As originally posted on Examiner.com
Have you ever imagined hurting someone when you were really angry at them, or had a sexual fantasy that you were pretty sure your significant other wouldn’t be happy about? When we experience feelings or fantasies that make us uncomfortable, it’s important to remember that they are not the same as actions. In fact, the ability to play out a scenario in fantasy can be a sign of healthy psychological adjustment.
The ability to fantasize is a remarkable evolutionary adaptation. It allows us to create elaborate mental models of reality and play out our feelings and desires within them. Through fantasy, our brains have provided us with a consequence-free space to gratify our desires, give our feelings expression, and to create and test alternate perspectives.
Despite these benefits, many people experience shame and guilt for having feelings and desires that they imagine are forbidden. When people are in conflict about the thoughts, feelings, and desires that arise in their minds, they will typically use one or more defenses to protect themselves. These defenses can include denial, repression, projection, intellectualization, and others. When we do not allow ourselves to express thoughts, feelings, and desires through fantasy, they get “acted out” in the form of potentially destructive behaviors. According to some theories, compulsions, obsessions, unconscious hostility, careless sexual behavior, and self-sabotaging behaviors can all be traced back to feelings and desires that have not been allowed expression. If we don’t give our minds the space they need to model these experiences in non-destructive ways, then they end up finding expression in our actions.
It is important to remember that fantasies are only that: fantasies. They are not the same as actions. When we prevent ourselves from utilizing the remarkable resource of fantasy, we virtually ensure that whatever feelings or desires the fantasy is attempting to express will instead get acted out. If you are in conflict about your thoughts, feelings, or desires, talking to a therapist can help.
Please note: If you are experiencing thoughts or fantasies that intrude in your mind repeatedly, it could be a symptom of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, a treatable condition. You should speak with a qualified clinician. If you feel that your thoughts or fantasies may cause you to harm yourself or someone else, please talk to a qualified clinician or contact emergency services.
I absolutely adore working in the realms of fantasy.”
– Richard O’Brien