Clothes or shoes that are too expensive. A woman or a man who is unavailable or taken. Dreams that are too complex to become a reality. Wanting something you can’t have at the moment can be really frustrating.
We tend to spend days, weeks, and months thinking about a thing or a person we want in our lives. Sometimes, we get so obsessed that we neglect all the other things happening right now.
Why do we do that? Why do we want what we can’t have?
There are psychological explanations for this phenomenon that are truly mind-blowing. Once you understand the background of your intense desire for things you can’t have, your life will instantly change.
Below you’ll find all the psychological reasons behind wanting something you can’t have and what you can do about it.
13 Psychological Explanations Of Wanting Something You Can’t Have
Do you think that having that one thing or being with that one person would change your life for the better and make you ultimately happy? Here’s exactly what’s going on in our minds when we want something we can’t have:
1. The thrill of the chase and dopamine shot
Every time someone you like pays attention to you or texts you, the levels of the hormone dopamine (“the happy hormone”) immediately increase. You feel excited and on cloud nine.
Now, did you know that you can become addicted to this dopamine shot? It’s like being on drugs.
Every time you come in contact with the object of your desire (read: your drug), you get a shot of dopamine – a shot of happiness. So, you basically end up chasing the shot that comes with chasing someone you like.
The thrill of the chase has the power to make you susceptible to breadcrumbing (when someone gives you just enough attention, which makes you want more of it).
2. Ego boosting
Sometimes, you want what you can’t have because your ego is at play. Now imagine seeing a luxury perfume, car, attractive woman or man.
In that situation, your ego can force you to buy that thing or chase that woman or man because you need to reach that sense of satisfaction.
Being able to wear that perfume, drive that car, or be with that woman or man would give you an ego boost.
In other words, you would feel powerful, happy, and fulfilled. That’s exactly what forces you to want and chase something you can’t have.
PRO TIP: If you have this uncontrollable urge to always feel like a winner, then you know you have an ego problem.
3. The scarcity effect
The scarcity effect is also one of the culprits for wanting something you can’t have. It works on the following principle: We are more interested in pursuing rare (scarce) things because, in our minds, they have a higher value.
Here’s one brilliant explanation of the scarcity effect by Psychology Today: “Scarcity functions like an obstacle to goal pursuit, which intensifies the value of the goal.”
I remember when we had an orchard with hundreds of apple trees. When we harvested all the fruit, we had an entire room filled with apples. Guess what?
I didn’t eat a single one as long as there were so many of them. After we sold and ate almost all of them, I was suddenly interested in consuming the apples.
Speaking of the scarcity effect at its finest.
4. Struggling with low self-esteem
If you struggle with low self-esteem, this can influence every aspect of your life (especially your love life). It can damage your mental health and make you frustrated, anxious, and even depressed.
Women or men with low self-confidence often think owning something valuable and rare will make them feel better about themselves.
They are convinced that owning that one thing or being with that one person is the missing piece of the puzzle when it comes to finding their value.
As long as they’re pursuing the object of their affection, they feel like there is hope, and their well-being is at stake.
5. The lure of the unknown
Unpredictability, forbidden fruit, unknown scenarios… All these things can influence you to chase something you can’t have.
You spend lots of time thinking about how you would feel once you buy the thing or win over the person you fancy. Wanting what you can’t have has never been more frustrating and yet, at the same time, alluring.
The lure of the unknown makes you think that the grass is greener on the other side.
You’re convinced that all the other people who own what you want are happier and more content in life than you. That’s why you become so focused on pursuing that feeling.
6. Seeking self-worth
Feeling like you’re not good enough can put you in a state of constant pursuit of self-worth. You want something you can’t have because you want to feel worthy of it.
The following scenario happens in your head: “If I manage to earn enough money to buy that one luxury thing or if I manage to win that attractive man or woman, my self-worth will increase.”
You think that their value will become your value. Having the object of your desire will make you feel worthy, powerful, and confident.
7. Idealizing the object of desire
When you idealize the object of your desire, you basically think that they are perfect and much better than they really are. In your head, they are EXACTLY what you need in life to feel complete.
Verywell Mind explains idealization in the following way: “Idealization is a psychological or mental process of attributing overly positive qualities to another person or thing.”
Basically, you want something you can’t have because you’ve idealized that thing or person. You’ve convinced yourself that their value is higher than it really is. That’s exactly what makes you chase after it or them.
8. The joy of fulfilling a fantasy
This is also known as projection. It’s when you spend a considerable amount of time fantasizing about owning that thing or spending time with a certain person.
Your mind has gone so far when it comes to creating these little images in your head of you kissing them, holding hands with them, hugging them, traveling with them (if we’re talking about a person).
“I want what I can’t have because I want my fantasy to be fulfilled.”
9. The more unreachable they are, the more invested you become
Sadly, we often categorize those who are unreachable as highly valuable. Here’s my real-life personal example of this:
I was pursuing this one guy who was emotionally unavailable and, therefore, unreachable. The less he texted me, the more invested I became and determined to “make him reachable.”
While doing that, I ignored all the nice guys who actually were more valuable than him. Lesson learned, moved on.
What I want you to remember is that the perceived value of the object of your desire is all in your head. This can also be valuable relationship advice as well.
10. Seeking validation
Why do you want what you can’t have? Because validation seeking forces you to chase things and people who will make you feel validated.
