Welcome back. So happy to be with you all once again. Back to the Modern Triad Podcast. Yet another beautiful, beautiful day here in London. I have to tell you, we’ve been very fortunate. We started off a bit rough but things have really come through. We’ve had wonderful weather for the past few weeks now. Question for you: am I the only one who has been hitting the gym a bit harder in recent weeks? I think it’s the Olympic effect. I told you last week that I’ve been looking forward to the Olympics all year long. Well, they’ve arrived and I’m sort of trying to do my bit somehow. I think, ‘if I work out too maybe the athletes will do a bit better,’ I’ve convinced myself. I don’t know. There’s probably something wrong with that thinking, but I’m going to run with it a bit longer.
Today on the podcast, we’re going to talk about fantasy. Fantasy is a very important topic. Last week we spent a great deal of time discussing the difference between guilt and shame, and we discovered that shame was the more important of the two. And the importance of shame, of course, stems from the fact that it’s the energy that fuels the cycle of addiction as we outlined in the three free video giveaway on the phocuslife.com website. Well this week we’re going to discuss another prominent feature of problematic and uncontrollable sexual behavior and that is fantasy as I’ve already discussed.
Well, what is fantasy? Personally I think of fantasy as the internal experience of escape imagery and emotion that occurs when a person is triggered into some sort of defensive response. Now again, the three video series, that’s the free giveaway on the website really goes into a fair amount of detail about triggers, what they are and how they fit into one’s addictive cycle. So, register for the videos there to learn more. But let’s say, for example, that you have an argument with your boss and you get home to find that your partner is working late, so unexpectedly you’re all alone. Now, if anger and isolation, the emotions that you probably feel after this argument with your boss, are important emotional triggers for you and you’re in a vulnerable state you might act out sexually with the use of fantasy to deal with these two difficult emotions.
Now, the fantasizing can be an activity unto itself, or it can become coupled with another sexual activity. For example, you might fantasize about sex with someone you walk by on the street and later search for porn that looks like him or her. Another example, you might spend hours on sex worker websites looking for someone that fits a preferred physical profile to hire. So in this case, you know, the actual preferred physical profile would be the fantasy that you have that stays with you and you need to actually go out and find someone to match your fantasy.
Or, as the last example you struggle to resist acting out sexually because journeys to and from work on public transportation are fraught with problems as you encounter attractive people that you think about for the rest of the day. That’s one that’s pretty common that I hear people talk about. It’s difficult to sit in that bus or sit on that subway or underground train and look across when there’s someone attractive there. Your mind takes over. For some people the heart rate increases. Very important. So as you, see fantasizing may arise spontaneously, or it might be in direct response to a trigger.
Now, there are several important things to keep in mind really with respect to fantasizing. The first is that fantasizing can be just as problematic as sexually acting out is, if not more so. Now, the time and detachment from others during periods of heavy fantasizing can have very real consequences for you. For example, your work performance might suffer because you’ve spent so much time thinking about someone that you saw earlier in the day or someone in the office that you’re attracted to. Or, it’s also possible that you might miss commitments to your partners and friends as a result of spending too much time online searching for websites or images that match your fantasy that you’ve been hanging onto all day long.
A second example in terms of important things to keep in mind would be the fact that fantasizing can encompass the objectification of others in a way that is harmful. No sexual interest that you encounter wants to be stared at indefinitely or strangely. I think it’s not hard to imagine how this might cause problems. The result might be that you’re alienated from those you ideally want to attract in the first place. Relationships with those to whom you’re attracted may be more difficult to form since you have a difficult time seeing the real person and relating to him or her instead of sticking with your fantasy of who they are.
Now, fantasy is neither sex nor a relationship is a third point to mention. You shouldn’t confuse a relationship with an online partner or favorite website with a physical relationship with someone you develop an interest in over time. Fantasy is very adept at resisting reality testing and by this I mean the engaging with real people that forces you to reassess your assumptions about to whom or with what you’ve been spending your time. It’s very easy to hide behind false profiles when online, as an example. You may be representing yourself to other people in a way that’s not completely truthful, and guess what? They might be doing exactly the same thing. Whereas, if you were to meet them in person, well, they’d have to square up the description of themselves that they gave you with how they actually look, and of course, you’d have to do the same. You’d talk more about how you spend your time, work interests, people that you know or that you may know in common as another example. All of these things would be tested by the reality of actually spending time with someone physically. When we do this online that testing really doesn’t take place or it takes place on a much lower level.
Now, I prefer to think of fantasy as a dream, only you’re awake. We’ve all experienced dreams although some of us may claim that we never remember them. I feel pretty confidently, I think I can say, that you still have them even if you can’t remember them as a part of your conscious life. That is, our daily life when we’re awake. So, when we’re asleep, our defenses are down so we can think and feel things that our senses of right, wrong and fairness would not allow when we’re conscious. Examples, if we have intense anger with our parents, people that we love, people that are important to us but we may be upset with them for some reason, it may take a dream to allow that to come out and express itself. We may hold lust or love for close friends of ours but for some reason it’s not allowed. Maybe they’re already in a relationship with someone else who’s a friend, or maybe it feels like it’s a risk that’ too great. We love them so much that we can’t say it openly. But in our dreams that love can be a reality, if only in our sleep.
