What happens when you choose an identity for yourself that already exists in the world? When you admire someone so much you try to become them and fail? To paraphrase the famous quote attributed (wrongly) to Oscar Wilde: you’re disappointed to realize you must be yourself because everyone else is already taken.
I was particularly interested to read about a case reported in Improbable Research today. First of all, it taught me the term “imago” meaning “an unconscious, idealized mental image of someone, especially a parent, that influences a person’s behavior.”
W.H.J. Martens, in The American Journal of Psychotherapy wrote:
A case report is presented and analyzed of a patient who was a double for and imitator of the late Freddy Mercury, lead singer for the rock group Queen. The patient was socially excluded, rejected by his peers, and neglected by his parents. As a consequence he experienced self-hate, shame, low self-esteem, and serious identity problems. Although impressive Freddy Mercury imago appeared to benefit the patient, mainly though social acceptance and enhanced opportunities for relationships, in the long term it could not cover up his deep-rooted and repressed identity problems.
The patient “had become increasingly aware that he would never be Freddy Mercury, but also he had difficulties in accepting and showing his real self.”
That is one of the main themes of my novel Identity Theft, in which a young man takes on the persona of his rock star boss online. There are actually two characters in the novel who take on identities that already exist in the world. Even the rock star character, whose identity was stolen, laments that there is probably no point in writing songs as The Beatles already existed and he will never be John Lennon.
It seems to me that most of us have “impressive imago” of one kind or another. There are people who loom large in our imaginations, whose accomplishments serve as bench marks against which we measure our own lives and often find ourselves lacking.