It Scares Me How Much I Turn to Fantasy to Escape. Help!

Relying on fantasy/daydreaming as escapism: I suffer from avoidant personality disorder as well as depression/low self-esteem, and over the past couple of years a way that I've dealt with it is to use fantasy. It started off with occasionally imagining myself as a different person and daydreaming about being in positive situations, but over the years the fantasies have become more detailed, with the person I imagine having a totally different name/life/etc. It's gotten to the point where I imagine these fantasies every single day, and have trouble sleeping if I'm not imagining myself as this other person. I'm fully aware that it's all fantasy, but the degree that I've come to rely on it scares me and I've never heard of anyone else with this kind of problem. I'm afraid to talk to a therapist about it because I'm afraid of what he or she would think of me. —Dreamer
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Dear Dreamer,

I’m so impressed with you! First of all, in spite of your fear of being judged, you have taken the very courageous step of writing in with your question. Second, it sounds like the daydreaming and fantasizing have served as a very adaptive behavior—you have been able to get some relief from the depression and low self-esteem by escaping into your imagination. Unfortunately, it seems like this coping strategy has taken on a life its own and become somewhat of an impediment to your ability to function in your daily life.

In some ways, what you are describing isn’t completely dissimilar to how substance-abuse issues can develop—someone is in discomfort, seeks relief in alcohol or drugs in order to escape the discomfort, and ultimately comes to depend on the substance to an extent that it interferes with life. That said, one critical difference between what you are describing and substance abuse is that there is quite likely some real value in what you are using to escape. Most successful people begin their journey toward success by imagining it—they dream about their success and then they begin creating goals (and working toward them) that will move them toward their dream. I suspect that the life you have created in your imagination is closer to the life you desire than your actual, current life is. If my suspicion is accurate, then it makes sense to do what you can to start moving toward the life you have imagined for yourself.

Given your struggles with depression and self-esteem, you might be thinking: easier said than done! This is certainly true, but it does not mean that it is impossible to live a life closer to the one you imagine; it simply means that you need to get treatment to address the depression and self-esteem. Right now, these issues might be all that is keeping you from working on making your fantasy life a reality.

This brings me to your fear of disclosing your fantasy world to a therapist. First, there is no shame in the fantasy life that you have created; in fact, I believe it will ultimately serve as a road map to move you to the life you have been dreaming about. However, if you are still feeling anxious about sharing this world with a therapist, know that you don’t have to in a first, second or even third session. In fact, I would say if disclosing it is so anxiety provoking that it is preventing you from seeking treatment, do not disclose it until you are confident that you have a trusting, therapeutic relationship with a therapist. Sometimes when people disclose too much before a really strong working alliance is established, they feel exposed and vulnerable to an intolerable degree and they leave therapy prematurely.

You can avoid this by finding a therapist who you believe could be a good fit for you and setting up an initial session. You might even set up an initial session with a couple of different therapists and see who you feel most comfortable with. Once you believe you have a good match, work on building a strong therapeutic relationship and when you feel ready, open up about your fantasy life. As the depression and self-esteem issues begin to be addressed and you open up about your fantasies, you just might find that these very fantasies will become your road map and your therapist will serve as a supportive guide as you follow the map to your dreams.

All my best,
Sarah

Sarah Noel
Sarah Noel, MS, LMHC is a licensed psychotherapist living and working in Brooklyn, New York. She specializes in working with people who are struggling through depression, anxiety, trauma, and major life transitions. She approaches her work from a person-centered perspective, always acknowledging the people she works with as experts on themselves. She is honored and humbled on a daily basis to be able to partner with people at such critical points in their unique journeys.
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  • SETH

    SETH

    July 6th, 2013 at 4:34 AM

    All of us are given to living with some sort of fantasy in our lives.
    I think that when you cross the line into what is healthy versus what is harmful is when this fantasy begins disturbing and disrupting other parts of your life.
    That’s when I think that seeking the help of a trained professional could be good for you.
    I think that there are a lot of people living in a perpetual fantasy land but that is doing nothing to improve who they are and help them to really grow.
    All this does is perpetuate the need for that fantasy so that it takes over their lives even more completely.

  • Breeanna

    Breeanna

    July 7th, 2013 at 4:43 AM

    But if you are able to visualize that there could be something better, then there could be.
    You have to find a way to turn that fantasy into reality.

  • Mason

    Mason

    July 8th, 2013 at 3:58 AM

    I would like to know why living a fantasy is always or usually seen as being something bad. This is something that gives you a chance to escape a little from the day to drudgery that can be life. Why is that such a bad thing? This is something that feels pretty healthy to me. I am not iving a lie, just need a little down time to get away from it all and this provides me with that kind of outlet. So in some ways I definitely think that there could be worse ways to handle times like this.. I guess if it is getting in the way of other areas of your life then this might be a time to address those concerns. But if it isn’t doing any harm, then that’s that. It doesnth’ urt anyone.

  • John C

    John C

    December 19th, 2016 at 7:21 AM

    I also believe its a good thing to ease of the stresses of real life if it helps, but I think the problem comes when you prefer to live in your fantasy world than reality.

  • Rachel

    Rachel

    July 9th, 2013 at 8:52 AM

    Sounds like symptoms of schizoid personality disorder, or maybe maladaptive daydreaming?