Here’s a simple example of this: A smart, beautiful, attractive woman or man is playing hard to get with you. You see this as a sign of high value, and you become fully determined to pursue them.
After some time, you go on a first date, second date, and so on. Slowly but surely, you start winning them over, and you feel better than ever. Why?
Because by accepting to go on a date with you, they made you feel validated. They made you feel better about yourself because they accepted you.
Now let’s go back to the beginning of this story. You want something you can’t have because having it or being with them will make you feel validated.
11. Heightened focus
When someone tells you that you can’t have something, do you instantly want it even more? Of course, you do. Human beings are wired to desire things that are either scarce or, in a way, prohibited.
That’s where heightened focus comes into the story. This basically means that you’ll spend more time thinking of something or someone you can’t have than about anything else.
The more you think about it, the more you’ll become “obsessed” with it. Perhaps you have no idea why you even want that thing or person. You just want it because you can’t have it.
I know it sounds ridiculous, but it’s totally true. The same thing applies to reverse psychology. If you want to make someone do something, just tell them they can’t or shouldn’t do it.
12. Feeling threatened
Due to all the fantasizing about the object of your desire, you enter a state of feeling threatened about losing it. Wait, but how can you lose something or someone you don’t even have?
Well, in your mind, they exist. They are with you 24/7 because you spend so much time thinking about it or them.
You remind yourself often that someone else could buy that thing before you, or someone else could seduce that guy or girl before you.
The more threatened you feel, the more you want what you can’t have. It’s really impressive how our brain can play tricks on us.
13. The pursuit of happiness
One of the reasons you always want what you can’t have is that you’re pursuing happiness. You’ve convinced yourself that the source of your happiness is connected with the thing or person you’re interested in.
You forget that happiness is a choice. Once you stop pursuing things or people you can’t have, you’ll find happiness. Pursuing something you can’t have can’t guarantee that you’ll be happy once you achieve it.
After that, you’ll find another thing or another person that you would want to pursue again. The only person who can make you happy is YOU. So, stop looking for happiness in things or people you can’t have.
What Do You Do When You Want Something You Can’t Have?
Do you go out of your way to own that thing or attract that person? Do you lose yourself only to pursue something you can’t have? Here’s what you should do when you find yourself wanting something you can’t have:
• Question the emotions that drive you
Why do you want something or someone you can’t have? Do you think they would boost your self-esteem and make you feel more content in life? Do you wish to fulfill a fantasy?
Question the emotions that drive you. Don’t just fall into the trap of wanting and desiring something you can’t have.
Desiring things you don’t need in life means wasting your time. Unrequited love leads to inevitable heartbreak.
You have a choice here!
You can decide not to pursue your desires if they affect you negatively. Of course, what you feel is real, but don’t let it become an everyday obsession. You deserve better than that.
• Remove society’s pressure and unrealistic expectations
Our family members, friends, or society often pressure us to believe that we need to behave in certain ways. When we add unrealistic expectations to this, we’ve got a recipe for ultimate unhappiness.
No expectations = no disappointments. Remove the pressure from society and focus on what YOU really need and want in life.
Don’t buy things just because others are advertising them. Don’t feel pressured to date others because society and those closest to you are frightening you into thinking that you’ll be single forever.
Think about what you want in life and follow your gut. Turn off all the pressures and expectations from others.
• Practice gratitude
The reason we want things and people we can’t have is that we often think we lack something in our lives.
Practicing gratitude will help you realize that you already have so many things to be grateful for.
Once you realize how blessed you truly are, you’ll be less inclined to want something you can’t have. You’ll focus on cherishing the people and things you already have in your life.
When I started practicing gratitude, for the first time in my life, I was surrounded by this veil of positive energy. The more I practiced it, the more complete I felt. I bet you’ll feel the same way!
• Keep a diary
Writing down your thoughts daily is a brilliant way to keep track of your mindset. Write down how you feel, what you’re grateful for, and whatever comes to mind.
By doing this, you’ll be more in control of your actions. You will not let your mind wander and fantasize about things you can’t have.
You’ll be more “in the moment,” which is essential if you want to get rid of that burden of wanting something you can’t have.
I’m convinced that every single person on earth needs a social media detox once in a while. Limiting the time spent on social media will limit the time you’re exposed to things you might want but can’t have.
Here’s one of my most recent examples: When I started following one online clothing store, I felt bombarded with all those beautiful summer dresses, skirts, cool T-shirts… Every time they posted something new, I immediately thought, “I need that thing!”
Deep down in my heart, I knew that I couldn’t buy all those things, and that’s why I wanted them even more. Do you know what I did? I unfollowed the store, and now I’m living happily and peacefully.
I hope my story inspired you to limit your time spent on social media or at least to unfollow the sites that make you want something you can’t have.
• Cultivate self-love
When you want something you can’t have, this is often connected with a lack of self-love. In a nutshell, you’re looking for things and people who will make you feel better and happier.
This never happens. The only surefire way to achieve happiness is through boosting your self-love, spending time with your loved ones, and working on yourself.
Instead of looking for things or people to complete you, complete yourself.
Instead Of Wanting Something You Can’t Have, Focus On What’s Good For You.
Wanting something you can’t have can be overcome if you’re really determined and willing. The easiest way to fight these tiring feelings of desiring things and people you can’t have is by focusing on what’s good for you.
What are the things, and who are the people that add real value to your life?
Don’t just want something because you can’t have it. Want something because it’s good for you.
That’s the secret to true happiness and being free of your own desires.