What did you truly want from that dream?
Hint: It wasn't the dream itself.
When you think about your dream it is likely you know what you wanted. You wanted it (the job, the sold screenplay, the relationship). It’s not complicated. Well, I would like you to suggest that you actually wanted something entirely different. You see, I believe that you secretly hoped that if you got the dream that it would come with benefits, not a 401 K or a time-share in the Bahamas, no. I am talking the emotional side effects you thought you would get from having the dream come true and ultimately, I think that is at the heart of why we actually want the dream. We want the guy, the school, the job, the house, for reasons beyond the guy, the school, the job, the house…we think, on some level, that they will give us qualities that may not actually occur, things like love, approval, acceptance, acknowledgement, praise, validation, security, bulletproof invulnerability, immortality and so much more.
For example, Fred really wanted “that BIG job” and when he dug a little deeper it wasn’t just the job that Fred wanted. He felt like that when he got it he was finally going to get the approval his family has never given him and now, finally, “My father would feel see me as smart and successful.” I am here to say that there is no job, guy, car, marriage, or success that can heal all your past hurts. Getting into Harvard, working on Wall Street and owning the house behind the gates does nothing, bupkis and zippity-do-dah to deal with our deserving love. We deserve love, acceptance and approval for just being and if we are having to earn it by doing x,y, and z we rarely feel like we are getting the love we want, rather we feel that we are being valued for what we do rather than who we are. Fred, like many of us, didn’t want to feel like it was impossible to get that love and approval, so when he didn’t get the job he pushed down his pain and disappointment and buried the grief around it, and simply put his worthiness seeking into other avenues. Fred bought a new car and a new flat screen TV and when that didn’t make Fred feeling any better he employed other things and substances to fill his deflated sense of worth. However, in talking with Fred about what he hoped the dream job would give him, Fred really wanted to be approved of and he felt that the only way that his narcissistic father would every approve of him was to have a job with a Fortune 500 firm. He came to see, as he grieved the loss of not making that dream a reality, how toxic his family message was that he would only be worthy of love if he achieved at a high level. The truth was, for Fred, that he would be happier working in a job that didn’t take him away from his kids as much as that Fortune 500 job required. Fred admitted, reluctantly at first, “The truth is that I really wouldn’t have been happy there.” In seeing this truth Fred dropped the guilt, the shame and started to see how the kind of approval and validation he craved wasn’t actually available from his father, however he did find that kind of love and acceptance from his wife, friends and children.
I came to understand that every dream has an essence worth exploring when I was dealing with the super sucky reality that after $100,000 and years of infertility treatment I would never be a mother to a biological child of my own. Through a whole lot of therapy I came to realize that I didn’t just want to be a mother---no, there was something else I really wanted. The truth was that I wanted to create a kind of uber-perfect childhood in a super-safe Mayberry as a kind of compensation for my childhood that had its fare share of darkness. Once I learned that part of what was driving my desire to have a child was a desire to heal my own childhood wounds I felt an enormous sense of relief. I began to care and tend for my own inner-child and make my life a rich, nurturing and satisfying one with or without children. I was able to see how being a mother might not have really given me all that I dreamed of, because ideally parenting a child should be about the child and not about working out your own stuff through them. As a therapist, I have seen firsthand the pitfalls of parenting that’s motivated by “I am going to give you all that I never had” and I only hope I would have figured that out pretty fast if I had actually been blessed with children of my own. The truth is that for me giving someone else all that I had so desperately wanted might have brought up some difficult feelings like sadness, loss, and even envy.
An important caveat about looking at the essence of what we wanted from our dreams, as vital as it is to know what we really wanted from our dream, knowing what you wanted does not entirely heal the wound of not getting what we wanted most, it just doesn’t. I still and always will, have sadness about not being a mother. However, having the courage to pull the dream unrealized out of the dark shame filled part of my psyche allowed me to start to learn what we really and truly wanted from it and start to make that next happy something real, possible and achievable. I never thought I could be happy without being a mother---but by getting to the essence of what I wanted from the mothering and on giving myself that quality, as much as I could, happiness snuck in and took me by surprise.
- You had dreams that didn’t happen.
- That’s normal.
- Repressing the dream isn’t good for you.
- Figuring out what you really wanted from the dream is vital.
- The grief about not getting what you want will still be there.
- Happiness sneaks in when we are finding ways to get the essence of what we wanted from the dream.
About the Author
Tracey Cleantis, LMFT, is a speaker, writer and a practicing psychotherapist. She is the “Dr. Kevorkian of Dreams” and is a personal and professional authority on how to let go of what isn’t working and to grieve, move on, and get to the to the other side where happiness is waiting for you.
Her blog was named one of the top ten blogs for Francophiles by Blogs.com and is rated one of the top 10 psychology and memoir blogs. In addition, Tracey has written “Freudian Sip,” a column atPsychology Today, and contributes to the Huffington Post. She has been featured on Fox News and in Redbook, Yahoo News and Salon.com. Her writing on finding happiness after infertility was featured in Jamie Cat Callan’s Bonjour, Happiness! (Citadel Press, 2011).
Tracey is a passionate writer who combines wit, wisdom, humor, theory made accessible, and a whole lot of heart. She speaks on grief, infertility, letting go of dreams, finding unexpected happiness after loss.