Distinguishing Desire and Craving

Distinguishing Desire and Craving

Wolf eye

I’ve written elsewhere about inheriting a negative attitude about desire. I interpreted the opening line of Psalm 23 ( “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want” ) to mean I shouldn’t want. Obviously, it means something more along the lines of God provides, chill out. Whether that’s true or not is beside the point.

Desire, to my overly pious ego, was lowly.

This worked for me because I discovered early in life that my emotional needs and wants were not met. I learned, in fact, to stop wanting because wanting led to disappointment. It was too painful. Then I simply forgot that I had wants. I was here to serve other people’s desires. The religious life fit like a glove.

But desire actually reveals our uniqueness. No two people’s desire are the same. If you want to get theological about it I contend that Creator produces individuals who discover and express their uniqueness as Its/His/Her’s localized presence . It seems to be the set up that Creator gets to know Itself/Himself/Herself this way—through us being ourselves. In other words, the way to be faithful is to risk following your desires – what lights you up.

You be you. And by doing you God gets to know God in the form of you.

It’s brilliant.

Craving, on the other hand, while a derivative of desire, is different. Craving is the willingness to lie, steal, cheat and kill to get what you want. It’s aggressiveness because it eliminates the element of time. I want it. I must have it. I will destroy to obtain it.

Craving is addiction. It is the absolute form of narcissism. When it hits, others don’t exist in themselves. They are objects. Either they provide. Or they are impede. As providers, I will grease the wheel to get what I want. As impediments I will figure out how to eliminate them. Nobody is an actual person to the “craven” individual.

Craving depersonalizes.

I might desire something, but as an adult, if I don’t get what I want, I can let it go. I can be vulnerable and express my desires. If the other refuses me, I will be disappointed. But I won’t demand my desire to be met. When I become willful, desire has tipped over into craving.

If I am afraid to expose myself by owning and taking responsibility for my desires, they become my shadow. A famous preacher wants to have sex with beautiful young women. He denies it with false piety and gets the satisfaction of being a pious martyr through self-denial. But desire doesn’t disappear. It goes underground and leaks out. Women start to feel like he’s creepy. Finally, he acts out with vulnerable young women. He claims it was the devil. But it was a man denying his sexual urges. It would have been better to own and take responsibility for the original sexual urges before they transmuted into craving which turned him into a monster.

Then you pull a St. Augustine, who concluded that his sexual urges were implicitly bad, not the denial of the sexual urge. Thus sending sexuality into the shadow for centuries in the church. Altar boys are still paying the price.

We must risk naming our desires and allowing them to draw us toward a life that is truly our own. And know when desire has become craving. It’s not only psychologically healthy. It’s spiritual practice.

Bruce Sanguin Psychotherapist

Written by Bruce Sanguin

Posted in