59 QUESTION: Where is the borderline between compulsion and very strong desire?
ANSWER: The difference cannot be generalized. You will discern it clearly within yourself as you work on this Path. What can be said is that when you have simply a strong desire without compulsion, you are free to let go of it, if need be.
Compulsion means that you have to do it, you cannot help doing it even at a very disadvantageous price to you. This price may be emotional. And also, if others or circumstances prevent you from doing or getting what you compulsively need, the loss will seem out of all proportion.
Intellectually you may know perfectly well that your desire is unreasonable in its force and subjective importance, yet you cannot help it. The only way to correct such an unfortunate and often very damaging situation is to find out what the unconscious motivation is. Do you have anything particular in mind?
QUESTION: I am reminded of someone who, as a young girl, wanted very strongly to leave her home. It is very difficult for me to find the difference between desire and compulsion in this case.
ANSWER: The desire to leave home may be the result of a compulsion, rather than being the compulsion itself. The desire in itself may be quite healthy, at least in some circumstances. The wish may be due to unhappiness, to predicaments one feels hopeless about. This creates the desire, which may be partly healthy, and partly an escape from solving one’s inner conflicts.
The conflicts are never created entirely by others. They are always due to one’s own inner disturbances, in conjunction with the conflicts of others. If this is understood, one may or may not leave home, depending on the circumstances, but one will try to find the inner root of the problems and eliminate the cause.
Compulsion enters only when the cause is not understood. A compulsion can never be created by outer conditions alone. The outer conditions may merely bring the inner problems to the fore. The inner wrong condition will finally also create a wrong outer condition. As long as one does not realize the basic facts of the soul, as you learn them here, it is very difficult to cope with the inner situation.
The outer conditions are a convenient hitching post. The more unjust and crass they are, the more they can be used as rationalizations. That does not mean that one should never change the outer conditions as well. However, it may be that only after finding one’s unresolved conflicts can one have the strength and fortitude to effect the outer change.
The more one desires something but is unable to follow it through, the more likely it is that the originally healthy wish turns compulsive. This is one form of compulsion. There are other forms, but they are not connected with your question, so we will not discuss them now.
84 QUESTION: Could you give us some insight into the reasons for compulsive acts? In particular, what is the general emotional basis for compulsive buying and eating? And how can these two particular acts be combated?
ANSWER: The only way to combat them is by doing this work and finding the underlying reasons. There must be a very personal, particular reason, which needs to be found. If the attempt is made to force the compulsive behavior away by discipline, the best you can hope to achieve is to force the symptom away, while other symptoms will develop instead, and produce an even greater anxiety.
Why people have these compulsions again cannot be generalized. I may just say that any compulsion comes from an unconscious conclusion that something must be had, attained, acquired. By the time this reaches the outer personality, the goal may have been shifted to a substitute.
For instance, the idealized self-image may dictate to live up to something, or gain something, and the person is unable to do so. Then other outlets are sought compulsively. One is so frustrated about one’s own inability to live up to the shoulds and the coulds of achievement that a substitute must be found.
A compulsion to buy things, when analyzed as to its symbolic meaning, will show that it represents acquisitiveness. This may come from a distortion of the power to have and to possess. It may come from a distortion of love: “If I cannot have love, I want to have things instead.”
The compulsion to eat may have similar roots. It may be a substitute for the frustration of not being able to receive the pleasure one yearns for. Lack of pleasure is a sign that the person has made wrong attempts to solve his or her life. When the effects of these attempts and distorted attitudes are sufficiently analyzed, it will be found that they prohibited the very things one wanted to attain.
Once this is seen, the substitute with its compelling nature will lessen to the degree one understands inner cause and effect.
Even if the general explanation and examples I cite here should happen to apply to a person, it will not really help. The person has to find the cause of the addiction by experiencing it as his or her own recognition as though it were entirely new, and different from the explanation given. Then, and only then, will it be beneficial.
QUESTION: What is the psychological explanation for a person becoming a dope addict?
ANSWER: Again I cannot go beyond a very general explanation. Each case may be different. All I can say here is that life becomes so difficult to cope with – not because life is in fact so difficult, but because of inner problems tearing the person apart – that self-estrangement increases steadily, and therefore reality becomes not only more ugly, but also more remote.
The pain of the illusion becomes unbearable. All this produces further deliberate escapes, such as drug addiction, or alcoholism, or psychosis, or other measures. The strong craving for love, pleasure, and ecstasy often also motivates addictions. So another one of these vicious circles comes into existence.
The more one is estranged from the real self, the less pleasure is possible and therefore the greater the longing for it. Then a shortcut substitute is looked for in such substances.
98 QUESTION: What is the difference between drives and needs?
ANSWER: A need is a very basic function of the human entity. A need is something real, unless it is displaced or superimposed by an unreal one. A drive, as I mentioned earlier, comes from compulsions, which, in turn, come from misconceptions, your images, your lack of belief in yourself, your idealized self-image and your resort to pseudosolutions. These shortcomings create compulsive drives. The needs, on the other hand, may become unhealthy wants. [Lecture #192 Real and False Needs]
QA120 QUESTION: In connection with this pain and pleasure matter, to what extent is desire a part of the yearning for pleasure, and is it not something that may bring one into a state of imbalance? For example, I know people who have an addiction of one sort or another, and it seems to them that they get pleasure out of catering to that addiction. Would you call that a gratification of pleasure or is it just a satisfaction, an imbalance?
ANSWER: It is both, because when such an addiction to an unhealthy pleasure exists, it is a shift, it is a displacement; it is just because of the inner violation of these balancing forces that it has to come out in a much worse way.
To be more specific, let me give you the following simple example. Let us take the man who fights against his own masculinity out of these wrong conclusions, these unrealistic fears, etcetera. Now, he therefore must forbid himself the healthy, real, fulfilling pleasure he is destined for, that he is potentially capable of experiencing.
Because of this lack he inflicts upon himself, he becomes hungrier and hungrier. His psyche becomes so starved that he seeks another outlet that seems to the unconscious less dangerous than the complete giving of himself. And therefore he is really caught in this unhealthy craving.
Now, as to your question about desire, certainly desire can become hindering, but it only becomes a compulsion, a craving, because that which the soul is supposed to have, the personality has withheld from it.