The loss of dreams
When life doesn't go as expected
Hello! Happy Sunday. How are you?
I’m sorry I haven’t written the newsletter in such a long time. Why am I like this.
I’ve had a number of conversations recently about what happens when life doesn’t work out as we planned or desired. Milestones can reflect this to us. It is not unusual for a person to start working with a therapist after reaching a significant birthday or special occasion. The event can highlight that their life hasn’t turned out the way they expected it would. At other times there’s a more obvious trigger. For example, the breakdown of relationships, career/financial struggles, health or family difficulties can pull the rug out from under our feet, drastically shifting the position we find ourselves in and our perception of what lies ahead.
There’s a moment from the film the Banshees of Inisherin that’s been doing the rounds online (clip below). In the scene, Dominic builds up the courage to ask Siobhan if she would like to fall in love with him. When she turns down his offer, Dominic responds “well there goes that dream”.
I wondered why people felt so drawn to this scene. I think many (if not all) of us can relate to the feeling of hope for the future being burst. The image we held in the back of our mind of how we thought our life would look like has been ruptured, and we are confronted with a reality that is different to our internal plan.
Ted Bowman is an expert on shattered dreams, specialising in grief and recovery from unexpected life events. I was introduced to Ted through my work at the UK Trauma Council and was inspired by his tools for coping. He suggested that a loss of a dream can be as devastating as other forms of loss. Ted proposes that to move forward, we must be able to grieve the lost expectations of “what could have been”.
So, how do we mourn in order to create new dreams? The first step is to acknowledge and name this loss. As Ted says “if something is unmentionable, it is unmanageable”. In other words, it is harder to make sense of our problems if we aren’t able to communicate them. Once we start to formulate our feelings into words, and have the opportunity to express ourselves to a person who has the emotional capacity to listen without judgement - things may start to shift.
Is there a part of your life that has turned out differently than anticipated?
It is a very individual thing, but I thought it could be helpful if I provided some examples of what this may look like. I asked a few friends to name an internal loss, here are their responses:
“I thought I would be famous by now - as in, recognised as special and exceptional at what I do, and that hasn’t happened yet”
“Having a strained relationship with my Dad is an internal loss of mine. I always imagined it would get easier with age, but it never has and I’m learning to cope with that”
“Being broken up with feels like a shattered dream. I think I’m still mourning the future I’d imagined spending with them. The house, the life, the family.”
What I learnt from Ted’s work is that to be able to find hope after this special type of grief, we must resist the urge to disconnect from ourselves and others. The past year has really shown me that life can come at you fast, and when it does it can be easy to withdraw into unhelpful coping mechanisms and ways of being.
In order to create new dreams, we can lean into the support connections we have. Through speaking to other people, you can quickly learn that the majority of us have had life plans de-railed at some point through various means. On a personal level, there is nothing that helps me more than seeing other people’s ability to be resilient, bounce back and carve out joy in the face of hard times. In this process, we can gain hope from witnessing how others are able to re-author their narratives after setbacks.
In his book on grief, clinical psychologist John Schneider asks the following questions to those who are dealing with loss:
What’s lost? What remains? What’s possible for me?
So, I leave you with those questions. I hope that you are able to see that despite how challenging some things may seem right now, there may be a number of possibilities available to you.
Thanks so much for reading. Have a lovely Sunday.
More from me
I have just finished watching the new season of Couples Therapy on BBC iPlayer. I really loved it and learnt a lot!
The organisation I work for is based in East London and provides affordable therapy. You can find out more about Community Psychotherapy Network, and read my professional bio here: www.communitypsychotherapy.org.uk/about-us
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