How Attachment to Your Desires Is Making You Angry

Person raises outstretched arms to sunset sky where flock of birds flies low“Most of our troubles are due to our passionate desire for and attachment to things that we misapprehend as enduring entities.” —Dalai Lama

Attachment is inherent to our nature, as is the desire to have pleasant experiences. We are attached to feeling good, comfortable, and secure and to things we think will bring us happiness. Attachment is the emotional dependence we put on situations, objects, or people. Strong attachments come in many forms—including overindulgence in or pursuit of food and drink, sex, power, fame, even principles or ideas—and can manifest in potentially harmful ways, such as gambling and addiction.

Living without desire is unrealistic. There is nothing wrong with wanting, but when we are too attached to our desires, we risk becoming captive to them. An attachment to pleasure, for example, becomes an obstacle when it continually compels us to chase it, even when it may be unwise or unhealthy to do so. So, while pleasure is a good thing, these powerful forces—attachment and desire—can cloud our reality. Reality is always changing and includes a mix of pleasant and unpleasant experiences. When we pursue desire to the exclusion of reality, suffering can happen, and happiness may become harder to attain.

When the fulfillment of a desire is obstructed or when what we want slips out of our grasp, it may give rise to fear and anger. Reducing our dependence on desired outcomes is critical. We can pursue our desires, but we must be able to drop them when needed. We can embrace our desires, but we must not be bound by them. Our desires should not run the show.

Controlling the Desire for Control

In our desire to control the external, we may lose control over the internal. The more we want to control things, others, or situations, the angrier we may become when things don’t turn out the way we expected. If we understand that our desire for control is the source of our anger and a hindrance to our happiness, we can change our perspective on desire. We can aspire to reduce our need to control situations or other people and accept the feelings that result from not getting what we want.

If we set our expectations as a “wish list” rather than a “need list,” we may experience less anger.

As human beings, we cannot avoid having expectations. Expectation is the gap or discrepancy between what we have and what we want. With expectation comes disappointment, which may lead to anger. By having expectations, we give power away. Accordingly, to reduce disappointment and anger, adjusting our expectations and decreasing our attachment to them is imperative. If we set our expectations as a “wish list” rather than a “need list,” we may experience less anger.

If we want to be empowered, we have to own our expectations and the choices we make as well as the feelings that result from those choices. No one can make us feel angry; our expectations lead to anger. Again, expectations are a part of life, but it is up to us as to whether we are attached to them.

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Reversing Desire and Achieving Happiness

In their book The Tools, Phil Stutz and Barry Michels describe a method to overcome or “reverse” desire. The goal is to embrace the opposite of our attachment tendency. Instead of clinging to our desire, we welcome pain so we can continue moving toward our goals. Once we accept pain, we notice that our state of feeling moves from attachment (clinging energy) to non-attachment (flowing energy), a state in which we are free and open to all experiences. This state of accepting whatever comes is, in a word, happiness.

I want to end with a word from Thich Nhat Hanh, the well-known Buddhist philosopher and peace activist. His powerful quote summarizes this article: “Letting go [of attachment, desire, and expectations] gives us freedom, and freedom is the only condition for happiness. If, in our heart, we still cling to anything—anger, anxiety, or possessions—we cannot be free.”

Reference:

Stutz, P., & Michels, B. (2013). The Tools: 5 Tools to Help You Find Courage, Creativity, and Willpower—and Inspire You to Live Life in Forward Motion. New York, NY: Spiegel & Grau.

© Copyright 2016 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Moshe Ratson, MBA, MS, LMFT, therapist in New York City, New York

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • 7 comments
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  • Noaln

    Noaln

    October 26th, 2016 at 8:20 AM

    So me being angry has to do more with not being able to achieve the things that I wanted to achieve for myself?

  • Angela

    Angela

    October 27th, 2016 at 7:28 AM

    If you are indeed angry over this then I fear that your focus in life is way too skewed. You are looking at it all in the pessimistic glass half empty scenario when in actuality, life is more about what you make it than what you perceive it to be.
    Take a little time to smell the roses and you will probably be a whole lot happier.

  • sadie

    sadie

    October 27th, 2016 at 10:43 AM

    I just feel like life is so complicated and I feel angry that everyone seems to get everything that they want except for me.

  • Princess

    Princess

    October 28th, 2016 at 11:36 AM

    But I am not ready to settle. I want what I want

  • ginger t

    ginger t

    October 29th, 2016 at 10:29 AM

    It is often hard to be happy with what you have but think about all of those who have nothing and are still so thankful every day to have been given a second chance at life, another day. Why is it that so many of us have a hard time accepting that we have been given that too?

  • Kelvin

    Kelvin

    October 30th, 2016 at 8:40 AM

    this is too much like feeling jealous and wanting what you can’t have. be realistic with your goals and expectations and then there is no need for the anger that you feel in life.

  • carol p

    carol p

    October 31st, 2016 at 7:11 AM

    For me it has always been more about the fear than the anger, the fear that I have lost something that was meant to be mine and that I won’t be able to get back. I try to live with the motto of if it is meant to be than it will happen but that is not always the easiest path to take or path to believe! I would love to be the person who could just sit back and let the chips fall where they may but I am honestly a control freak and letting go of that control gives me fears as well.

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