Love is when you don’t want to sleep, because reality is better than a dream. – Unknown

When we’re younger, we develop a fantastical mindset that we will one day grow up, have a home of our own with a white picket fence, a successful career – usually something in the medical or entertainment fields – a loving partner, and children. These ideals are established at an early age by our caregivers, the environment we grow up in, or, at the very least, the media.

By the time we enter into that idealized stage of our life, however, it often comes with some sobering realities. Even if we’ve taken years of acting classes or graduated with a nursing degree, it’s much more difficult to garner success than we expected. We may have a home, but chances are it does not have that proverbial picket fence of our dreams. Really, how many do, anyway?

We may have experienced a string of failed relationships, been a shoulder for our friends to cry on as they journeyed through theirs and realized that Prince Charmings are harder to find than we anticipated. We may not understand what ‘love’ even means.

There are numerous reasons why we set these expectations for ourselves, only to feel sorely mistaken later in life. Let’s take a look at a few.

Narcissistic Parents. Sometimes the environment in which we were raised was less than ideal. We could have been at the mercy of narcissistic parents, or those who had similar personality disorders. This typically means we were at their constant beck and call. Everything we did was essentially so our caregivers could live vicariously through us. And, despite all of our efforts, we never felt good enough. This is because we were constantly told we weren’t behind closed doors. We were mentally and emotionally abused, probably physically, too. It’s very difficult to break the chains of childhood narcissistic abuse, and often, victims mirror these traits in adulthood, hoping to obtain the perfection they consistently strived for without success.

Escaping a Painful Reality. There are those, too, who experienced other forms of childhood dysfunction. When parents are addicts, abuse survivors who, almost systematically, repeat the cycle, or are battling extreme anxiety or depression, this creates an unstable, feared reality for children. In the aftermath of maturing amid chaos, we may find ourselves equally fearful, anxious, or depressed. Therefore, we attempt to create a fantastical reality in adulthood that’ll help to suppress our memories.

Escaping Social Circumstances. Children who grow up in poverty tend to escape this reality mentally through idealization of what life will be like when they finally ‘get out’. By believing that we will one day break the cycle, and doing everything possible to do so, we are hoping to prove we are more than the hand we’ve been dealt. However, this can come with a dark side, and that is a continued thirst for wealth and upper-class luxuries. Lust and greed can come with some nasty consequences. Remember the saying, ‘Only the greedy get caught’? Sometimes, individuals who get caught up in the ‘money game’ employ some seedy methods to obtain their fame and fortune, such as developing gambling, sex, or substance addictions.

Sibling Rivalry. In some situations, there was a brother or sister who we became determined to ‘beat’ early on and we continue to do so regardless of the stage of life we are in. This could be a self-imposed internal competition or one that is actually verbalized to the target. Regardless, it typically stems from jealousy and insufficient self-esteem. Creating rivalries with anyone else is derived from self-discontentment which need to be addressed. In order to realize true happiness, we must have a healthy level of confidence. Normally, competition of this nature leaves a void and no matter how much we achieve, we can never be satisfied. Consider the principle of self-actualization in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. This is at the top of the pyramid because only when we reach a stage in which we are self-actualized, do we feel complete contentment and we have, theoretically, met our fullest potential. We cannot feel this internal satisfaction by living in constant competition with others.

Fame Fixation. Quite commonly, children become fixated, for a number of different reasons, on the lifestyles depicted in the books they read, or the television shows and movies they watch. The storylines become goals that are sought later in life. What is missing from these earliest influences, however, is any pain or suffering the protagonists endure. Essentially, they are completely dehumanized and we only see the sunny side. This, of course, is purposeful. Children shouldn’t have to worry about the same things as adults. But, we cannot expect to also be dehumanized as we mature and live in a fairytale.

Because children are so impressionable, and the earliest years of our lives are so influential, it can be difficult to break away from the idealistic norms we feel we ‘deserve’. However, we must find peace in the reality that we may not achieve every ideal we believe we will before we’re able to know any better. The truth is, we don’t have to. Life is imperfect, after all, and there is beauty in this imperfection. A constant need for ladder-climbing or desire to outdo others will only leave us feeling unfulfilled. It is true that we must love ourselves before we can love anyone else. Learn to love yourself and everything else will fall into place.