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.

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About the Rhoda Mills Sommer

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