Or, as the final example if we’re heterosexual or straight with feelings for someone that are same sex feelings in terms of attraction, well it may take a dream for those to come out. Or vice versa, if we’re gay or lesbian, feelings for someone of the opposite sex might only be able to surface within a dream. Another thing to keep in mind is that dreams utilize symbols in their expressions so they can’t be taken literally. We all know that feeling where your dream is about one person, but you’re certain that the character in the dream is standing in for someone else. Let’s say that you have this crazy dream about scaling Mount Everest with your primary school teacher, but you know deep down that this really relates to your best friend’s refusal to go on a trip to Hawaii with you. You can’t prove it, but you know it somehow. You know that your teacher represents your best friend.
As a result of all this I want to point out that emotion is more important than logic in dreams. Keys to the meanings of dreams and fantasies, for that matter, can often be found in the feelings attached to the people involved and events that take place. So, in the previous example the love for a shared favorite teacher with your best friend is more important than the teacher’s actual identity. It forms the link that allows you to interpret the dream’s underlying meaning.
Now, fantasies are different however in at least two important ways. The first is that while we’re dreaming our bodies go into a state of paralysis as a safeguard so you don’t actually act out what you’re dreaming. However, when you’re fantasizing you’re already awake so we unfortunately retain the ability to act out our fantasies physically in problematic ways. Fantasy fulfillment isn’t a bad thing, of course, as long as you can control your behavior and refrain from performing it when it isn’t appropriate. As a second important factor to keep in mind in terms of how fantasies are different from dreams, others might be impacted by fantasies whereas our dreams are pretty much experienced by us alone. As mentioned, staring at others, searching for and engaging with sex workers or other sexual partners and bingeing on porn to the detriment of work and personal commitments exemplify how fantasies can impact those around us negatively.
So finally, I think it’s important for us to consider what we can do to curb problematic fantasizing. The first thing that comes to mind is that we can be more mindful of when it’s occurring so that it can be stopped. Remember in the podcast earlier when we discussed our childhoods, this ability to fantasize started in childhood so it’s been with us for a long time. And, for many of us who struggle with uncontrollable sexual behavior or sex addiction it’s rather automatic at this point. But, we do have the ability, through a concerted effort, to become more aware and to listen to the feedback of others to really become more mindful when we’re fantasizing so that it can be curtailed. Another thing we can do is to challenge fantastical thinking. Fantastical thinking, what does that mean, Rodney? Well, this is when we convince ourselves that, for example, another’s look or really rather straight-forward response was actually, let’s say, an act of flirtation. Or, for some of us it might be exactly the opposite. We might look at a very harmless response by someone as a very strong rejection of us in some way.
We need to check in more with people in terms of what they mean by what they say and do as a way of curbing fantastical thinking. We can also, as a third approach, learn harm minimization techniques that will help us to limit the damage that is caused by fantasizing. For example, if you have a problem staring at people on public transportation you might want to develop for yourself a five second rule where you allow yourself to look at the person for five seconds and then after five seconds you force yourself to turn away. That will help to limit the amount of time that you’re fantasizing once you practice this time and time again. Another thing you can do is to work on trigger management. You can work to identify triggers and find new ways of responding to them or avoiding them altogether so that you don’t end up fantasizing in response to something that takes place in the environment or some emotional state.
Finally, it might be worth spending some time trying to uncover the underlying meaning of our fantasies. So, if we tend to fantasize about people that have a certain profile in terms of look, maybe we fantasize about people who are tall or who have dark hair, well, that particular profile may have meaning relative to other people that we come across in our lives that have been influential or fundamental to us. It’s worth thinking about really who the people of our fantasies may represent. Similarly, if we fantasize about certain events or certain emotions within a sexual experience - emotions of anger or emotions of intense passion and romance - where those feelings began is very important to think about in terms of drawing connections to present day fantasy.
That’s pretty much all I wanted to talk to you today about in terms of fantasy. I hope you got something out of that. I think it’s really important to think about fantasies in terms of dreams so that we don’t take them so literally. But, we do allow ourselves a bit of space to think about them in terms of their meaning in a bit more depth because I do think fantasies have several levels or layers of meaning instead of just taking them at a very concrete surface level. In doing so, hopefully we help to free ourselves from the grip of the fantasizing process. Also, emotionally, hopefully it helps us to distance ourselves from difficult emotional aspects of our fantasizing so that we can reduce the haunt of shame and also change our behavior as a result.
So that’s what I really wanted to say to you today about fantasy, I hope you’ve learned a thing or two about fantasies. I think it’s a very interesting topic and since fantasy is a component of just about all uncontrollable sexual behaviors I would say that it’s worth spending some time on it if you’re trying to rid yourself of practices which have been problematic for you within your life. I hope you enjoyed that and be sure to check back with us next week.
But, until then let this be the day that you decide to turn things around. No one else is watching. No one else even has to know. But, it could make all the difference in the world.
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Look forward to seeing you next week. Until then, take care.