The Fantastical Poison

“If you do not express your own original ideas, if you do not listen to your own being, you will have betrayed yourself.” -Rollo May
     Fantasy is thinking about what should be. Creativity is thinking about what could be. Neither is inherently destructive or unhealthy. However, fantasy can become poisonous when it usurps reality.
     Many of my clients require encouragement to implement creativity: to experiences their lives as they could be! Creativity is at the core of the miracle question and can be a very healthy skill to develop. Goal setting in this way often requires solitude and meditation. To imagine our life as it could be, and begin to think about what is required to make real what’s possible, is crucial to healthy growth. Being able to identify concrete benchmarks helps families and individuals plot their growth and internalize success.
     Fantasy, however, can be incredibly destructive. When clients begin to envision what should be, to the exclusion of what is, imagination becomes an escape. Instead of seeking brief respite through solitude, clients become emotionally, mentally, and socially isolated while perseverating on a world which does not exist. Rather than focus on what is possible, fantasy poisons what already exists, and reality becomes an affront to an internalized sense of entitlement.
     This process of fantasy fosters resentment toward resources the client or family already have. When services, providers, family, friends, or therapists seek to support the client poisoned by their fantasy, the client reacts as if their very life is under attack. In truth, this is the experience! The fantasy they have worked so hard to construct is threatened to evaporate the moment they agree with anyone. Even if the fantastic client is presented with their fantasy, it rarely, if ever, aligns with what should have been. In these moments, the client feels a tremendous sense of betrayal and abandonment. Their defense mechanisms kick into high gear, and a new, complex, perfect, fantasy is constructed to protect them from the onslaught of reality.
     The client suffering with fantasy or delusions can be very resistant to treatment. Existentially, treatment will focus on the powerlessness a client feels when faced with reality. The initial steps of therapy require joining with the client and validating their desire to be in control of their world. After all, who does not want to be in control of their life? Therapists must be careful to only validate the sense of frustration rather than the fantasy.
     By identifying the need, rather than the want, treatment encourages a client to use their creative in healthy, positive ways. The Socratic dialogue is particularly beneficial in helping identify the needs a client believes will be met when their fantasy arrives. The miracle question, while beneficial for creative clients, can serve to foster additional avoidance in clients hyperfocused on fantasy and, as such, should be used with caution.
     Once needs are identified, treatment will use dereflection to facilitate identification of meeting needs rather than wants. Once this occurs, it may be useful to address the loss or the fantasy with interventions aimed at mourning. This can help solidify the new direction clients are going in.
     Do not shy away from the fantasy. Clients will cling tenaciously to these ideals if they feel threatened, isolated, or rejected. These fantasies are probably the closest and most loyal companions ever had by your client. Respect the mourning process as new, more healthy options, are gently offered. If the client accepts, they will require a great deal of patience and encouragement as they progress on this new path.
(c) Nathan D. Croy, 2016