Fantasy Feedback

For ages, I felt guilty about fantasizing. I thought “normal” people didn’t do it, and that it was a sign of mental instability. It wasn’t something I planned to do, or that I put effort into doing. It would just spontaneously happen.

If I had a problem, and there was no one around to talk to, I would talk it out with a fantasy friend. If I watched a movie, I would play it back in my mind afterward, with changes–what if something early on happened a bit differently? How would the ending be different as a result? What was the backstory? How did the characters become the way they were?

I tried many times to forcibly stop this habit. If I realized I was playing a fantasy, I’d feel a stab of shame, then play mind tricks to push my thinking onto some other path. I’d orient to my surroundings. I’d mentally recite poetry, or run over my todo list. I would even memorize a math problem in the morning, so that when I wanted to pull myself out of a fantasy, I’d have the problem to work on.

As I’m sure you can guess, none of those tricks worked in the long term. In fact, the harder I tried to force change without understanding how the habit was working in my life, the more stubborn the habit became. I realized that I was going to have to tolerate the shame for a moment, and take a hard look at my patterns of behavior, not just try to suppress them.

I noticed that the really absorbing fantasy sessions, the ones that caused the room to go black and interfered with my daily functioning, happened only when I was tolerating some miserable condition that I should seek to change. I also noticed that their content had much to say about what I was tolerating, and about my mental state in general.

About four years ago, I felt helpless against a certain type of romantic fantasy. Images of men pursuing me, confessing their love for me, and protecting me from bullies clouded my vision until I gave up fighting against them. Sometimes I lost three of more hours a day to them. At the same time, for seemingly unrelated reasons, I was removing from my newsfeed, unfriending, and finally blocking many of my Facebook friends, quite a few of them men. Finally I snapped, and blocked all my friends but five.

When I looked at who I had blocked and who was left, I realized I had blocked the ones who had been shaming “ugly” and “disgusting” women. They had made a sport out of finding the “worst” examples of women to share in status updates, and tried to outdo each other on how viciously they could insult them in the comments. This wasn’t supposed to bother me, of course, because I should know I wasn’t one of those women. But I knew from past experience that it’s never the target’s fault, and if I tolerate bullies, I’ll be targeted myself.

My fantasies had been telling me I needed to upgrade my friends. After the purge, and interacting more with real life men in Toastmasters, the problematic fantasies faded away. (The better ones stayed, of course–more on that later.)

Have you ever had any negative habits that you felt were out of your control? What underlying circumstances drove them? How did you change them? Please share below.

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