Dining room curtains recently taught me how complicated my relationship with desire is and how bad I am at asking for what I want.
I bought the curtains a month ago, to complete our kitchen and dining room renovation. But it was another month before I bought the rods. I was confident about my choices but slow-walked the process because something in me felt bad about asking my husband for his help installing them.
So, I hinted and waited for him to volunteer. On the day we were going to install them, I waited for him to initiate the project, felt annoyed when he didn’t, and then we argued.
It was more than an argument, though. I was triggered! About curtains! What was going on?
Walk Back the Cat
By the next morning, I had calmed down enough to journal and do The Work, which is my daily practice for sorting through things to find insight and my next right step.
When I’m confused and in pain, I “walk back the cat”: go to the moment I noticed things were going wrong and look at all the steps – the thoughts and decisions – that led to it.
Why was my husband upset? Because I’d given him mixed signals.
Why did I do that? Because I felt ambivalent about asking for his help.
Why? Because I feel badly about spending money on the curtains.
Why? Because I feel badly about spending money on the renovation.
Why? Because I should have been content with what we had, but I’m never content! I’m an ungrateful, spoiled brat!
That thought and the feelings that go with it thrust me right back into childhood and the panic and confusion I felt to be accused of it.
I don’t know how many times I was called spoiled, ungrateful, and the cause of my parents’ toil, what behavior of mine triggered those comments, or how much thought went into them. But it cut me to the quick. I could not begin to articulate the vastness of my love and gratitude for my parents. I was as aware as any child could be of how much they supported me and how utterly dependent I was on them. I was deeply grateful.
I must have resolved the dissonance by concluding that wanting itself was bad.
Trouble is, it’s human nature to want. I kept wanting things, only now I felt shame when I did, so I pushed them underground.
Illegitimate Desire, Limiting Beliefs
Which is why I couldn’t bring myself to ask for help hanging the curtains in a clear, direct way.
I share this story because I suspect I’m not the only person to have a complicated relationship with desire.
I am able to see it so clearly now because it’s the topic of Unbound, by Kasia Urbaniak. We’re reading it in my Be the Heroine coaching group. It is a book about undoing the conditioning that keeps women small – namely, how to reconnect with your desire, legitimize it, and ask for what you want.
What a relief to learn (at 51) that it’s not bad to want and to be given permission to ask for things! (To be clear: it’s permission to ask, not entitlement to get).
The final, crucial piece for me, though, was to do The Work on the thoughts, “I’m never content” and “I’m an ungrateful, spoiled brat.”
The Work puts space between me and my painful, limiting beliefs. It enables me to see the effects of these beliefs on my behavior; who I would be, what would be possible, without them; and invites me to see all the ways that the opposite – in this case, that I am content and grateful – is truer.
The Work does not erase thinking. It defuses it.
This combination of legitimizing desire and liberation from limiting beliefs shows me my next right step.
I speak to Guy.
“I understand now what happened last night. I see that I gave you mixed signals, expected you to read my mind, and was mad when you didn’t. I’m sorry.” I tell him the story of why.
I conclude, “I resolve from here on to make my requests clear and direct.”
“Ok,” he says, and we kiss on it.
Claimed Desires, Clear Requests
How about you? What is your relationship to desire? If it’s complicated for you, too, why?
I invite you to clean up your thinking:
- What’s something you want but feel shaky about asking for?
- Why? Write those thoughts down and do The Work on them.
- Claim your right to want things and to ask for them.
How does that change your ask?