Some Alternatives To The Fantasies That Guide Our Lives

Some Alternative To The Fantasies That Guide Our Lives

Look, I know you think fantasies are fun, sexy, and cool, whether you dream of being Cinderella or Prince Charming, or that your love will be passionate, available, rich, gorgeous, and lovable. Even if you think of yourself as too old or too sophisticated to believe in fairy tales, I'll bet you occasionally indulge in the giddy notion of someday playing for the L.A. Lakers or winning the gold in wrestling by overpowering that third-grade bully who still haunts your nightmares. Maybe in this alternate reality, you're accepting an Oscar or being crowned Miss America or doing something you won't admit to in public. Everybody indulges in fantasies from time to time, but as a lifestyle choice, we're talking di-sas-ter! Even if these seemingly harmless little devils don't ruin your life, they can cause a lot of avoidable misery. The alternative to fantasies is a happy and fulfilling life, so please listen up.

Ruinous fantasy? I can hear you saying. She needs to get a grip. How can a fantasy be anything but pleasurable? How can such a whimsical idea cause anyone harm? Think about it: if you fantasize that you can fly and decide to test the idea from the observation deck of the Empire State Building... well, you get my point.

The purists among you will point out that it's not the belief that's so dangerous, but the action based on the belief, and you'd be right on the money. If I can persuade you to examine your beliefs, then your actions will follow a safer, saner, and more productive path. Okay? Okay.

The Skinny on Fantasies

Repeat after me: Fantasies aren't real. If something isn't real, it's dangerous to believe it. Other people may tell us lies or try to convince us of their points of view. Their reasons may be lofty or lower than a snake's belly, but a fantasy is a lie we tell ourselves, and because it isn't true, it's toxic, no matter how harmless and whimsical it seems. Fantasies are a distraction from the business of running our lives successfully and realistically. I plan to wrestle these pesky critters to the ground so we can all get on with the pleasure of focused thoughts and energy.

Okay, I admit that fantasies may not actually kill you, but they can make you wish you were dead. They can effectively ruin your life by seducing you into painful and unnecessarily destructive situations. (Fantasy, in fact, is an interesting word: it was originally spelled with a ph rather than an f, which suggests that its related to phantasma ghost, an odd, capricious illusion rather than a reality.) Most of us think of fantasies as dreams that make us happy, but the fantasies discussed here will offer pleasure only temporarily and at great cost. They are familiar and comfortable, but they can be dangerous and counterproductive in the long run.

Fantasies are delusions that no amount of medication can cure; the sufferer requires a dollop of common sense. And you, fair reader, are in luck because sensible is my middle name. Whoops, no fantasies here: I have no middle name, but I am imminently practical and sane. These poisonous fantasies are a lot subtler than the delusion that you're Joan of Arc, but they're also a lot more common. Not to worry. I am going to tell you not only what these fatal notions are and how to avoid them but also how to substitute healthy, life-giving realities that will save you from self-induced misery and enhance your life.

All of us grow up believing certain things to be true. Parents, teachers, grandparents, older siblings, books, Sunday school teachers, baby-sitters, and best friends weave fairy tales about handsome heroes and beautiful maidens. These commonly held beliefs can be

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  • Harmless: The world is round. It's not. It's an oblate spheroid, which is fancy talk for a flattened ball. But who cares?

  • Silly: If you make an unpleasant face, Jack Frost will come along and freeze it permanently.

  • Tantalizing: If you kiss your elbow, you'll turn into the opposite sex.

  • Dangerous: If you step on a crack, you'll break your mother's back.

  • Romantic: If you sleep on a slice of wedding cake, you'll dream of your true love.

  • Hopeful: A loose eyelash gives you a free wish.

  • Somewhat practical: Walking under a ladder is bad luck. Sure, it's a mechanically unstable device, and stuff can fall down and clunk you upside the head.

