The ChangingMinds Blog!
ChangingMinds Blog! >
Blog Archive > 05-Mar-07
Some people, it seems, are not in touch with reality. They live in their own
world of fantasy where everything is just so. Or perhaps not so. A fantasy can
be a nightmare as well as heroic delusion. Whatever their way, they seem totally
blind to the reality around them.
How do they cope, then, with the endless disappointment of the real world?
Perhaps they are disappointed, which drives them further inside. We also have a
need to explain, can which lead them to point at other people and factors beyond
their control. And control may well be a driving force for the fantasy, for it
is a world where they are gods and to get something they just have to will it.
We say someone 'loses touch with reality' and perhaps they do. But maybe also
some people never connect in the first place. Perhaps they are stuck in
phase, never transitioning through the
stage to the outer 'symbolic'
I think my son may be like this as truth has always seemed a convenience to
him. I have written recently of his teenage
troubles. Since then it has continued. Last week it was Parents' Evening at
the school where I would speak to his teachers. Beforehand I asked him what he
thought would be said and he said they might criticize him because he missed
some lessons but he was sure he would do well in his exams anyway. Sadly, his
teachers all said he would likely get Ds and Es at best, despite a potential for
As and Bs.
On Friday we was called into school to talk with the head teacher. He was
very sympathetic and spoke to my son there in a masterclass in persuasion,
forcing my son to face reality and laying it on the line: my son is on report
for the rest of the year, whereby he has to check in and out of every lesson and
hand in every homework on time. And three strikes and he is out.
Will he make it? I desperately hope so, but sadly I suspect not. After such a
reality check he should have knuckled down and cranked up the learning. In fact
he spent most of the weekend out with friends. Today, he had not handed in a
piece of work on time and nearly got to strike one in a single day.
When we tried to talk with
him in an adult way about his situation, he just responded with angry blaming of
others. A friend on the train told me that both his sons did the same. One, at
21 is now looking to get back into education and put his life back on track.
I fear for his future. To live a fantasy in an adult world is to court
disaster. Yet that may be his path. And it perhaps was set in infancy or even
before. And I don't know how to wake him up.
Coda: When I worry, I sometimes write cathartic stories to let my
subconscious release its concerns. Three recent ones are
The Blind Boy,
The Little Spider
and The Old
What is reality? Your reality? Perhaps your reality differs vastly from your
son's and his is no less valid than yours?
I see reality as that which we co-create with others. I don't think there is any
such thing as reality, external to those processing it.
You have your reality and I disagree with it - does that make me wrong?
Sorry, not meaning to sound aggressive... Just curious about your take on these
Indeed, we all live in a different reality. We are each inside the machine
and our reality is only an internal projection of an unknowable external place.
So how do we live together (assuming that other people really do exist)? In
effect we each place other people into our own reality. However, if my reality
is very different from your reality, we each may place each other in strange and
unreal positions. This likely happens with my son and me. A problem there is
that I try to flex and reach his reality whilst he is very closed. The school
problem is that his reality and the school's reality are different. When
realities differ, conflict and schism are likely and he is in serious danger of
either being kicked out of school or failing exams again.
Well, life isn't all about A's and B's and grades. He may yet excel at
something entirely different. Or even academics.
Try not to worry. We're not all heroes, or successes, in conformity with the
words definitions in the popular imagination. Sometimes just not being an utter
villain is enough.
That said though, Calvin Coolidge had this to say-
"Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not;
nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not;
unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of
educated derelicts. Persistence and determination are omnipotent. The slogan
"press on" has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race"
If only people would understand these words before it was too late. Carpe diem,
and time is short!
-- Iossef V.
Not all of life is about As and Bs, but sadly there's a significant part
that is. Colleges and employers want to know how good a person is and use the As
and Bs as a substitute for more accurate assessment.
He's my son and I do worry, but I also relax and know that he's another
independent spirit finding its way. It's a tricky balance and I'm trying to get
it right. I have persisted with him for a long time, whilst also trying
not to pressure him and allowing him to make many of his own decisions. I
hope he finds something that works for him and persists.
Time is short indeed, but sadly youth seldom realizes this.
About a year ago, I read Paul Arden's "It's not how good you are, it's how
good you want to be". I think that's the title, but I can't find my copy of the
book right now. Mr Arden used to be with Saatchi and Saatchi as some kind of
creative director. It is an interesting book. I think everyone should read it.
Anyway, he mentions at one point the benefits of working, rather than continuing
with one's education. It stuck a chord with me when I thought of the huge amount
of time I wasted getting an MA and not enjoying it [the long vacations were
nice], but thinking that it was the right thing to do, and I would be glad of it
later, and on and on. I found myself wishing I had taken the plunge into life at
age 18, instead of going to university. What would I have done? What could I
My point is, that all is not necessarily lost with your son. Goethe said
something along the lines of: he had more confidence in someone who stumbled
around but finally found his own true path, than in those who blindly and
automatically followed the rules laid down for them. Goethe would probably like
Here is something you might find useful. Ask your son what his three favourite
animals are. Post them on the blog, or e-mail me. Tell me your three favourite
animals too; and maybe your daughter's. [It's easier to see what is being said
when you have something to compare]. Then I'll tell you what it means.
