Yehuda Lieberman, LCSW
I am in my 30s, and BH I'm a busy mother. However, I constantly have dreams that I am in high school. The dreams are not at all disturbing, they are just filled with the day-to-day life of a high schooler (tests, lessons, etc.). This is very puzzling to me, as I am double the age I was then, and I'm at a completely different stage of life. Additionally, I always feel that I am "faking it" being an adult, and I feel overwhelmed by doing the simple tasks expected of adults (scheduling appointments, giving my children simple commands, etc.). Shouldn't I be past that? Why do I feel deep inside that I'm still a teenager?
My initial instinctive response to your question was,” Why is this a problem?” Obviously your sense that you are just faking it as an adult makes you uncomfortable. This discomfort bothers you, and likely contributes to the feeling of being overwhelmed by adult tasks. I wonder, however, to what degree you feel overwhelmed simply because you don’t feel like an adult. Do you feel overwhelmed, therefore, because you feel uncomfortable in your role as an adult?
This question relates to preconceived notions, labeling, and role definition. What does it mean to be an adult? Do all adults need to think, feel, and act the same? Can we retain some of the magic, wonder, and abandon of youth while fulfilling our adult responsibilities?
For many of us, our sense of identity is closely tied to our life roles. When I identify as a teenager, I allow myself to be carefree, have fun, and be silly. Once I reach adulthood, I need to be more serious, and can no longer retain those thoughts and feelings. Once I have children, my sense of identity changes yet again. Thus my sense of identity—indeed my sense of self—continues to evolve throughout my life.
I would argue that we need not choose. And we need not be tied to preconceived notions, or to rigid definitions of roles. We are all individuals who should embrace our individuality. Our sense of self should not be based on externalities or our perception of what other expect of us (often our own projection by the way). Rather, sense of self should be based on who we are intrinsically.
What do you mean when you state that you are faking adulthood? Do you mean that you don’t feel like an adult, or that you don’t want the responsibility of being an adult? If you simply don’t feel like an adult, I’ll refer to my initial instinctive response—“Why is this a problem?” Perhaps you feel young at heart, and enjoy the mysticism and exuberance of your adolescent years. If your trouble accepting this as an adult is leading to discomfort and to being overwhelmed, this may be due to an internal identity conflict (“I should be an adult, but feel like a teenager; what’s wrong with me?”). If you can reconcile these two by recognizing (and internalizing) the concept that the two can coexist, this can make you more comfortable in you “dual roles.” I would ask you to imagine a close friend feeling as you do. Would you consider it a problem for them if they were okay with their dual role?
It is possible that your dreams of high school are your unconscious mind’s way of trying to reconcile your internal conflict. If this conflict is reconciled consciously, the dreams would likely decrease. More importantly, these dreams would no longer bother you. As you mentioned, the dreams themselves are not problematic; it is only your feelings about having them that bother you. These troubling thoughts appear to be based in your concern about not being a “real” adult. Once you can feel comfortable with who you are (responsible; young at heart; silly; fun; etc.), you will be more content.
-Yehuda Lieberman, LCSW
psychotherapist in private practice
adjunct professor at Touro College
Graduate School of Social Work
author of Self-Esteem: A Primer
www.ylcsw.com / 516-218-4200
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