If you're noting that some of these fantasies are superstitions, you're right. Superstition is just fantasy with attitude; it's a way of erroneously trying to control events. You don't have that control; none of us do, but you can adopt a clearer belief system that doesn't depend on superstition to get you in touch with who you are and what you want. This new system will allow you to fine-tune your behavior by dealing with what is, not with what you want. In a word: reality.

As wrongheaded as fantasies are, scores of them guide our lives and shape not only our perceptions but also our behavior. The examples mentioned above are purposely dramatic and fairly irrelevant.

Unfortunately not all dearly held beliefs are so harmless or silly. Certain more relevant assumptions constitute the value system by which we live and run our lives, form our associations, set our goals, raise our children, interact with strangers, and find comfort. These assumptions shape our existence.

The Real Story about Reality

We've become so used to the idea that the real world is dangerous that reality has gotten a really bad reputation. I'm going to show you that reality is a lot less scary than you've been led to believe and that it is actually potentially helpful, healthy, life-affirming, and the most useful game in town.

The question is how do you separate reality from fantasy? The first test of an idea in action is functional: is it working? Most of us aren't even aware of our belief system until something breaks down.

Every day on my nationally syndicated call-in psychology program, I bump up against callers from all over the Northern Hemisphere who are looking for sympathy when their favorite way of behaving -- their applied value system -- runs into trouble with somebody else's way of doing something. Approximately 95 percent of those who call want me to agree that they are right and that the person who is making them unhappy is wrong and should die a quick and possibly excruciating death. Instead of offering sympathy, which just makes people feel good about feeling bad, I gently but firmly guide them to a less painful way of dealing with spouses, bosses, kids, parents, employees, and even themselves.

As we believe, so we behave. In helping people find different ways of acting, I help them look at the source of their ineffective interactions to see that what they believe is causing their behavior to bomb. It's not easy. Our belief system is basic, dearly beloved, and largely unexamined by most of us. So before we even begin together, I want to warn you that there are several characteristic ways of responding when we are challenged. And I intend to challenge you.

The first response to a challenge is either to run or to fight. Running is moving away from the offending and offensive object (in this case, me), and fighting can take the form of either defending yourself or attacking me. It would be really cool if you could resist both of these impulses, at least temporarily. Just open your mind and your heart, and let's see if we can do this together.

I want you to get real! I want you to be willing to look at these nine fantasies that can ruin your life until you are willing to examine, adjust, and discard them. These fantasies are causing you to spend time and energy living in an imaginary world that will not allow you to be effective. These assumptions are pervasive, ubiquitous, and dangerous. The big ugly nine fantasies concern...

  • Home: Functional families exist.

  • Perfection: Describes everybody... except me.

  • Money: Winning the lottery would free me.

  • Truth: It will set you free.

  • Sex: Men and women are from different planets.

  • Innocence: Ignorance is bliss.

  • Righteousness: Stick to your guns.

  • Fairness: Good always triumphs.

  • Love: Somewhere I have a soul mate.

These treacherous fantasies need to be dissected and expunged. I'm warning you up front that this process isn't easy, because these myths are deeply ingrained. They're also cleverly disguised as cute rather than malevolent creatures; one of the Seven Dwarfs rather than the Wicked Queen. Even a shiny red apple can turn out to be poisonous. Instead of becoming paranoid about apples, understand that the search for reality is a combination of detective work, excavation, and surgery.

This article was excerpted from the book:

The Nine Fantasies That Will Ruin Your Life by Dr. Joy Browne.The Nine Fantasies That Will Ruin Your Life and the Eight Realities That Will Save You
by Dr. Joy Browne.

Excerpted by permission of Crown, a division of Random House, Inc. Copyright 1998. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Info/Order this book.

About The Author

Dr. Joy Browne, author of the article: Alternative to Fantasies

Dr. Joy Browne has been an archaeologist, a med school student, an engineer on the space program, and had her own private psychology practice. She received the 1998 American Psychological Association's President's Award for contributions to the field and was voted Best Female Talk Show Host for the last two years by the National Association of Talk Show Hosts. She is the author of the best-seller Dating for Dummies and four other books.

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