Living in My Imagination: How Trauma Fosters an Unquenchable Desire for Idealized Love

Throughout our quests for the perfect mate, we frequently find ourselves fantasizing about what that mate would be like: we envision an attractive, intelligent, deeply compassionate, ambitious, and empathic individual entering our lives to save us from the mundane and the awful. We create internal stories of us meeting, falling in love, introducing each another to our parents, and having children, in essence, living happily ever-after. These stories become our blueprints, guiding us on our dates as we use them to vet our prospective mates, weeding out the ones who are unacceptable. While our lives progress and our timelines fade, we may begin to accept the fruitlessness of our quest, acknowledging the discrepancy between the people we meet and date and our romanticized images of love. Sometimes, we choose to disavow our prior expectations, with the belief that reality can’t correlate with fantasy; but at others, this recognition engenders a deeper dive into an intoxicating world of dreams.

Dr. Perry, an author on WordPress whose work I highly recommend, recently wrote an article detailing the symptoms of maladaptive daydreaming, the experience of being dysfunctionally stuck in one’s imagination. I believe that this concept is highly applicable to our present, collective state of romantic dysphoria. Recently, I wrote an article detailing the myth of the self-assured man and how some women continue to yearn for a Prince Charming to sweep them off of their feet, a cycle of expectation and disappointment that becomes ingrained, and thus difficult to break. In this article, I want to journey a bit deeper and outline the why of such beliefs, elucidating the causes of being stuck in an ideal form of romance, while pushing away each person who fails to meet our stringent requirements.

The famed psychoanalyst, Jacques Lacan, once noted that most individuals preferred fantasy to reality, especially as it related to the acquisition of some desired object. For Lacan, fantasy was, in itself, the ultimate prize; it was the de facto object of affection. In fantasy, Lacan posited, we live in a world of the beautiful, the majestic, and the ideal, a place with no harm or sorrow, and with no one to reject us: there, only our images exist, presenting themselves in the ways in which we want them to. In light of those facts, according to Lacan, we prefer to keep striving, because then we persist in allowing ourselves to keep wanting, and thus continue imagining. Life becomes secondary to imagination; we enter, and take refuge in, a matrix of our own making.

After some time, some people change their attitudes, as their desire for intimacy outweighs their desire for ideal love; but, others continue to hold on, even giving up dating altogether. So, what is it which fuels one course over the other? What causes one person to adapt and the other to avoid? One’s self-perception. Those who’ve struggled with trauma, and subsequent self-abasement, possess a deep-seated belief of their own inferiority, convinced of their inherent unlovability. Therefore, they self-sabotage, choosing fantasy over reality, a world peopled with individuals who can never, and will never, hurt them.

Whether we’re seeking the self-assured man or the beautiful, and exceptionally kind, woman, we’ve deluded ourselves into a world of safety, and a life that’s only partially lived. The disappointment of another is preferred to the disappointment from another, so life devolves into an endless chase of perfection, an ideal love which exists only in the mind’s eye. Underlying one’s struggle with intimacy are fears of failure, rejection, and abandonment, likely stemming from past trauma, especially the distress associated with parental abuse, neglect, and/or desertion.

Although we feel secure in our imaginations, we can never be safe from life itself. Someday, I will die, and, someday, so will you. The avoidance, and the bubbles, which we create are mere illusions, faux replicas of the lives we could live if we sought help for our severe insecurities. All of us deserve to be loved, and each one of us deserves to fully live. For those of you who believe that you’ll never find the right guy or girl, accepting that you’re your own barrier will be the hardest part, but it will also be the most liberating. If the goal of life is to live it, the goal of love is to share it.


  1. Yeah, I definitely get what you’re saying. But I have to admit, even when I fantasized about “prince charming,” they weren’t the typical “nothing will ever go wrong” fantasies. Obviously, they were far cuter than I was used to seeing, but more than that, we’d argue and disagree, but find a way to come together and make it work out for the best. Even as a kid, I couldn’t daydream about a relationship without conflict. So perhaps my daydreams were slightly more realistic, but still very much daydreams.

    And though I don’t want the nameless, wooden Prince Charming young girls were used to seeing, I still find myself wanting that happily every after that the bastards at Disney promised us. Ugh.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Well written and thoughtfuly constructed. The tight rope walk working with trauma patients is in the importance of having hopes dreams and ideals while building better lives. Learning to tolerate, be open and to trust is essential to grow love and grow out of trauma.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Reblogged this on penwithlit and commented:
    Interesting and it makes me think also about the political sphere where maybe collective/collaborative action may help bring change. Praxis is the transformation of subjectivity through the process of human action and may involve loss of some personal illusions.

    Liked by 1 person

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