People, boundaries and temptations

With any temptation, if used for good, there can be found a very powerful opportunity for personal, spiritual, physical, and emotional development

City Kseniya Naumova


In our lives, there are many rigid restrictions, which we most often take to be reality, and many of them we don’t even notice. But they do exist, and the stricter the schedule, the greater the accumulation of mental fatigue, something that can’t always be remedied, even by the most ideal holiday or perfectly planned weekend. The soul wearies of living according to a schedule, and unrealised impulses and desires, whims, needs are piling up, ever higher. We often regard these as temptations. The temptation to miss a workout or skip a dull, pointless meeting, to get out of the city for a couple hours or just go to the park and do nothing; to pass on something sensible and healthy, chicken breast with spinach, in favour of devouring a slice of exquisitely decadent chocolate cake. Commenting on why we should listen to ourselves, and why giving in to temptation is sometimes the healthiest thing, here is psychoanalyst and life coach Ksenia Naumova.

The very notion of temptation is extremely ambiguous; most often we use the word in referring to desires that pose something of a danger, and have very high stakes for us. But we also tend to identify even positive things as temptations, things that require a lot of effort, which may lead to great changes in our lives — the temptation to take up drawing, to abandon a career and return to creative work, to accept an offer to work abroad, and so on.

I often have clients who are head managers of large companies, and their whole lives are strictly regimented, literally down to the minute. The need to plan and organise everything in advance has become second nature to them, and they’re faced with the constant urge to ditch their plans and go do something spontaneous; they struggle with these temptations. At the same time, there’s nothing wrong with just letting yourself relax during your vacation, not stressing about plans, and just going according to how you feel in the moment. In Russian, the word for «vacation» actually means to let go, to allow yourself to act of your own volition. However, for people who place very high demands on themselves, and who are used to exercising high levels of self-restraint, that sort of behaviour seems almost improper. And for them in particular, temptation can be a very positive influence.

With any temptation, if used for good, there can be found a very powerful opportunity for personal, spiritual, physical, and emotional development. And here, it’s important to find a balance, a golden mean, to listen to your desires and identify where the prohibition on their fulfillment is coming from.

Like anyone, I have ideas about what’s right and commendable, and then I have desires that don’t exactly fit into those ideas. For example, I often go on vacation with friends who carefully plan their holidays, packing every day full of events, excursions, entertainment — and I’ll be struck with the desire not to go anywhere, or just to do something that isn’t part of the schedule. I really don’t like backing out of plans, but when I give in to the temptation, and opt to stay in and just be lazy, that’s when I’m really able to relax.

Another desire that I’ve long considered a temptation was my inclination to start up another business, separate from my family’s. I was full of feelings of guilt and fear that if I were to work on something else, it would damage the primary business that my parents founded, that I wouldn’t be able to handle important matters, and it would all fall apart. Through psychoanalysis, I was able to figure out why I have the impulse to expand the scope of my work, why I had been forbidding myself from doing so, and the things I need to be especially attentive to. Now, I’m quite capable of realising those desires, hiring people to help when necessary, and I’m even planning to open my own restaurant.

And then there’s food, yet another area where I had to figure out how necessity can transform into temptation. I know this is pertinent to a lot of people, especially because of how healthy living has been elevated into a form of ideology, and how the impulse and desire to eat healthfully and exercise has become an obligation to buy organic, restrict yourself, and work out diligently. The demands of this ideology can be very rigid and restrictive at times, which develop into general prohibitions, injunctions to live differently, guided by other principles.

There was a period in my life, I won’t shy away from admitting, when I suffered from bulimia, when I’d «cave» from time to time and overeat. I eventually managed to identify the point at which food became a temptation for me, when it became something bad and forbidden, something it was better to stay away from. It’s common knowledge that the force of an action is equal to the force of its opposition, and so the more I forbade myself from eating, the stronger the temptation was to eat everything in sight. At the same time, it’s absolute nonsense to think of food as a temptation: it’s essential, a basic bodily necessity, and it can’t be avoided. There are plenty of people who, with incredible strength of will, actually refuse to eat, who suffer from the serious condition of anorexia, which can lead to irreversible changes in the body, or even death. Experts are now considering a singular bulimic-anorexic eating disorder, because the underlying factors between the two are the same, rooted in the desire to prohibit yourself from eating as much as you actually need.

In truth, the cult of youth, sexual attractiveness, slenderness, assists rather paradoxically in destroying sex and diminishing the joy of living. So many women end up breaking their backs at the gym in the effort to become more sexually attractive, and yet their energy is concentrated on the physical activity of exercise, rather than sex itself. At the same time, their resources and behaviours are similarly aimed at working out, rather than at finding a partner or communicating with the men around them who are actually showing signs of attraction. And then, when they come to me for advice or psychoanalysis, they tell me that they’re in a desperate situation and can’t find a partner. Then it starts becoming clear that these women’s behaviour is unconsciously influenced by the forbidden nature of sex, which is still a touchy, taboo subject in our country, considered a dirty and indecent matter.

The emergence of temptation generally goes as follows: it all begins with a need (intimacy, food, rest, etc.), which the human mind responds to with the desire to satisfy that need. But then the desire contradicts our convictions and ideas about what’s right or healthy, and the person desiring refuses to fulfill the desire, reasoning that it would be wrong, or simply bad, to do so. The desire is then named temptation, and temptation should be resisted. Sometimes this is a legitimate process of deductive reasoning, but sometimes it’s not. In any case, strict bans that inhibit any opportunity to realise one’s desires can lead to dramatically negative consequences, from depression to more serious psychological conditions, including harming oneself or others. It is of ultimate importance, therefore, to listen to your desires, to negotiate with yourself, and to refrain from relying solely on will power and absolute prohibitions.