Sehnsucht: The Addiction to Longing

I recently read an article in the New York Times, which introduced me to the German word, Sehnsucht.  The author,  Carina Chocano described it as  "the feeling of being addicted to longing for something; specifically being addicted to the feeling that something is missing or incomplete."   The object of the longing is beside the point.  It is the feeling of yearning, itself,  which has the value.

If we should attain our hypothetical goal,  we will no longer have the longing for it.  Since the longing is the true goal, the hypothetical goal must always remain just out of reach.  Obviously, there are deeply ambivalent feelings about this "object of longing" because we must deny it to ourselves as much as we want it, striking a delicate balance. In most cases,  we mistake our hypothetical longing for true longing, and thus are not even aware we're chasing the wrong thing.

I find this concept fascinating because it is the hallmark of much of our frustration, procrastination and/or unhappiness.

We all have fantasies about various futures for ourselves - romantic,  personal, professional.  Fantasies,  are by their very nature,  more satisfying than the nitty-gritty nuts and bolts of reality.

For example,  most of us have imagined at some point in our lives how wonderful it will be to fall in love (for the first time, or again.)  In our fantasy, everything is perfect.   In reality, however, human beings are imperfect; they come with emotional baggage.  They fart and snore and argue about whose turn it is to take out the garbage.  Even in the most loving, supportive relationships,  that oogly-googly feeling of hormonal limerance doesn't last more than a couple of years. Before we know it,  we're longing for it again.

Sehnsucht explains why people often become involved in relationships which cannot be fulfilled (i.e. adultery or a cyber affair): they want that bittersweet desire for what they cannot have.  It also explains why people do not actively pursue their most desired personal goals:  why they don't write that novel or quit their job and travel the world or lose a lot of weight and become a fashion plate.    Imagining these things is very emotionally satisfying and totally safe.  There are no dangerous emotional risks; no possibility of failure and/or rejection;  no chance that unpleasant reality will ruin the dream.

There is nothing wrong with desire and longing, per se.  It is the essence of hope and motivation.  But we must be careful to distinguish between our true goals,  which we can pursue without any ambivalence;  and Sehnsucht, which is generally self-deceiving and ultimately can lead to hurt, disappointment and frustration for ourselves and others.

Understanding the difference is a huge gain in self-knowledge.  It's the kind of epiphany which can change your life overnight.  An insightful life coach can help you get to the crux of these issues and separate them, so you can see them clearly.





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© 2019 Adrienne Gusoff

August 2, 2012