Dear Dr. Bonnie,
Is it a bubble? Not really. It’s more of a fantasy world. You see, the thing is I have no idea why I live in a world of my own even though I have a loving family and amazing friends. But the thing is every time I’m alone my mind just enters into my fantasy world, I’m somewhere that doesn’t exist. It’s real but only inside my head. When I’m in this world all I think about is me and my future and how I want things to be. My mind thinks of everything I want and I actually live it, which leaves me disappointed when I go back to facing reality. I’m confused, lost, and don’t know how to get out of this. I’m tired of the disappointments and expectations and having nothing in return. Is this all happening because I enjoy being alone? Do I need to see people more often? What’s wrong with me?
It is normal for most of us to daydream or fantasize now and again. It is a nice escape and can help us to relax and feel better when we are feeling down. It is also nice to experience a reality which is completely under our control. Fantasy is considered a psychological defense mechanism because it helps us to deal with unpleasant thoughts and feelings. Like all of our defense mechanisms, it is helpful to the extent that it allows us to cope with uncomfortable conscious or unconscious material, but actually comes at the price of distorting reality. When fantasy is used excessively, it can get in the way of developing more mature coping mechanisms. Losing yourself in a fantasy world on a regular basis has some similarities with people who become overly dependent on reading novels, watching movies and television, playing video games, watching internet pornography, and even substance abuse. All of these activities can serve the purpose of allowing us to escape from our reality and our feelings. It is good that you have the insight to recognize that you may be overusing this particular defense mechanism. While excessive use of fantasy obviously does not have the same physical consequences as abusing drugs can have, it can get in the way of your mental health and development, your relationships and motivation in approaching real world challenges. It sounds like you recognize that your real life is not horrible, but that it often does not match up to your fantastic expectations. You should consider asking yourself what type of things do you find in your fantasy world that your real world does not give you. Are there themes in the types of fantasies you have? In other words, do you often fantasize about having the perfect partner, or the perfect house, or being beautiful, or powerful or admired? By looking at the content of your fantasies you might be able to see areas in your life and yourself that you are not satisfied with. Some areas of dissatisfaction might be easy to spot, such as fantasizing about having an adoring, devoted husband especially if you are lonely or unhappy in your marriage. Other themes might take a bit more digging before uncovering the real source of dissatisfaction. For example, if you spend hours fantasizing about your dream home and car, you might do better to question what those things mean to you on a psychological level. In other words, no serious psychological deprivation is experienced from the lack of a Ferrari and a palace. Instead, are you craving a home in which you feel some creative power, or are you craving the admiration of others… etc. You might find it helpful to seek the professional help of a therapist to facilitate an exploration of these underlying themes which are sometimes very complex. Another reason to get some professional support is that your fantasy world may be successfully pushing away some painful emotions that may start to surface once you stop entering into that world on a regular basis.
The surfacing of painful emotions is a possibility not inevitability. For many people, using fantasy becomes a mental habit and while breaking a habit is difficult and emotionally draining, it is not always dramatically painful. The fact that you have developed a rich internal life and enjoy being alone is not a bad thing. However, to break this particular habit, it would be good to participate in activities that will keep you engaged in the external world. Spending more time with your friends, perhaps a new job, a new relationship, or picking up a new hobby that requires you to interact with others and engages your mind are all things that will help. Oftentimes, once there is a small change for the better in your external world, you will find a dramatically lesser need to lose yourself in your imaginary world. Since you now know that you have this tendency, it would be a good idea to monitor how much time and energy you spend in your fantasy world in the future. You are likely to use this defense mechanism at times in your life when you become bored, or lonely, or unhappy. You will want to keep an eye on this and frequently ask yourself if your imaginary world is getting in the way of your living in the real world, and then, if necessary, take steps to make a change. Also pay attention to the other activities mentioned above. You are probably especially susceptible to overusing other escape mechanisms like TV or drug abuse.
The excessive use of fantasy has been associated with low self-esteem, depressive symptoms, psychological immaturity, and isolation. However it is also very common in writers and other verbally creative people. Not everyone has the ability to construct their own world and become absorbed in it. Our literature, theater and film would be deprived without our creative writers who are exceptionally good at this. The question you should ask yourself is: “Is my fantasy world interfering with my leading a rich and enjoyable real life?” If the answer is “yes” or “maybe” then it is time to pay attention and make a change. It sounds like it may be time for you to venture out of your bubble and enjoy the imperfect but rich and real things that life has to offer. Good luck!