In my therapy work and writings I most often use the word fantasy to describe the patterns and images of the imagination that shape our preferences and inform our motivations, from subtle to strong. A fantasy is, in this way, related to what we might call a “belief,” but while a belief is mental and conceptual, the fantasy lives deeper and more vividly in the psyche.
The popular term “unconscious belief” acknowledges that we are not always entirely aware of the beliefs we act upon, or that act upon us. “Story” too is a word that gets used to flesh out the idea of these beliefs and the fuller inner narratives they spawn. I like to speak in terms of fantasy because it adds more depth to the ideas of belief and story, and fantasy includes the elements of image and imagination. Fantasies seize us through the imagination and so they contain an image (though this image may not be immediately available).
Examining our beliefs or stories is a valuable mental endeavour; examining fantasy through image and imagination brings us further, from intellect into psyche. Like the “unconscious belief” that reveals itself when we are ready (ie – “I don’t deserve love”), the fantasies that run our lives are often hidden or partly hidden even as they exert their force.
And so when I speak of fantasy in session or in my writing I will most often be referring to the root of these hidden beliefs/stories/narratives, and this root lives in images and imagination.
Fantasies, understood in this way, can be both welcome and unwelcome, pleasurable or tortuous. They can be hopes and desires or fears and repulsions. We all are subject to numerous fantasies of the psyche, some explicit and visible, others only hinted at or kept out of view except in dreams, daydreams, or other breakthrough moments.
Our fantasies fill the spectrum of life experience, tending to concentrate around the archetypally significant nodes. We’re subject to sexual fantasies, death fantasies, abandonment fantasies, career fantasies, success fantasies, failure fantasies, rescue fantasies, sadistic fantasies, masochistic fantasies, creative fantasies, destructive fantasies, hero fantasies, victim fantasies and oh so many more!
This description of fantasy is necessary because fantasy today has commonly come to mean merely the opposite of truth, anti-reality. The word has become pejorative, so diminished that its use reflects virtually nothing of its fuller potent meaning.
The word fantasy comes to us from original meanings implying “imagination, appearance, to make visible.” Also, “to show, to bring to light.” Fantasy is imagination, and imagination illuminates.
And so I will often speak of fantasy in a way that is different from how the word is commonly used, in a way that deepens it to the level of psyche, and elevates it to a place of illumination.
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