I have worked with patients who cannot desire and therefore cannot act on their own behalf. A goal of psychotherapy is to help them learn to want and then have the courage to become active to achieve what they want. This takes identifying the goal and having the will to go for it. Psychologists call this ability “agency”. Having agency allows us to find satisfaction both because we have identified what is meaningful and we have pride in achieving it.
This includes wrestling with the shame of acknowledging something has power over you, that is, you want it so it drives you. There is also the potential shame of failure, of not achieving whatever it is you desire. Being able to tolerate this shame helps us relinquish feelings of grandiosity and develop realistic humility.
Interestingly, some parents are very reluctant to have their children develop desire. These parents continue to gratify beyond the time it is appropriate. The child remains in the same state as Adam before he ate the fruit, an unself-conscious state of simple gratification, a womb-like existence. These children do not learn to tolerate the frustration of wanting, of longing, and then the trial and error period that can precede achieving something meaningful.
Children start out in the Garden. First they are in the womb, where hopefully everything is to their liking, with very little effort required. Then as young infants, they have their needs met without much fuss. They take the breast or the bottle and, ideally at least, do not experience much frustration or discomfort.
Then the job of becoming human begins. The child soon learns he or she has to wait, has to say please and thank you, that is, follow some basic rules. By the time they reach school age, they are required to learn -- academically, emotionally, socially (not always easy). When they do the wrong thing, they can become frightened and blame others, just like Adam and Eve tried to shift blame. Further, to save face, they may not always tell the truth. Their various mistakes help them mature and develop the resilience needed throughout life.
Just remember the old Jewish joke: A five year old was sitting at the dinner table and said, “Please pass the bread”. His astonished mother remarked, “Why, I didn’t know you could talk!” The five year old retorted, “Up till now, I didn’t have to!”