  • Mandy

    Mandy

    April 9th, 2014 at 6:37 AM

    Dear Dreamer,

    You are definitely not alone. I find it easy to get lost in my daydreams and prefer it to real life on many occasions. A friend of mine told me to talk about the things that scare me or make me sad out loud. I find when I do that, the things that I am afraid of do not seem so dark. I get to hear what I feel, and say why i feel that way and start to realize for myself that things aren’t as daunting. I hope you find peace, happiness and the the life you want.

  • Swallow

    Swallow

    August 23rd, 2014 at 8:54 AM

    This is a very humble opinion, but I find that d&d and other pnp games can have a very therapeutic effect. It takes a good company of people with the same mindset and this is difficult, but taking on the role of a persona in the confines of a game with other people is easier to manage and can have a self analyzing effect. At least this happened to me. Of course you have to be careful not to be sucked in the game (very easy to happen), but I still think that the trade off is worth it as the game can help isolate the fantasy and your friends and co players can support you

  • Charles

    Charles

    June 29th, 2015 at 3:43 PM

    I am depressed and anxious. I often go to bed and try to imagine a different situation. It almost always involves myself committing violence against a lot of people whom I see as enemies or threats. The fantasy is completely impossible, as I am very old, I have a terminal illness and do not have enough education of the right kind to carry it out.(although the Internet has lots of instructions.) Also I am closely watched. The fact that my fantasies are impossible just makes things worse. Maybe the accumulation of stupid and pain-causing decisions on my part over the years is just too much. I cannot set things right. I constantly replay events in the past that may have hurt people terribly. The memories just attack me.

  • anon

    anon

    December 14th, 2015 at 5:35 AM

    Dreamer, I’m very similar, except I don’t think that I am any different from who I am in real life in my daydreams, it’s more that my circumstances are different. I do find that I can literally stay inside on my own, not eating very much, not washing, not really sleeping for days just living in my fantasy world, though, so I totally get why you’re worried.

    I find real life intolerable compared with my daydreams, but I have always done what the expert here says of looking into those daydreams and thinking: How can I make that reality? I believe I can do anything I set my mind to, it’s just going to be bloody hard work. In the meantime, I have recently decided that I need to find a way to enjoy the present too. If you are just waiting to be happy when your dreams come true, you will actually make it harder to achieve those dreams (so much at stake!!), it’s difficult to enjoy the journey and to feel your successes, and frankly you’re wasting time. Best to always try to enjoy the moment. She says. Not enjoying the moment ;-) Easier said than done but you’ve just got to work on it. Don’t stop dreaming, though. I know it’s disruptive but those dreams tell you what you need.

  • marziarm

    marziarm

    February 16th, 2016 at 7:57 AM

    thanks. this article is sol helpful. cause i have also the same probleme. drive myself into fantasies or things that i want to do in my life. i hope it will not be a great mental problem for me. i will able to keep control of my mind.

  • Celia

    Celia

    March 7th, 2016 at 1:05 AM

    Sandplay therapy may be an excellent therapy to consider in this scenario, as it is a mostly non-verbal therapy. Especially for those who find it difficult to talk.

  • miki

    miki

    July 17th, 2016 at 8:28 PM

    I have always lived in a fantasy world. That s what kepr me going. I couls not imagine how horrible life qould have been wirhout it. I feel lucky to have this escape, but embarrassed too. My them changed atdifferent ages. The most persistent theme was me becomming famous as a singer or actress. or even dancer. And having everyone in awe. I wish I knew why I do this, because it disturbs me although it s like my best friend when I need that rush of excitement. Thanks for sharing

  • CJ

    CJ

    September 16th, 2016 at 8:36 AM

    I have been escaping into fantasy from young childhood. I almost always use it to get to sleep. Now, in middle age, I find myself utilizing this escapism mechanism more during the day. Sometimes as I operate through the day I engage in fantasy and am inattentive to others. I think a great part of the reason for it is disappointment and depression over falling short of my potential; therefore, I reach and go beyond my abilities in my “fantasy land.” It has become a worsening problem and I am consciously trying to fight it.

  • Rebecca

    Rebecca

    September 6th, 2018 at 7:03 AM

    I have for a few years now been escaping through reading and things like that. What has happened to me a few times is that I have become obsessed with a story I read or a film I watched. I cannot stop repeating scenes and sentences in my head from a film or a book. I have to rewatch or reread the book or film and everytime I do the obsession comes back, I can’t think straight or about anything else. I don’t know what this is. Please help me understand

  • The GoodTherapy.org Team

    The GoodTherapy.org Team

    September 6th, 2018 at 7:46 AM

    Hi Rebecca,

    If you would like to consult with a mental health professional, please feel free to return to our homepage, http://www.goodtherapy.org/, and enter your zip code into the search field to find therapists in your area.

    Once you enter your information, you’ll be directed to a list of therapists and counselors who meet your criteria. From this list you can click to view our members’ full profiles and contact the therapists themselves for more information. You are also welcome to call us for assistance finding a therapist. We are in the office Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Pacific Time; our phone number is 888-563-2112 ext. 1.

    Kind regards,

    The GoodTherapy.org Team

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