risk finding a way to work, support your kids and end up being gone a lot? Which is worse? What if you fail, can’t get a job and end up not being able to pay for hockey or dance lessons? The risk then becomes burying their own wants and hoping for the best. This is an ordinary situation, sadly enough.

So, fear of making even more mistakes, and shame at past mistakes locks people up into being paralyzed into the safety of not wanting. Then kids leave home and move on with their own lives and the parent left behind has lost track of themselves. Many women lose themselves in tracking their children’s wants and think it is virtuous to have been so consumed by parenting that doing even small things for themselves seems sinfully selfish. There are so many reasons to avoid taking risks and stay in the safety zone of hearth and home.

Wanting is not selfish unless it is overdone (as our Steelers’ quarterback Ben may be learning from the consequences of his actions). Like Ben, many people 27 and under are extremely self-absorbed. Life, is a balance and erasing wanting means living a life that will be bland and lacking. The opposite of wanting is having and being satisfied, not being boorish and obnoxious.

Many people who are bad at wanting are very irritable or angry. This is because wants are often lurking beneath the surface of anger. So make a list of things that you are angry about and see if you can discern the want underneath each one. Curiosity is another small place to being exploring your wants. Like the toddler in the picture, pursue the things you are curious about.

Wanting requires discomfort being bearable. If you want to learn the piano you must learn to grow up and cope with the wrong moves, sour notes and bad playing. Wanting can’t be only about having stuff. Having stuff is easy. Growth requires being uncomfortable. Swallow, find your courage and do something hard. Stop hiding and experiment with some small, medium and large wants. Risk finding out what happens.

6 thoughts on “Do You Know What You Want?

  1. Michelle says:

    What a good lesson, Rhoda. I also learned from you that envy is a good clue to what you want. I always envied stay at home moms and found out part time work was one of my heart’s strong desires. Quitting full time work was definitely the best risk I took in my life so far!

    • rhodasommer says:

      I forgot about that tip to wanting! Thanks so much for reminding me!! Thanks for staying loyal to the blog, I really appreciate it. Rhoda

  2. CMH says:

    Thank you for another thought provoking blog post. I’ve subscribed am reading though the back posts. I also love your website – you write so concisely and with such insight, I have been learning so much from it. These ideas register intellectually for me, but I struggle with applying this knowledge personally to make changes. With the recent demise of a romantic relationship (rejected for being too nice and oh-so-not interesting), I realize that I have a lot of work to do with regards to self-respect and gaining a sense of self – and figuring out what I want.

    I like your approach to therapy and the challenges you put forward. How might I go about finding a therapist in my area who shares your approach?

    • rhodasommer says:

      Be sure to look for my old post on 13 Ways to Define Yourself. It’s 13 homework ideas that might be helpful.
      Laura Perls said Social Workers make better therapists because they get into the business for more original reasons of caring & I agree with that. The most important requirement is that you feel you can practice being authentic with them. Trust your gut & if you don’t feel a click try someone else. Invite them to challenge you to think/feel in a fresh way. I favor Gestalt Therapy though in this day & age there is value to most approaches. Good Luck! Rhoda

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