Types of desires

A lot of the online literature about narcissists says that narcissists don’t really have desires. They are scared to have desires, because they will then have to work towards those achieving them, and then face the possibility of failure. Consequently, narcissists want to attain their wishes of wealth, fame, etc by accident. The analogue of the girl slipping and falling into the hero’s arms. Some examples are: winning the lottery, somehow opening a billion-dollar startup, uncovering a law of nature that no one has thought about before, etc. Let’s explore this idea further by classifying the type of desires that one may have.

  1. Primary desires– These are desires that compel a person to a specific form of action. Examples include “I want to write a book on medieval architecture in France”, “I want to go to Italy”, “I want to open an electric car company”, etc. These desires generally don’t have a secondary goal in mind. These are the kinds of desires that change the world.
  2. Secondary desires– These are desires that have a secondary goal in mind, but still compel a person to action. Examples include “I want to do whatever makes me rich”, “I want to do something that makes everyone think I am very smart”, “I want to be thought of as someone who heralded a scientific revolution”, etc. If I want to do anything that makes me rich, I will have to find something that has made other people rich, and spend lots of time and effort developing that skill. However, I may inevitably keep second guessing myself. What if my attempt at getting rich is sub-optimal, and that I should do that completely different thing instead?
  3. Tertiary desires– These are desires that do not compel any action. Examples include “I want the situation to evolve in such a way that my present skills and capabilities are sufficient for making me rich, successful, etc”. In some sense, these desires preclude the necessity of making a choice, and consequently avoid the possibility of making a wrong choice. What if your chosen method of getting rich was wrong all along, proving that you were stupid?

I can confirm that tertiary desires are what narcissists have. In some sense, a lot of our desires are constructed in childhood, when we are surrounded by fairy tales. Most fairy tales induce tertiary desires. Cinderella was not someone who willed a better future for herself through hard work and intelligence. She was always the “true princess”. It was world (the prince, the glass shoe, etc) that changed around her to gift her a royal future.

Maybe narcissists have a tendency to import narratives from the books and movies that they’re exposed to into their own lives. And the narratives around us are mostly those that glorify what we already are, instead of what we can become.

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Graduate student

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