How to Handle Unconscious Desires by Practicing Existential Kink

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Existential Kink" by Carolyn Elliott. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Why do unconscious desires create negative patterns? What’s an existential kink?

According to Existential Kink by Carolyn Elliott, people tend to repress desires that they’re ashamed of. But, repressing desires doesn’t get rid of them; they just turn into negative habits. Ironically, the only way to destroy these habits is to fully embrace the desires behind them.

Keep reading to learn how unconscious desires manifest and to find the number one solution to dissolving them.

What Is Existential Kink?

According to Elliott, the term existential kink can refer to both an attitude about life in general and a specific meditative practice.

The premise of existential kink is that the negative patterns—of feelings, behaviors, and so on—we see recurring in our lives are the manifestations of our unconscious desires. As humans, we have an instinctual drive to experience everything—both good and bad—but we repress our desires for bad things because we’re ashamed of them. For example, we might consciously believe we desire financial independence, but unconsciously we delight in the feeling of being dependent on others, so we don’t take the necessary steps to gain financial security.

(Shortform note: Repression is the act of unconsciously blocking unpleasant thoughts or desires from our minds as a defense mechanism in order to relieve negative emotions associated with those thoughts or desires. However, there’s a similar defense mechanism called suppression, which is a conscious blocking of unpleasant thoughts or desires in an effort to forget them. Both of these mechanisms push thoughts into your unconscious so your conscious mind doesn’t have to deal with them.)

According to Elliott, this repression doesn’t eliminate these negative feelings and desires. It merely makes us unaware of them. They continue to impact our lives by creating destructive patterns, which we tend to attribute to the cruelty of other people or the universe. The only way to eliminate our negative patterns is to acknowledge, embrace, and take conscious pleasure in them until they’re no longer interesting and lose their ability to manifest themselves in our lives—this is what it means to practice existential kink. 

(Shortform note: Elliott’s method for overcoming problems differs strongly from many traditional spiritual approaches, such as the Christian ideology that all humans are considered sinners from birth and that the only way to atone is by embracing Jesus. This kind of approach emphasizes avoiding negative patterns and behaviors and punishing ourselves or others for engaging in them, as opposed to embracing and reveling in such patterns.)

Universal Desires and Their Polar Opposites

Some experts have theorized that there are 16 universal desires that motivate all human behavior, including the desire for things like power, acceptance, status, and tranquility. These would represent our conscious desires, but applying Elliott’s theory, we’re also motivated by the polar opposite of each of these desires, so examining these opposites during your own self-work may help you identify your unconscious desires. 

For example, if you think you want status but find yourself unable to make a mark in your field or gain any notoriety, you should consider that your unconscious desire might be for obscurity. Using some of the 16 universal desires, here are some possible complementary repressed opposites you could be on the lookout for:

  • Polarity #1: power (conscious desire) versus the desire to be submissive or passive (unconscious desire)
  • Polarity #2: independence versus the desire to be reliant or contained
  • Polarity #3: curiosity versus the desire to be blissfully ignorant and to avoid problems
  • Polarity #4: acceptance versus the desire to be rejected or to feel lowly
  • Polarity #5: order versus the desire for chaos or to be impulsive
  • Polarity #6: saving versus the desire for scarcity
  • Polarity #7: honor versus the desire to be viewed as depraved or evil
  • Polarity #8: idealism versus the desire to see others suffer
  • Polarity #9: social contact versus the desire to be excluded or isolated
  • Polarity #10: family versus the desire to not be tied down by commitments to others
  • Polarity #11: status versus the desire for obscurity or ignominy
  • Polarity #12: vengeance versus the desire to feel like a victim or martyr
  • Polarity #13: romance versus the desire to feel unlovable 
  • Polarity #14: eating versus the desire to experience hunger
  • Polarity #15: physical exercise versus the desire to rest or to feel lazy
  • Polarity #16: tranquility versus the desire for risk and danger

We feel comfortable accepting these 16 conscious desires as part of our identities because they’re considered positive things to strive for, but as we’ll see later in this guide, even such unconscious desires as wanting to see others suffer are universal, according to Elliott’s theory. These are the dark aspects of human nature that we have to embrace if we want to become whole.

How to Handle Unconscious Desires by Practicing Existential Kink

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  • That the negative patterns in our lives are manifestations of what we desire
  • How to dissolve your negative desires so they lose hold over your life
  • How to practice existential kink meditation

Katie Doll

Somehow, Katie was able to pull off her childhood dream of creating a career around books after graduating with a degree in English and a concentration in Creative Writing. Her preferred genre of books has changed drastically over the years, from fantasy/dystopian young-adult to moving novels and non-fiction books on the human experience. Katie especially enjoys reading and writing about all things television, good and bad.

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