Keeping Up with the Joneses -or- Emotional Blackmail of Parents

Economic Materialism -or- Relative Social Deprivation

In English speaking North America, we live in a economic materialistic society. The IIDR dream interpretation "The Material Girl" underscores this idea. The cultural idiom "Keeping up with the Joneses" was something I had already heard about when I was growing up. Today many dreams received by the International Institute for Dream Research can be traced to and are a direct result of market effects of such a behavioral economic "consumer" psychology. In the dream below, a mother is pushed to the psychological brink of feelings of loss, hopelessness and despair. The 17 year old daughter evidently is trying to emotionally blackmail her parents by laying a guilt trip on them for something that she wanted versus something that she needed. Feelings of material deprivation are usually relative, unfortunately children need to learn that it's not always about them. The mother correctly has identified her daughter's "egocentric"  perception and has developed a plan to help her see the world differently. "You can't always get what you want."

Here is the Mom's background and the dream:

Beth, 47 American

It isn't odd that I would have some strange dreams at this time.  Well, I think I have bizarre dreams most of the time anyway.  But my 17 year old daughter is currently in the hospital after swallowing a bottle of prescription sleep medication in an attempt to commit suicide because she got depressed one afternoon because we didn't have enough money for her to go do something. We have been having money problems for a long while.  At the same time my sister-in-law with whom I am very close and who is about ten years younger than I, has just gone through an horrific divorce and is dating madly and calls me to tell me every gory detail of every single encounter she has with any man.  Every conversation I have with her she tells me several times about what-ever number of men on any occasion have told her how beautiful she is. She is in love with someone new every week.  If you can't tell I get a little irritated; it just seems a little juvenile for a 37 year old mother of four.  But I know she needs reassurance and I may be a little envious. After all, she's not married and having sex all the time and I'm married and never have sex. Plus, right now, I'm so worried about my daughter and I have two other children at home that I can barely remember what a sex drive feels like. 

So this was my dream just before I awoke this morning.

I was standing in a room in my home with, I think my daughter or a couple of my children. We were casually talking about my seven-year-old's loose teeth. (She recently pulled two of her own teeth out with her fingers and currently has a couple more loose ones) I reached my hand to my own open mouth, grasped one of my lower front incisors and tugged. Not sure why I did this because when the tooth extracted I was shocked and alarmed.  I knew it was all wrong. Then I reached up and felt the tooth next to one that had come out and it too came out, breaking in half first.  I was quickly sinking into a deep depression, I turned over the unbroken tooth, the first one to have come out in order to examine it more closely. When I turned it over I saw the bottom part of the tooth had simply snapped off and was very dark gray. Then I was able to see up into the tooth as it was hollow.  It was very dark gray colored and I realized at that moment that the surface of the tooth had been a facade, that the tooth was dead. It was like a "prop tooth". 

Now I was holding my entire mandible; the actual bone in my hand separate from my body, then it was a scull, I suppose my own. It was all dark, dark gray. And it had holes all in it as if it had deteriorated.  It was a fossil.  My scull was a fossil. My initial reaction was to panic. But it wasn't panic I was feeling anymore.  It was a deep, deep sense of loss and hopelessness. I knew it was too late. Then I awoke. 

I was very gloomy after I awoke but at the very same moment I had what I felt was an epiphany.  I decided that when my daughter comes home from the hospital I will get involved with our local Cancer Society to do volunteer work; perhaps raising research funds.  I will then segue into getting my daughter to help me and arrange for her to do volunteer work with adolescent cancer survivors. It will help her see life from a totally different perspective.  I know it will help her be less egocentric and see people her own age doing what ever they can to live life even if only for a little longer. Not to sweat the small stuff while not taking anything in life for granted.  I think it is very odd that this idea would come to me upon awakening from such a dreadful dream. I wondered what you can tell me about my dream.

Mr Hagen's Reply: Needs and Wants -or- Helping the American Cancer Society

Life can throw a great number of challenges at a person during their life time. One of the hardest is coping with the fear of loss and feelings of hopelessness. Courage to face life's losses, grief, disappointments, disillusionments, alienation and traumas is sometimes not easy. Holding a family together during a time of monetary deprivation and stress is often difficult. The fact is that your daughter attempted to commit suicide because she was deprived of something that she "wanted", however did not "need". This is sad, in the sense that it seems the direct result of "Keeping up with the Joneses". As a child and teenager, my parents took me to Mexico and South America, where I was able to see the poverty and sickness in those countries. It was an eye opener for me growing up with all my basic needs and wants being met. I understood the difference between "want" and "need". According to statistics, 1000's of children died today and every day either because of starvation or poor health care.

Your plan to volunteer and show your child a different social world that involves adolescent American cancer survivors, so she (your daughter) will see the material difference is exactly the prescription that your dream apparently was trying to show you. Some adolescents have great difficulties developing empathy and seeing the world from someone else's perspective other than their own. While your daughter may put up a fight about your plan, it makes lots a sense to me. Learning to help and care for others, is often the way to learn to help and care for oneself. On a final note, dreams often paint the darkest and "gloomy" picture possible of dread and despair, in order for us have an "epiphany" (in your dream) to see the illumination of the light and hope.


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