At the workshops I do with Faithful and True Ministries (for people struggling with compulsive sexual behavior), we talk a lot about the role of fantasy. We help people “take every thought captive,” not by trying to shut the thought out and make it go away, but by evaluating it, and trying to learn from it. When we look with sober and compassionate eyes at our fantasies, we find that they reveal hidden longings that often have arisen from unmet needs in our past. And when we learn ways to meet our needs in healthy ways, and work through the pain in our past, our fantasies lose much of their power.
This is true both of sexual and non-sexual fantasy. Many people have money fantasies (about winning the lottery, for example). Or sports fantasies. To this day, I find it hard to listen to certian types of music without fantasizing about being the musician on stage, playing the music I am listening to. These fantasies create scenarios where our desires for attention, esteem, security, and/or a host of other needs get met.
In my work as a coach, I also have come to see that fantasies can often be a barrier to healthy action. The more I fantasize about something, the less mental energy (and physical time) I have to devote to actually doing something about it. If I’m fantasizing about money, chances are I’m not doing the things I should be doing for my financial well-being. If I’m fantasizing about playing an instrument onstage, then I’m not working to develop my skills as a musician in real life.
All of this brings me to an extended, yet elegant, quote from Jim McGregor. Here’s what he says about wishing and fantasizing, and its role in recovery:
Wishing that I were someone else – more famous, wealthier, stronger, more beautiful, or more serene – is destructive to my well-being.
By changing my attitude of wishing and fantasizing to that of acceptance and gratitude, I will no longer be devastated by disappointments and losses.
Being famous, wealthy, strong, beautiful or serene is fine but not required for my well-being.
The reality of the present moment is my starting point. I can choose to let go and allow the growth process to begin, or I can continue to fantasize and stay where I am.