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ChangingMinds Blog! > Blog Archive > 05-Mar-07


Monday 05-March-07

Reality blindness

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 Lacan's 'imaginary' phase, never transitioning through the Oedipal stage to the outer 'symbolic' world.

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 Recluse.

Your comments

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 things.

Cheers :)

-- Stark1974

Dave replies:
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.

Dave replies:
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 have achieved?

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 your son.

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.


John Williamson

Dave replies:
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).

Dear Dave:
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 that.

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

Dave replies:
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.

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