Sunday, April 6, 2014

Wanting and not wanting

Recently, the matter of wanting and not being able to want has been critical in some clients’ work.  One man knows his wants have never been the lofty ones, those that come from the heart, but rather the sensual desires and only a few of those.  Food, beer, peace from work in the form of boating and camping, that’s all.  Another man, a business savant, discovered the source of his anxiety in the false floor of his motivation: He had never really loved, wanted, what he became so good at.  And under the false floor, an empty place of unborn wants.

I think the question of wanting is one of the most important in psychology, though I know I’m not the best person to write about it.  All my childhood, I never wanted.  I had no hobbies or desires.  I played piano and little league and collected coins only for the prestige.  Did I want prestige?  Not really.  Because of this I am like a blind person inquiring about beauty in nature.  But in a way, that may make my search the more poignant.

Let’s forget that our desiring – a good job, any job, a house, a car, a husband or child, money or success or travel or stability or excellence – is generally accepted as a single state, though with an infinity of targets across continua, virtuous to base, principled to picayune.  It is not a single state.  Like the ambiguity in people’s minds where they call need "love," wanting has different bases and natures, and probably as many mysteries as love.

Maybe in our earliest imprinting years we want what we need – stimulation, love, touch, mirroring, activity.  Maybe these met needs, manifest in the baby’s rapturous attraction to colored balls or lights, evolve to become the man’s enchantment with the galaxies and their origin.  We’ve known of people like that, whose lifework is their child’s fascination grown big – Carl Sagan and the 1939 New York World’s Fair, Albert Einstein and a compass, Ray Bradbury and the circus magician Mr. Electrico, architects who started with legos.  Are wants that aren’t attached to our life’s roots real?  Janov, The Primal Scream, says human beings grow “symbolic” needful cravings when childhood needs are not met.  There is no human need for prestige or success, only the early needs for love and respect and being taken seriously.  So what we want is not what we want.

Something happens between babyhood, or even birth, and adolescence that begins the entropy of not wanting.  I have long believed that extant human society and progress are colossal errors* built upon symbolic needing and the default of unwanting: by all those who do not really want to be bricklayers and pipefitters and slaves and custodians and sewer workers and bookkeepers and parts manufacturers; who lost childhood justice and became lawyers; who lost power and became politicians and policewomen and Gordon Gekko’s; who lost love and became soldiers.  A quixotic idea, I suppose, because if true the converse would be right: A healthy world would have no product or industry that didn’t come from love and curiosity.

What does it mean to want?  At this point, I feel the question is too hard for me to answer.  It's mystified by the fact that most often we have a multi-temporal fused feeling state that derives from repressed childhood feelings, we mix it with thought which is itself likely to be self-medicative and delusional (see post "Easy crazy") and the synthesis is a want.  A friend of mine incessantly seeks greater spirituality into his old age.  What does that mean?  A former client wanted me to beat her.  Comedians want life to be funny; pianists want to perform other people's music.  Countless twenty-somethings with personality disorders want to write.  Slomo** is a doctor who quit what he felt was the meaningless hamster wheel of modern living to skate along the Pacific Beach boardwalk, day and night.  His joy and his philosophy: "Do what you want to!"  Many people want to feel more alive, or alive at all.  All these are wants, like matter, tangible but made of energy that we don't really understand.

When it comes to clients' not knowing how to want, the therapy room is wanting: It looks at this most significant emptiness shallowly, meaning blindly.  Why does the businessman dedicate his prodigious energies to something that's not in his heart?  Why do so many teenagers not know what's at the end of their high school path?  Why are people not moved by an inner fire, a true north, by Einstein's compass?  How do we help those who want to have a purpose, but can't?  These questions point to childhood and loss what should be psychotherapy's strongest suit, but isn't.

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* Lloyd deMause also believes civilization is based upon an error.  "Indeed, my conclusion from a lifetime of psychohistorical study of childhood and society is that the history of humanity is founded upon the abuse of children.  Just as family therapists today find that child abuse often functions to hold families together as a way of solving their emotional problems, so, too, the routine assault of children has been society's most effective way of maintaining its collective emotional homeostasis." and


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Comments are welcome, but I'd suggest you first read "Feeling-centered therapy" and "Ocean and boat" for a basic introduction to my kind of theory and therapy.