Start by Asking Yourself: "What Do I Want?"


It’s a simple question, and yet one that many people struggle with: “What do I want?” The challenge for some is in answering the question, because competing values or needs muddy one’s ability to decide on the way forward. But for others the difficulty begins even earlier, as they find it hard to even ask that simple question. There are two emotional barriers that may get in the way of asking yourself what you want, and learning to overcome those barriers will hopefully clear the path to a greater sense of control and satisfaction with life.

The first barrier is guilt. If you feel guilty asking yourself what you want in a given situation, then that feeling likely stems from a belief that it’s your duty is to put others before you. You may have learned that either because it is what you were expressly taught early on in life, or by following the example of primary caregivers who always put themselves last. Either way, if you have imbibed the belief that a good person only attends to the needs of others, then you will understandably have a strong reluctance to focusing on your own needs and wants. You may even feel that it is selfish to ask yourself what you want. Learning to overcome the barrier of guilt means finding a way to balance your desire to care for others with the recognition that your needs also deserve your attention.

The second barrier is fear. If you’re not accustomed to asking yourself what you want, then you must be used to going along with what others want. The downside of yielding to others is clear, because it ultimately means you aren’t living the life you want. But there is an upside as well: conflict avoidance. If you don’t determine what you want and advocate for it, if you never insist or refuse, then people will probably find you easy to get along with. They won’t fight with you or get angry with you because there will be nothing to fight or get angry about. Therefore, one of the inherent fears in wanting something is that it may put you at odds with others, and they may not like that very much. They may get angry, they may resent you, or they may even yell at you. For some, the prospect of any of those happening is scary. You may have experienced or witnessed scenes of conflict early on in life and decided, perhaps subconsciously, to work hard to avoid them. Perhaps you concluded that it’s better to bury what you want to make sure you don’t end up on the receiving end of someone else’s anger. If this is the case, being able to face that fear and cope with conflict will prove essential to allowing yourself to explore what you genuinely want in life.

It’s not only healthy but essential to be able to ask yourself “What do I want?” in situations large and small throughout your life. Asking that question gives you the opportunity to determine what it is that you want and, perhaps, to achieve it. It is a question that opens the door to the possibility of more empowering choices. You may never get everything you wish for, but starting by asking yourself what you want will guide you in the direction of happiness and fulfillment.

#fear #guilt #reframing

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DAVID BERGER

Ph.D., Clinical Psychology

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