Desires are essential to both our psychological and spiritual well-being.
Understanding our desires can help us uncover aspects of ourselves that we may not have known existed. In my book, How To Get The Most Out Of Your Next Nervous Breakdown, I explore this topic through the works of Jacques Lacan, a French psychoanalyst, and psychiatrist. Specifically, Lacan’s theory outlines three orders on the purpose and execution of the pursuit of human desire, which are: the Imaginary, the Symbolic, and the Real. He explains that these represent a schematic relationship to the domains or orders that structure human reality.
The first order, the Imaginary, is that which we aspire to, that which we think we desire. These may include our desire to be good-looking or wealthy or respected. For example, if you wish to have the esteem of your peers, your desires stem from this underlying need.
The second order, the Symbolic, is the manifestation of our desires. It’s the fast car that you’re sure will impress the ladies by making you appear more youthful and desirable, the degree that will earn your colleagues’ respect, or the expensive home improvement project that will make your house the envy of your neighbors.
Finally, there is the Real in which we always find lacking when compared to the Imaginary from which we began. Here is where the symptom, or the “lack,” as Lacan calls it can be found. It is that thing within ourselves that we feel is lacking from our existence, and fuels our motivation to strive toward something better than our reality currently presents itself.
Take for instance the woman who pays for breast implants. In her fantasies, she imagines herself being more attractive to the male population and turning the jealous eye of all the other women around her. Her Symbolic self is confident in her sexiness and self-assured by the knowledge that she embodies the ideal, perfect woman.
But after considerable investments in time, money, and physical pain, she emerges from her transformation to be brutally faced with the Real. She is desired but by the wrong type of men who only want her for her body. Finding herself judged rather than seen as an inspiration to the women she interacts with, she is left with the symptom of self-loathing. This is what the Lacanian psychoanalyst would focus on in treatment. This is her darkness that needs to be integrated and accepted. Otherwise, the process simply starts all over again.
A mapping can be done for any symptom you may be experiencing by starting with this simple exercise.
I’ll show you mine to demonstrate an example:
>> The Symptom: caloric restriction, negative/abusive self-talk, depression.
>> The Imaginary: once I lose some weight, I’ll feel better about myself.
>> The Symbolic: I love the way plus-size models seem so self-confident and assured of their attractiveness.
>> The Real: I could bypass all the dieting by simply realizing that what I truly lack is self-love. I assume that once I’ve lost the extra weight, self-love would be waiting for me; however, there is no real guarantee of that. I’ve read multiple stories on women going through drastic surgeries to drop 100 plus pounds that eventually resulted in them feeling just as miserable about themselves as they did before they lost the weight. What I should focus on, instead, is learning how to love myself just as I am, while maintaining healthy habits.
>> The Lack: I do not love my body.
Give this exercise a try in whatever area that applies to your life for a deeper understanding of your own desires and lack.