See Deep Wants

See Deep Wants

Mirror, mirror, on the wall, what are the deepest wants of all?

The Practice:
See deep wants.

Why?

I did my Ph.D. dissertation by videotaping 20 mother-toddler pairs and analyzing what happened when the mom offered an alternative to a problematic want (“not the chainsaw, sweetie, how about this red truck?!”). Hundreds of bleary-eyed hours later, I found that offering alternatives reduced child negative emotion and increased cooperation with the parent.

Pretty interesting (at least to me, both as a new parent and as someone desperate to finish grad school). And there’s an even deeper lesson. Kids – and adults, too – obviously want to get what they want from others. But more fundamentally, we want to know that others understand our wants – and even more fundamentally, that they want to.

Consider any significant relationship: someone at work, or a friend, or a family member. How does it feel when they misinterpret what you want? Or worse, when they couldn’t care less about understanding what you want?

Ouch.

When you recognize the deeper wants of others, they feel seen and are less likely to be reactive. Plus you’ve gained lots of valuable information. And it becomes easier to ask them to do the same for you.

This approach also gradually reveals the profound desires at the center of being. Each person must come to know these in his or her own way. These quintessential leanings of the heart are beyond language. Diffidently and with respect, I could offer three words – fingers pointing at the moon but the not moon itself – that are suggestive: to be conscious, free, and loving.

For you, what are the deepest wants of all?

How?

With a friend or a stranger, look deeper, behind the eyes, beneath the surface. You might sense a wish for pleasure, a commitment to others, a priority on security, a delight in life, a valuing of autonomy, or a need for love.

Look down into your own core of being and into its longings, and you’ll find many of the same wishes. They’re just as powerful and precious to the other person as they are to you.

Deep down, most wants are positive. The means to these ends may be misguided, but the fundamental ends themselves are usually good ones. Typically, even horrible behaviors are misguided efforts to gain positive things like pleasure, independence, recognition, control, or justice. Of course, this is not to justify these actions in any way. But grounding oneself in the truth, the whole truth, means seeing the whole picture, including the good intentions poignantly producing bad behavior.

Try applying this truth to yourself, regarding some act you regret. What positive aims did the act serve? What’s it like to recognize this? For me, opening to see the good aims underlying bad acts actually softens my defensiveness and helps move me to appropriate remorse, and to greater resolve to find better ways to pursue those aims. It also cuts through harsh self-criticism and encourages self-compassion.

Then, during an interaction with someone who is difficult for you – or while reflecting about the relationship as a whole – try to see the deeper wants in the other person, behind the acts of thought, word, or deed that have bothered or hurt you. (I suggest you don’t do this if you tend to blame yourself when others mistreat you.) You may not like how the other person is pursuing the deep want, but at least you can align with that want – all deep wants are positive – and if you like, try to figure out less harmful ways to fulfill it.

Last, on the fly or at particularly quiet moments, open to listen to the soft murmurs of your own most fundamental wants. In what ways are you sincerely trying to fulfill them?

Also: are there any of your deepest wants that it feels right to do more for? What would that look like, concretely, in everyday life?

Imagine your deepest wants like a soft warm current at your back, gently and powerfully carrying you forward along the long road ahead. How would this feel?

Where would this road lead?



Dr. Ramani Durvasula is a licensed clinical psychologist, author, and expert on the impact of toxic narcissism. She is a Professor of Psychology at California State University, Los Angeles, and also a Visiting Professor at the University of Johannesburg.

The focus of Dr. Ramani’s clinical, academic, and consultative work is the etiology and impact of narcissism and high-conflict, entitled, antagonistic personality styles on human relationships, mental health, and societal expectations. She has spoken on these issues to clinicians, educators, and researchers around the world.

She is the author of Should I Stay or Should I Go: Surviving a Relationship With a Narcissist, and Don't You Know Who I Am? How to Stay Sane in an Era of Narcissism, Entitlement, and Incivility. Her work has been featured at SxSW, TEDx, and on a wide range of media platforms including Red Table Talk, the Today Show, Oxygen, Investigation Discovery, and Bravo, and she is a featured expert on the digital media mental health platform MedCircle. Dr. Durvasula’s research on personality disorders has been funded by the National Institutes of Health and she is a Consulting Editor of the scientific journal Behavioral Medicine.

Dr. Stephen Porges is a Distinguished University Scientist at Indiana University, Professor of Psychiatry at the University of North Carolina, and Professor Emeritus at both the University of Illinois at Chicago and the University of Maryland. He is a former president of the Society for Psychophysiological Research and has been president of the Federation of Behavioral, Psychological, and Cognitive Sciences, which represents approximately twenty-thousand biobehavioral scientists. He’s led a number of other organizations and received a wide variety of professional awards.

In 1994 he proposed the Polyvagal Theory, a theory that links the evolution of the mammalian autonomic nervous system to social behavior and emphasizes the importance of physiological states in the expression of behavioral problems and psychiatric disorders. The theory is leading to innovative treatments based on insights into the mechanisms mediating symptoms observed in several behavioral, psychiatric, and physical disorders, and has had a major impact on the field of psychology.

Dr. Porges has published more than 300 peer-reviewed papers across a wide array of disciplines. He’s also the author of several books including The Polyvagal Theory: Neurophysiological foundations of Emotions, Attachment, Communication, and Self-regulation.

Dr. Bruce Perry is the Principal of the Neurosequential Network, Senior Fellow of The ChildTrauma Academy, and a Professor (Adjunct) in the Departments of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University in Chicago and the School of Allied Health at La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia. From 1993 to 2001 he was the Thomas S. Trammell Research Professor of Psychiatry at Baylor College of Medicine and chief of psychiatry at Texas Children's Hospital.

He’s one of the world’s leading experts on the impact of trauma in childhood, and his work on the impact of abuse, neglect, and trauma on the developing brain has impacted clinical practice, programs, and policy across the world. His work has been instrumental in describing how traumatic events in childhood change the biology of the brain.

Dr. Perry's most recent book, What Happened to You? Conversations on Trauma, Resilience, and Healing, co-authored with Oprah Winfrey, was released earlier this year. Dr. Perry is also the author, with Maia Szalavitz, of The Boy Who Was Raised As A Dog, a bestselling book based on his work with maltreated children, and Born For Love: Why Empathy is Essential and Endangered. Additionally, he’s authored more than 300 journal articles and book chapters and has been the recipient of a variety of professional awards.

Dr. Allison Briscoe-Smith is a child clinical psychologist who specializes in trauma and issues of race. She earned her undergraduate degree from Harvard and then received her Ph.D. in clinical psychology from the University of California, Berkeley. She performed postdoctoral work at the University of California San Francisco/San Francisco General Hospital. She has combined her love of teaching and advocacy by serving as a professor and by directing mental health programs for children experiencing trauma, homelessness, or foster care.

Dr. Briscoe-Smith is also a senior fellow of Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center and is both a professor and the Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at the Wright Institute. She provides consultation and training to nonprofits and schools on how to support trauma-informed practices and cultural accountability.

Sharon Salzberg is a world-renowned teacher and New York Times bestselling author. She is widely considered one of the most influential individuals in bringing mindfulness practices to the West, and co-founded the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts alongside Jack Kornfield and Joseph Goldstein. Sharon has been a student of Dipa Ma, Anagarika Munindra, and Sayadaw U Pandita alongside other masters.

Sharon has authored 10 books, and is the host of the fantastic Metta Hour podcast. She was a contributing editor of Oprah’s O Magazine, had her work featured in Time and on NPR, and contributed to panels alongside the Dalai Lama.

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