Melissa Daum addresses an extremely relevant topic — considering the pressure to curate one’s life for the sake of Instagram.
NY-based “therapist for creatives” Melissa Daum, LMFT, draws from ancient symbols, Greek mythology, fairy tales, and alchemy to shed light on modern-day conundrums. This realm of feminine magic and symbolism is easily overlooked, on a cultural level and in turn, within ourselves. In an effort to better identify and explain some of this magic, Melissa wants to field questions from YOU! Feel free to share with her your deepest secrets, strangest dreams, most absurd single behavior.
SEND YOUR QUESTIONS/DREAMS/SECRETS to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Dear Wondrous Advice readers,
I hope you’re enjoying the long weekend and the kickoff of summer! You wouldn’t know it here in NYC where it’s been rainy and cool. For this week’s post, a brave friend of mine (we’ll call her F for friend) submitted a dream of her own! So we have a unique opportunity to hear verbatim how I might work with someone on his/her dream. I think readers will find this one particularly relevant as it has to do with the pressure to curate one’s life to be Instagrammable.
I walked into the classroom and there was a big envelope waiting for me on my desk- it had strangely curly formal handwriting and was addressed to me from a man’s name that I can’t remember. Inside the envelope was a long handwritten letter about how this man knew everything I’d been doing recently- he recounted all the places I’d been in the last few weeks, and there were photos of me that he’d taken during moments I thought I was alone. In short- I had a stalker and he was making himself known! I was overcome with fear and suddenly super self conscious because I knew he was watching. I was afraid to tell the teacher because I thought he’d think I was bragging that someone was obsessed with me. I went about my daily life in the dream but was extremely anxious and self conscious, knowing he was somewhere nearby. Eventually I realized he was watching me in the classroom through the security camera- which meant that he was inside the school and may even be someone I knew. I changed desks to sit behind a girl with a big afro so he couldn’t watch me through the camera.
Melissa: What themes most stand out to you in this dream?
Friend: So, this dream was really distinct because I woke up with that feeling of total fear… it was very nightmarish in feeling. But, in retrospect, the actual things happenin seem ridiculous. I didn’t know how they were watching me or where they were coming from, but they were totally obsessed with watching my every move, so I was super self-conscious and scared because I had no privacy.
F: And there was nobody to help me with this situation, because if I told someone I had a stalker, they’d think I was being vain (laughs), even though I was threatened. I knew authority figures would laugh at me, they’d say “you’re really just obsessed with yourself which is why you think someone’s obsessed with you.” It was definitely a man.
M: What are some of your initial associations to these images?
F: Well, the whole “he’s in the building thing,” I think, is because I was reading a lot about school shootings. How “it’s someone you know” but you never noticed them before.
Honestly though, if I were in therapy, I think this is really coming from a place of being anxious about my Instagram (laughs).
M: Uh huh.
F: Recently I’ve been taking Instagram more seriously and getting more followers, and I feel this pressure to broadcast every little thing. Like I have to curate private moments to be publicly packageable.
M:What’s that like, having to curate private moments?
F: Well it frames everything you do; instead of being in the moment, you’re constantly thinking about how you can transform something into an Instagrammable thing. Everything you strive to do, wear, be around, is so you can package that for the public.
M: (While I realize there are already many important issues raised around being seen and creating a false self, because she’s my friend and we only have one relatively quick conversation, I don’t go any deeper with her on these issues. If we were in therapy, I would hold these themes in my mind for a longer term exploration).
So in the dream, the voyeur is male.
F: Yeah, he’s like a representation of how I feel exposed.
M: What feels important about the eye being male?
F: I think that’s what makes him a creepy, unknown threat.
M: Sexual in some way?
F: No it actually wasn’t. He seemed more like a school shooter, a disturbed guy who’s capable of violence.
M: Yes, he was violating your space.
F: Hmmm, oh you know what, about it being sexual…I was afraid to tell the authorities that I had a male stalker because they’d assume I was flattering myself, thinking this guy was so into me, but it actually wasn’t like that.
M: There’s a strong gendered, male/female structure to this dream. I’m thinking also of the big envelope with the curly handwriting, addressed to you from a man’s name you couldn’t remember.
F: Oh yeah!
M: (Again, I move on quickly from this theme as it can get very personal very fast).
I’m thinking about the archetypal eye, maybe a god’s eye, this inescapable eye. Like it has to do with being seen, but the dark side of being seen.
F: Yeah, I’ve always struggled with constantly wanting to be seen and wanting attention, but then also really NOT wanting it. so it’s this battle of trying to be seen, but as soon as I’m seen I just want to hide and I hate it.
M: So in that way, Instagram is a high-anxiety platform, where you get what you want but get what you’re afraid of.
F: Yeah, you’re getting attention based on an identity you curated, so it feels almost dangerous, not a secure kind of attention. You’re curating yourself on shaky ground on Instagram.
M: So there’s no way to feel deeply gratified through that kind of witnessing — there’s something always artificial and constructed.
F: Yeah, yet I still feel jealous of people who are really good with Instagram and have like, thousands of followers. There are people in my peer group, doing the same things I’m doing, but seem so much better at it than me.
M: So I have an odd question. If this were a movie with subtitles, what would being “good at Instagram” translate to?
F: That someone effortlessly lives the lifestyle of the cool girl.
M: Ah, so there’s less difference between the image and the real.
F: Yes, they embody it.
M: And what do you embody?
F: The outsider, who’s less wealthy. I learned how to be cool later in life — I wasn’t born into it
M: And that’s what you don’t want anyone to see. And the stalker is onto you?
F: Yeah, that I’m kind of a poser.
M: Can we try something else playful. Let’s talk with the voyeur, find out what he wants?
F: Oooooooooh ok.
M: So if you ask him, “What do you want from me?” What does he say?
F: He says he wants her to never be comfortable, he wants her to know she’s always being watched.
M: What doesn’t he want her to feel comfortable?
F: He wants to remind her she put herself in this position.
M: Ah, so in a way is he trying to be helpful?
F: No, not helpful — he wants to teach her a lesson that she made this happen, but he’s sinister and creepy.
M: Does she want to shirk the responsibility of being the one who got herself into this?
F: Yeah, she doesn’t want to think about any of the bad effects.
M: So in a way he’s personifying what she doesn’t want to take responsibility for?
F: Oooooh, interesting.
M: So in the dream you found a way to hide behind this other woman’s hair. Are there other ways you could imagine “hiding behind someone” as a potential solution? Maybe a way to renegotiate your relationship to Instagram where you’re more protected from feeling so exposed, reclaiming some of that responsibility so he doesn’t have to hold it?
F: Oooh that’s a good question! Yeah I mean, I could make Instagram posts that are more about featuring people I respect.
M: That’s such a good idea!
While I’m not F’s therapist, you can see how quickly we get to hearing how internal conflicts are symbolized in the dream. We have a direct line into conflicts around boundaries, being seen, identity, self esteem, and the male gaze. Dreams have a way of communicating a lot of information about a person but in such a knotted up way. Through the “talking cure,” the internal conflicts can be aired out a bit, and held safely between the dream-working pair.