By Anat Dubin, LCSW-C
Can we be both dreamers and realists? Can we hold, even accept and embrace, these two contradicting truths at the same time?
I found this thought/question to have predominated much of my past year. The COVID pandemic goes on, its uncertainty and its impact on our futures is profound. How can I struggle and experience loss, fear, and hopelessness, while at the same time have very real dreams of seeing my parents, going on vacation with my family, or even hugging all my friends that I’ve missed so much? When the whole world is shouting no, how am I able to say yes??
I had often considered myself a dreamer, yet I find my day-to-day thinking to be diametrically opposed. I am a realist, in the here and now and in the thick of it as they say, very much ankle deep and locked into everything in front of and around me. It can be heavy, burdensome, and overwhelming. Yet the dream remains … how?
Is being both a realist and a dreamer possible just by proactively choosing to use the word “AND?” Is the key simply allowing both truths to exist and refusing to choose just one?
The genesis of our perspectives, the points of view and meanings we attach to things, tend to come from a place of protection first. The problem, however, is that the instinct to protect ourselves assumes we are unsafe, in harm’s way, in unfamiliar territory. It’s typically not the opportunity that we fear, it’s old and familiar pain we fear most. Leading from that place immediately closes us in by negatively influencing how we experience our “reality.” We become fixed in protection – the layers and layers of “stuff” we hide behind like perfectionism, avoidance, defensiveness, withdrawal, needing to please. Any one of those “protections” can disconnect us from our authentic self, our place of integrity and passion, the place where our dreams live. Not to mention that behind all those layers of protection we are hidden from being present, in the moment, in the here and now.
So, do we need to redefine what being a realist means before we can even introduce the dream?
Perhaps being a realist is creating healthy grounding and stability through boundaries, coping, and communication, to name a few, which would allow us to have many perspectives, of which one (or even multiple!) may be dreams.
If so, and here’s the realist talking … how do we do that?!
- Pay attention to our perspectives! Check in with them first. Are we protecting, scared, unfamiliar, stuck … or are we resourced, safe, authentic, confident?
- If we are protecting, we must simply acknowledge that’s where we are. It’s ok, we are smart to protect ourselves. We aren’t as smart when we limit ourselves. Name it, understand that’s what’s happening without judgement.
- Create healthy safety. Do we have coping skills? Can we become acquainted with stress so we know what it is and how to tolerate it when it happens? Do we have enough information to reduce assumptions? If not, we must ask questions! Do we have the words and communication skills to advocate our boundaries? Do we know what our boundaries are? If we’re not sure, we should start with core values (honesty, gratitude, respect, love, kindness) and from there begin to actualize and concretize those values into clear boundaries. Identify practical and simple behaviors that match our beliefs. Draw the lines in the sand: what we will and will not allow in, out, and through those lines.
- When all that is in place, authenticity and strong sense of self is leading and THEN we are present. When we are present, we accept what is rather than what we fear or assume it is/is not (it’s never those things!).
- Begin to introduce perspective about the “now” which are born in safe ground. Be curious! We must challenge ourselves to introduce several perspectives. Why not?! “But” cuts off options, “and” includes them. We are safe, we are resourced, and we are able to hold those perspectives.
- Have we now become realists that accept the now, hold multiple perspectives, ones that maybe include … serendipity? Hopes and dreams?
Whether you want to be or could see yourself as both realist and dreamer is entirely up to you. If you’re curious about finding out, you might want to try these steps as a tool with which you may find your answer. At minimum, I encourage you to stay curious! I believe the reality and dream combined is remembering we are more in control than we often think and feel. Exchange ‘but’ with ‘and’ and you may just change more than you think!
Anat Dubin, LCSW-C is a Clinical Therapist at Jewish Community Services
JCS is a comprehensive human services organization providing a broad range of services that meet the diverse, multi-dimensional needs of individuals and families throughout Central Maryland. To learn more, visit jcsbalt.org or 410-466-9200.