Escaping to fantasy or imagining an alternate world is a normal activity for most of us. From a young age, we learn to imagine things like friends, success and opportunity, and sometimes we even work to make it come true.
An Escape to Fantasy can sometimes be a healthy, productive way to self-manage hardship, depression, disappointment and lack of opportunity. Some psychologists believe that an inflated sense of optimism actually helps most people to cope and achieve more than they would if they had a realistic expectation of what the future holds. Conversely, it is believed that some clinical depression is really a form of “depressive realism” - a loss of the ability to believe or hope that things will get better than they are likely to.
Escape to fantasy can sometimes be seen in cults and religions where people adopt an alternate persona or begin to believe that they are not responsible for the consequences of their own actions or vulnerable to the actions of others. It can be seen in spectator sports, where the spectator aligns their emotional responses to the fortunes of their team or favorite player - taking their defeats personally, and celebrating victories as if they were their own.
Escape to fantasy becomes dysfunctional when it chronically or systematically interferes with an individual’s ability or willingness to take responsibility for their own actions and make important decisions affecting their future.
In Personality-Disordered individuals, escape to fantasy is closely related to Denial and Dissociation, where the individual chronically replaces facts with feelings.
How it looks
A man neglects his work and spends a significant amount of time and energy cultivating a fictitious online character.
A woman spends significant time planning her future life as a movie star.
A quiet and shy man takes on an alternate aggressive identity when hidden in the anonymity of a sports crowd.
A woman who is withdrawn around her family secretly engages in impulsive promiscuous sexual activities with strangers.
A man asserts that his new religious belief will effortlessly compensate for his destructive behaviors or bad decisions.
How it feels
Living with a person who chronically escapes to fantasy can make partners or family members of an abusive individual feel powerless, because if the person’s actions are not rooted in reality there is little they can realistically do to improve the situation.
It’s common for abuse victims to retreat into fantasies of their own, where they imagine a better, safer, more successful life for themselves. The danger comes when the abuse victim replaces reality with fantasy on a systematic basis, which can prevent them from making constructive choices or escaping abusive environments.
Escape to fantasy can also be a cause of Enabling abuse, where, in spite of the evidence, those around the abuser choose to believe that nothing is wrong. This attitude can be contagious for abuse victims, leading to further disconnection with the reality of the situation.
Learning to Cope
A little fantasizing can be fun and therapeutic - the important thing is to base your big and important decisions on reality. It is also important to be able to separate fantasy from fact in understanding a Personality-Disordered spouse or family member’s character, words and deeds. A good therapist can help you keep a grip on reality if it gets confusing.
When dealing with a partner or family member who is lost in fantasy, it is important to hold on to reality yourself while resisting the tendency to become judgmental. It is better not to try to Thought Police another person but to allow them the freedom and dignity of thinking, believing and feeling whatever they want. However, it is also important to draw the line at any actions or decisions taken by that individual that infringe on your own safety, freedom or dignity.
What NOT to do
Don’t feel guilty about your own fantasies - they are a normal way to cope with stress and difficulty.
Don’t allow fantasies – your own or someone else’s - to infringe on your own safety, freedom or dignity.
Don’t allow fantasies to become accepted as truth in your life.
Don’t accept responsibility for another person’s behavior just because they fantasize their own responsibility away.
Don’t assume a person’s fantasy is an accurate reflection of what they believe 100% of the time. Many fantasies are temporary mental departures from reality.
What TO do
Work on separating fact from fiction in your own life.
Writing down fantasies can help you see them more objectively.
If your fantasies are about having a better, healthier life which is free of abuse, look at how you can take actual steps to make it so.
Get regular reality checks from a good friend or therapist.
Remember the Clean-up Rule: clean up your own messes, and let others be accountable for cleaning up theirs.
Five years ago, a photographer, an engineer, a writer, an office manager, a grandmother, a graphic artist, a law student, a husband, a librarian, and a stained-glass artisan came together to connect a diverse, isolated population in search of information, support, and growth as they strive to cope with a family members, spouses or partners who suffer from a personality disorder. Since its launch on November 1, 2007, Out Of The FOG has grown from a fledgling discussion group with 10 participants, to a vibrant community of over 4000 registered members world-wide, with new members joining every day.
On August 31 2012, the Out of the FOG Support Forum crossed two significant milestones - 100,000 member posts and 10,000 topics. Thanks to all who participate and contribute to the OOTF support board, which is a unique source of support to non-personality-disordered individuals all over the world.