Academic journal article International Journal of Psychoanalysis

The Dual Aspect of Fantasy: Flight from Reality or Imaginative Realm? Considerations and Hypotheses from Clinical Psychoanalysis1

Academic journal article International Journal of Psychoanalysis

The Dual Aspect of Fantasy: Flight from Reality or Imaginative Realm? Considerations and Hypotheses from Clinical Psychoanalysis1

Article excerpt

This paper discusses the view that fantasizing, understood as a flight into fantasy, belongs to a type of mental functioning distinct from imaginative fantasy. From this the idea emerges, proposed by Winnicott, that withdrawal into fantasy assumes a dissociative quality, which is formed early on as a defensive solution following the loss of hope in object relations. Such a defence becomes the foundation for a dangerous enclave in which the individual ends up enclosing himself, experiencing an illusory self-sufficiency. In this perspective, the author maintains that the flight into fantasy must be understood as a risk factor for the draining of the self or for a crystallization into psychopathological structures, becoming an automatic activity of 'non-thought' that substitutes for the working-through processes necessary for the development of the mind. The paper investigates this psychopathological dynamic, which was already present in Breuer and Freud's writings, examining subsequent contributions of various authors. Clinical material (of both children and adults) illustrates how the flight into fantasy may take the form of an anti-relational realm of the mind, compromising the operations necessary to the integration of psychic life. There is also a discussion of which therapeutic tools may help the patient to gradually abandon the withdrawal in favour of an authentically nourishing relational nature.

Keywords: withdrawal in fantasy, imaginative fantasy, earliest defences, relationship with reality, omnipotence-pleasure, emotional awareness

The neuroses of childhood have taught us that a number of things can easily be seen in them with the naked eye which at a later age are only to be discovered after a thorough investigation.

(Freud, 1923, p. 72)

Childhood can offer a privileged observation point on psychopathological processes as they are developing - processes that, if not identified and transformed early on, become rooted in a structural and definitive way, limiting and distorting the mental function of the child who is destined to become an adult. I have in mind specifically a distorted use of fantasy and imagination that can lead to the formation of draining and pathogenic enclaves: early defensive structures formed in relation to experiences of failed dependency, which can become blocks to the development of the mind's functions necessary for the integration of psychic life. I consider the flight into fantasy an activity that is distinct and antithetical to imaginative fantasy.

My clinical experience with children has led me to pay particular attention to this factor, helping me to grasp reconstructively its pathogenetic relevance to the analysis of some adult patients.

The resort to fantasy creation as a withdrawal into the fantasizing imagination, as a way of mental functioning of a dissociative nature, parallel to a functioning that is more capable of maintaining contact with psychic reality, can appear in more or less conspicuous forms. I must emphasize its pathogenic character, however, and therefore the importance of its careful and early identification.

In the face of frustration derived from an intolerable disappointment, of the trauma dealt to the child's physiological and emotional competence, fantasizing can take the form of a mode of anti-relational mental functioning, having the illusion of self-sufficiency. The fascination assumed by the construction of a parallel world can furthermore be extremely seductive for the pseudo-pacifying and/or exciting components with which it is imbued. These components, steeped in the magical, omnipotent qualities of pleasure, further contribute to impeding - in a devious, silent way - the construction of authentic tools for the comprehension of psychic reality and its representability, a condition necessary to the true achievement of pleasure at being in the world. The almost dissociated character of the flight into fantasy becomes in this way a sort of automatic mental activity that, as a substitute for the working-through processes necessary for development, deprives the individual of the internal tools for coping with life. …

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