The Object of Desire

Striving for the object of desire is both pleasurable and painful. It is pleasurable because it gratifies the primal narcissistic tendencies and it is painful because there are limitations in reality on the way of achieving that object; limitations such as moral standards, money, distance, time, people, differences, etc. Otto Fenichel says “the first acceptance of reality is only an intermediary step on the road to getting rid of it. This is the point at which a contradiction of basic importance in human life arises, the contradiction between longing for complete relaxation and longing for objects (1996, p. 35). Therefore, there is no complete relaxation because there is always a longing for objects which cause us more physical and mental activities.

Accordingly, we could say that contrary to what is commonly believed, gaining satisfaction or relaxation is tied up to endeavour. Most of the people look for an easy way to earn money or get what they want regardless of the fact that ease comes out of discomfort and hardship, or simply put, no pain no gain. But the question is why we are constantly looking for ease and comfort?

Well I believe there are two reasons for this. The first one is that this is our nature, our biology to discharge the psychical and physical excitation to bring about relaxation. In fact, the notion of discharge refers to an outward release of the energy produced in the psychic apparatus by excitations, whether these are external or internal in origin, “the basic pattern which is useful for the understanding of mental phenomena is the reflex arc. Stimuli from the outside world or from the body initiate a state of tension that seeks for motor or secretory discharge, brining about relaxation” (Fenichel, 1996, p. 11). So our body needs to discharge and invest its energy into something (objects) to gain relaxation.

The second reason is related to the process of developing a psyche in relation to other objects in the childhood environment, which is known as object relations theory. In this regard, the infant does not distinguish itself from the external objects in early ages and there is no sense of ‘inside/outside’ or ‘me/others’ exists for him. Freud in Civilisation and its Discontents describes this sense as ‘oceanic feeling’ which indicates the period in which the infant is regularly breastfed in response to its crying and has no concept that the breast does not belong to it. Therefore, the infant has no impression of a ‘self’ or, rather, considers the breast to be a part of itself. The ego (or sense of self) comes into existence when the breast is taken away, and involves the infant’s recognition that it is separate from others. Later in life, as adults, there remains some parts of this ‘oceanic feeling’ in our mature egos which drives us to that primal stage when we were once united with the objects and everything was managed by others to give us comfort and relaxation. 

Considering what has been said, one could see that there is a shift, or a transition from pleasure principle to reality principle (Freud, 2018). A transition from a fantastic world, where there is no distance between the ‘self’ and ‘object’ and everything is new, exciting and pleasurable, to a harsh reality in which we are condemned to work constantly to get to the object of desire which is not fully achievable because it is partly real and partly phantasy. That is why striving for the object of desire is both painful and pleasurable, because no one has a complete access to it, there always remains a gap between the ego and objects which requires both physical and psychical activities in order to develop enough capacity for gaining more satisfaction. Yet there is no guarantee to it but each person should finds its own way towards gratification.

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