Thanks, John. I've just placed an order for
the book at Amazon. My son is not doing a great deal of exploratory
stumbling around -- not externally, anyway. Perhaps he is in his head but he
says little if he is. If he blows it again then his free education will be over
but his life will not. All I want for my children is that they are independent
and happy. As he is now, he's be happy to be left to play online with someone
else paying the bills, or be unhappy having to work in any way for financial
reward (he's never had a job, despite encouragement).
I think there's a good chance he will find himself and 'grow up' some day,
but I fear it will not be soon.
My son's favourite animals are Crocodile, Dinosaur and Komodo Dragon ('I'm
a reptile freak'). Mine are Dog (I have two: affection, mutuality), Lion
(beautiful, proud), Blue Tit (social, common). My wife's are Dog, Wolf, Horse.
My career has been very varied. I did an M.Sc. in early 30s (and loved
it). I have not always done what I wanted but I have taken seriously the
responsibility of supporting my family (financially and emotionally).
I used to teach classes at a local college, and I used this choice of animals on
a number of occasions. I think it's very useful, but it can only be done once.
If you are going to post this, you might want to indicate that if any reader
wants to try this, he or she ought to write down the favourite animals before
reading the answer. I'll try not to get carried away here.
Spoiler warning: Do the exercise in the previous
message, above, before reading the interpretation below.
The first animal you choose indicates what you think you are like.
Your son thinks he's a crocodile. If we think about crocs, we can say he is
ancient and dangerous; solitary? Is he an endangered species? They are pretty
ferocious, but the Crocodile Hunter was able to snare them quite easily, so they
are maybe not as dangerous as you might think. Clamp the jaws, and trap the
tail, and their weapons are nullified - not that you would want to snuggle up
with them; they are to be avoided, or given their own space.
You and your wife think you are dogs - affectionate and friendly; man's best
friend; loyal and obedient; trainable; etc. You can get more detail if the
person has a particular breed or dog in mind - Supreme Champion at Cruft's is
one thing; a pit bull is another; but a dog is a dog.
The second animal is what you think OTHER PEOPLE think you are like. So your son
thinks other people think he is a dinosaur - a relic from the past; extinct; out
of time; out of touch. Maybe dangerous (remember Jurassic Park?). We can see a
theme here - the prehistoricalness of the croc and the dinosaur; not forgetting
their teeth, for ripping flesh. Your son relates to ancient knowledge, and
ancient times. Perhaps myths would - or do - speak to him more directly than
they do to others or to his peers.
You are a dog, but you think other people think you are a lion. You think that
other people see pride or arrogance, and danger in you. They think you are wild;
at home in the bush; untameable.
Whereas you think you are domesticated, your son doesn't think he is.
You both think other people see a wildness or an untamed side to you.
You wife thinks she is a dog, but thinks other people think she is a wolf. The
same family, but there is an independence in the wolf; it needs space and
openness; it has a bad reputation, but it attacks only to defend its own.
The lion and the wolf are both wild animals, but you think others think you need
space to roam and time to relax, while your wife doesn't need open spaces, but
appears to need to live her own chosen life.
Compare the first two animals to see what you see. You may think you are a polar
bear, but think that other people think you are a mouse - this happened once in
a class. That tells you a lot about the person's self image, and so on.
The third animal is what you are really like. I don't know if komodo dragons are
sociable or solitary or whatever, but they are old creatures, so we see a
consistency in your son's choice of animals. Komodos have a limited habitat - so
your son needs the right conditions if he is to not just survive, but to
flourish. They live in a warm climate - does your son feel more comfortable in
lands on the Mediterranean? Wikipedia tells me they are most active during the
day - so schedule your son's important activities for daylight hours; but let
him hang around at night. Komodos are also largely solitary - so he needs to be
left alone, except for meal times, and when breeding, but we won't get into
You are really a blue tit - chirping and busy, darting around all over the place
(as proved by the contents of your website). You are small and colourful. When
you know the characteristics of this bird, you know yourself.
Compare the dog and the bird. You think you are domesticated, but you need
freedom to roam and explore within your own area; and cannot be caged.
Your wife is really a horse. Domesticated; a pack animal; hard working or
obedient to man's demands. Is she a Clydesdale or a thoroughbred? She thinks
she's a dog, but she's really a horse. There is a similarity somehow with these
two animals - both are useful to man for both companionship and work.
Your wife is consistent in this way, as is your son. However, you are a dog and
a bird - so there is more of a gap with you.
This is a bit on one's favourite animals. It may happen that the initial
reaction is one of disbelief or suspension of belief, but then a few days later,
the significance hits you and you think: Oh, yeah. Right.
-- John Williamson
Thanks, John. This is really interesting and I very much appreciate your
considerate thoughts. The interpretation is quite accurate. Dog-wise, we are on
our fourth Golden Retriever -- affectionate, gentle and intelligent.