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Santa Clause Complex

Many of you, depending on which country you live in, “know” that Santa Clause lives in the North Pole. He is white bearded, dresses in a white fur cuffed red suit, he is chubby, jolly, friendly, gift oriented, energetic, benevolent, gentle, he does not discriminate on the basis of economic status, loves children and can’t get enough cookies. But how do you know that this is how Santa Clause is? Have you ever met him personally? Who have you adopted your idea of who he is (and thus what to expect) from? Imagine that you met him for real and he was not like this at all?

Imagine that Santa’s ability to deliver all of those presents to the children around the globe meant that he had what some people would call a type A personality. Imagine that when you met him, you realized that he was a workaholic perfectionist who rarely ever sat still because of his sense of urgency. Imagine that you discovered he was driven by achievement, impatient, reveled in competition, had a dominating attitude, demanded high quality results from his elves and lost his temper when they didn’t deliver. How would it change the way you thought and even more importantly, the way you felt about Santa? Most people would experience disillusionment.  There would be a sense of let down or disappointment. Maybe you would think the real Santa is not how Santa should be. The real Santa would fall short of positive expectation because you would have discovered that he is not as good as you had imagined him to be.

What happened in this example, is the dismantling of a positive overlay. An overlay being a fantasy that we are convinced is real, but that in fact, we are projecting over the reality of someone or something else. If you want to learn more about this, watch my video titled: Overlay, What Prevents You from Having a Real Relationship.

Many years ago, I coined a phrase: Santa Clause Complex, to describe the dynamic where a person has created a positive overlay of what someone is like and what they should be like, one that they project onto and over top of what that person is really like. 

 When we have created and projected an idea of what someone is like, or what someone should be like, finding out the reality of what they are actually like can be a painful process of disillusionment. Similar to the experience that most of us went through when we discovered that Santa Clause did not exist, at least not in the way that we originally thought he did. That pain can also cause us to turn against the person or thing that we created an overlay about. Rather than see that it was you, yourself that created the overlay, you will have a tendency to blame the person or thing for the discrepancy between your own overlay and the reality. You will feel deceived by them. You may accuse them of being fake or a fraud. People are especially prone to doing this with people that they idolize or admire, but do not personally know. 

Perhaps you have heard the phrase “the higher the pedestal, the further the fall?” This phrase is actually about this very dynamic. People who put someone high up on a pedestal, are often in a relationship with their own overlay of that person. And when the person that they have put on that pedestal doesn’t conform in some way to the overlay, disillusionment occurs. Suddenly, the person that they put on a pedestal experiences a fall from grace. They are devalued, depreciated and even turned against. In fact, haters often come about as a result of this dynamic.

I’ll give you an example, Adalee had been completely taken with a pop star since hearing one of his songs on a playlist years ago. She could tell from his lyrics and interviews and the way he moved on stage and the way she saw him interact with his fans at concerts, that he was a wonderful man. He was exactly the kind of man she wanted to marry. In fact, she knew from the minute she saw him the first time that she was meant to be his wife. She knew that if she could only get into the room with him face to face, he would feel it too. She played out elaborate fantasies in her head about the romantic interludes that would absolutely ensue when that time came. When she listened to the lyrics of one of his love songs, she knew that one day he would tell her that he wrote those words for her, he just didn’t know it at the time. Adalee would confidently tell anyone that he was super conscious and conscientious, moral, full of honor, all heart, kind and generous, super spiritual, devoted and loving in relationships and everything a real man ought to be. The reality is that Adalee did not know this pop star personally. She had never met him or spent any time around him. So, she was in fact in a relationship with her own overlay about him.

One day, after many years, Adalee actually did manage to get invited backstage. This pop star was friendly, but totally out of alignment with her overlay. He did not act like she was anything special to him. Definitely not like he recognized her as his future wife. He had a lot of pretty girls backstage with him and seemed to revel in the attention he got from all of them. And on the table, she saw a syringe. She realized that they had all been doing drugs backstage. That night, Adalee’s overlay came crashing down. The lyrics in his songs were nothing like what she had experienced backstage. The interaction definitely didn’t fit in with her idea of what a good man should be like. And her dream of them together was in ruins. She slipped into an anxious depression. She decided that he was a fraud. She had dedicated years to the thought of him and their life together in the future. Because of this, she felt taken advantage of by him and misled even though they had never met. But keep in mind that Adalee still did not really know him.  Instead, she simply slipped into a new overlay about him, this time, a negative one.

As a leader in the spiritual field, I experience this all the time. People have a very strict idea of what a spiritual figure should and shouldn’t be like. And people create elaborate overlays about what I am like from the hours that they watch me doing only one thing… teaching.

But you don’t have to be famous for people to build an overlay about you and fall into Santa Clause Complex when it comes to you. Santa Clause Complex doesn’t have to be about someone famous. We run the risk of falling into Santa Clause Complex whenever we create a positive overlay about anyone. The disappointment we feel when we meet someone in person vs. what we saw on their dating profile online is an example of this. Actually, the beginning of a relationship itself can be like this. We may spend weeks with someone and feel like we have found “the one” because so far, they have perfectly matched our overlay. But then, one day, the way they act does not match our overlay and we feel disillusioned and feel as if they are no longer “the one”.

We can experience this disillusionment with more than just people. We can fall into it when we create a positive overlay about anything. Any of you who have gotten really excited about a trip, only to find that the experience of it is worse than the idea of it, know what it is like for the reality of something to not live up to your own overlay.

Santa Clause Complex, really any positive overlay, is a set up for the person or thing that is the object of our positive overlay. It is an unfair set up whereby they, or it, will disappoint us, lose our favor, experience a fall from grace, be devalued and be seen as less by us. It is a set up for them to experience pain because of us.  

People are prone to overlays because they are creators. They dream up what they want and then seek to bring about what they desire so that it becomes manifested. You will come to see that the contents of someone’s overlay always reflect what that person is deeply wanting.

People are also prone to overlays because we tend to form very rigid ideas of how things should be. The contents of someone’s overlay also tend to reflect that person’s idea of how something should be. 

If you have a positive expectation of someone or something, chances are, you have built an overlay. The contents of this overlay represent what you want and how you think they or it should be. This means you are projecting rather than perceiving reality. Wipe the mental slate clean of expectations and intend to be open and curious instead. Question your ‘shoulds’. And remember, you can never compete with the idea that someone has about you in their own head, be it good or bad.


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