In extreme states of mental illness such as delusions, hallucinations, schizophrenia and psychotic phenomena people are painfully submerged into the fantasy world to break away from the reality.
Every normal and healthy individual takes a break from real world in order to go into the fantasy land and hence enjoy the experience. People often fantasize about intensely pleasurable experiences such as personal achievements and sexual encounters.
What do these fantasies do?
These fantasies enhance mental health and well-being: they spice our lives, rejuvenate our mind and motivate us to realize our desires in the real world. In extreme states of mental illness such as delusions, hallucinations, schizophrenia and psychotic phenomena people are painfully submerged into the fantasy world and break away from the reality.
Healthy fantasy or psychotic fantasy
In the intermediate zone between healthy fantasy and psychotic fantasy there are people who both enjoy and suffer because of their fantasies. Unlike normal and healthy individuals, these people live a large part of their self in the fantasy but unlike psychotic individuals they can very well distinguish between reality and fantasy. The present article focuses on the people in this intermediate zone, those who both love and hate being lost in the fantasyland.
These people cherish their world of fantasies and often slip into it; they find it more exciting than the mundane reality. However, they feel extremely sad and frustrated as sooner or later they have to come back to the reality and function. As a result, these people often complain about emptiness, meaninglessness, lack of time, depression and loneliness. Even when everything is there, they feel a sense of nothingness because they are trapped in fantasies. In their fantasies they live out some aspect of the self which is not permitted in the real world. Alternatively, fantasy helps them cope with pain and disillusionment due to traumatic experiences.
Shivam’s case study
Shivam, a 33-year-old male came for psychotherapy with a complaint that he doesn’t want to live life in the present moment. He was a successful manager in an MNC with a family, big social circle and affluent lifestyle. Yet, often multiple times in the day he slipped into the world of fantasies- he imagined himself to be an actor and saw himself performing different roles, getting awards, attending parties and ceremonies and having a huge fan following. He knew that all this was unreal but he could not stop himself from imagining it. He often wished that if he could escape from the reality permanently and live in his fantasy. The fantasy took a huge time from his daily schedule and when he came back to reality he felt extremely sad and frustrated. He could not enjoy his success and relationships in the real world as they seemed to be pale in comparison to the colourful fantasy world.
Once we started working together we understood that he had been like this since early childhood and this retreat into a fantasy was due to an emotional trauma suffered in early childhood.
His parents wanted him to be a perfect child and often criticized even the smallest of his mistakes. Further, he was discouraged from playing what he wanted but had to follow what his parents wished him to do. Although his parents were doing what they considered was good for him, Shivam felt rejected and confined. He felt that he was a defective child full of shortcomings and he could not do anything that he wanted. To escape from this pain he constructed a world of fantasy which was hidden from his parents. In his fantasyland he felt powerful, admired and free to create whatever he wanted. Once this pain was addressed in the psychological work, Shivam could join the world of reality and fantasy and more toward a more integrated life. He started enjoying what real life was offering to him and did not feel disappointed that he was not an actor.
When the problem has its roots in early childhood
Although there are significant variations in the life history and manifestation of this problem across individuals but it often has a root in early childhood.
- To protect the child from developing this problem it is extremely important that the parents allow the child some free space to create the world he or she wants.
- Children create this world through playing with toys, listening to and reading stories, watching television and sharing their experiences.
- It is also important that the parents become a participant in this world whenever child wants. When a child creates his or her world of fantasy, is able to share it with others especially the parents and gets acknowledgement he or she learns to integrate reality and fantasy and finds enjoyment in what the real life has to offer. Otherwise, the child feels defective and frustrated and often builds a false world of fantasy.
However, if a child has developed this problem then it often continues into adulthood and psychological treatment is required to resolve it.
Author: Pulkit Sharma is Clinical Psychologist at Vidyasagar Institute of Mental Health & Neurosciences (VIMHANS), New Delhi
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