What exactly is the idealised self?

The tendency for daydreamers to become an idealised version of themselves in their daydreams was recognised in Professor Eli Somer’s original description of maladaptive daydreaming in 2002: “…respondents described the pleasure they take in picturing themselves as the persons they would have liked to be“. But what does that really mean? For many of us, our daydream self is “better” than our real-world self – more confident, more successful, more popular. So it’s easy to think that our daydream self is our “idealised self”. But is it? And what exactly is the idealised self anyway?

According to psychologists, your real self is who you actually are, while your ideal self is the person you want to be. But although my daydream self is better than me in many ways, and I’d certainly like to be more like her, would I actually want to be her? Honestly, no. She has a lot of traits I admire, and I’d like to embody some of those traits more fully in the real world. And I’ve made real and lasting progress in overcoming many of my mental health issues by becoming more like my daydream self.

But my daydream self also has many traits I don’t like. She’s judgemental. She doesn’t forgive easily. And she doesn’t tolerate those who are less capable than she is. And to a certain extent, that’s the way she has to be to survive in the environment I’ve created for her. She doesn’t have an easy life. But equally, I didn’t consciously choose to make her the way she is. I never thought, “Oh, she’s got to deal with all this drama, so she can’t really afford to be soft and fluffy and overly emotional”. I built the plot and she adapted to it.

So, if I didn’t choose her negative traits, where did they come from? Are they there because she’s me and on some level that’s who I am? Are her negative traits things that are naturally part of me, that I’ve repressed because I’m not particularly proud of them? It’s not comfortable to admit, but I think there’s a lot of truth in that.

My daydream self is my authentic self. She’s the person I came into this world as. She’s the person I would have been if real life hadn’t got in the way. But that doesn’t mean she’s perfect. She has her strengths and weaknesses, her positive traits and her negative traits. I should have started out as that person. And my challenges and learning throughout my life should have involved understanding and learning to manage those less-then-desirable traits, so that the positive aspects of my authentic self could really shine through.

But in my case, I layered a lot of inauthenticity on top of that. I believed that in order to be accepted in the real world, I had to be a certain way. And so I adopted traits and characteristics that weren’t mine. And my real-world self diverged from my daydream self.

I think that probably happens to a lot of daydreamers. We know we’re different. We know we don’t see the world in the same way other people do. And we have this drive, this urge, to fit in. So we try to be “normal”. We try to be what we think other people want us to be. And we lose contact with our authentic self in the process.

At least in my case, my daydream self isn’t my idealised self at all. She’s not the person I aspire to be, she’s the person I really am. Recognising that my daydream self is my authentic self has helped me to shed much of the inauthenticity I built up over a lifetime of trying to fit in. And that process has been a huge part of building a happy and fulfilling real life. By becoming closer to my daydream self, I’ve been able to live more in accordance with my values and I’ve been able to prioritise the things that are most important to me.

But where does that leave the idealised self that so many psychology articles talk about? I think it’s a bit of a vague concept. And it’s probably unattainable. Becoming your idealised self would mean overcoming all your flaws, becoming perfect. And I don’t think any of us ever do that. Having a concept of your idealised self as something to aim at can motivate you to become the best person you can be. But only if you accept you’ll never actually get there.

And I don’t think being your idealised self in your daydreams would be much fun either. Because if you were perfect, and you were living your perfect life, your daydream would very quickly become boring. You wouldn’t have a plot. It’s when characters make mistakes, and learn from them, and become better versions of themselves as a result, that you have an exciting story.

If we get discouraged by the gap between our real-world self and our idealised self, we think we’ll never be “good enough”, and life very quickly becomes depressing and unfulfilling. It’s like when you stop making any effort to improve your real life because you’ve convinced yourself that the only way you could be happy is if your daydream world magically became real. However, when you accept that your idealised self is an unattainable goal that you can, nevertheless, find great meaning and fulfilment in working towards, you can start to find sustainable joy in the progress you’re making every single day.

It’s completely realistic and achievable to become more like your daydream self. If you can express certain qualities in your daydreams, then they’re in you somewhere and you can learn to express them in real life too. But don’t worry if your daydream self isn’t perfect, or if there are aspects of them that you don’t like. Because your daydream self isn’t your idealised self. They’re a work-in-progress, just like you are.

[Photo by Pixabay]