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Fantasy versus Reality

Reality refers to the truth of your lived experience. In, other words, what is actually happening.

Reality encompasses the good and the bad, the happy times and the sad times, the positive emotions and the negative emotions.

Reality may not always be ideal and sometimes difficult to deal with, but reality is part of the human experience.

Example realities that may be difficult to manage include:

  • The death of loved one
  • A hard break up
  • Lack of confidence or low self-esteem
  • An unfulfilling career
  • A overwhelming work load
  • Experiences of various traumas
  • A desire to live a different life

Fantasy refers to the imaginary experiences, augmented realities, and fictitious stories we create.

Fantasy can represent realities we wish happened (or would happen), desires we have, imaginary worlds we have created (or experienced in a book, movies, game etc.), and so much more.

Often times, we lean into fantasies to escape the painful realities we live in.

How Can Fantasies Help

Sometimes, the pain of reality is too difficult to manage, so we escape that reality by leaning into a fantasy. This can help us…

  • Distance ourselves from the trauma
  • Distract ourselves from difficult emotions
  • Provide us with a new, favorable outcome
  • Allow us to explore various parts of our identity
  • Help us heal from what is hurting us
  • Boost our confidence and self-esteem
  • Receive closure from a difficult ending

Fantasy Example

Jesse works a hard job and does not feel valued at work. They are often disrespected and overlooked. They often feel small and too anxious to speak up.

At night, Jesse escapes into their fantasy world where they are they are powerful sorcerer in a made time and place. In their world, Jesse is well-respected and valued.

Jesse’s fantasy allows them the ability to receive the confidence and power they do not feel they have in the real world. Eventually Jesse finds the confidence to speak up for themselves.

How is Fantasy Harmful?

Fantasy can become harmful when we begin to blur the lines between reality and fantasy.

There’s a big difference between using fantasy to cope and ruminating on how things ought to be. When we blur these lines and reject reality, we are inhibited from moving forward and remain trapped in a space of grief.

Additionally, fantasies can cause us to: lose focus on what’s important, develop and escapism mentality, and trigger dissociation.

How to Balance Fantasy and Reality

It is okay to use fantasy as a way to distract ourselves from painful realities. However, it is important to:

  • Remember that fantasy is just that, a fantasy and unfortunately not our reality.
  • Use other, productive coping skills to help process reality (like Urge Surfing, Distress Tolerance, and Radical Acceptance).
  • Maintain healthy boundaries between fantasy and reality.
  • Process our emotions that come up in both reality and fantasy.
  • Talk to therapists about our fantasies.

Journaling Prompts for Fantasies

If you are someone who uses fantasies as a way to deal with difficult realities, here are some journaling prompts/reflective questions to ask yourself:

  • What are the experiences, thoughts, and/or emotions that are hard to deal with in reality?
    • What is within and outside of your control?
    • What make it easier for you to deal with them in your fantasy?
    • What would need to change for you to be able to handle the issues in reality?
    • How reality you become more like fantasy you?

Take Aways

  • Fantasies can be a helpful way to process, distract from, and heal from painful realities.
  • Fantasies can be harmful when we blur the lines between fantasy and reality.
  • It’s important to recognize that fantasy is just play andunfrotunately not our reality. However, we can still learn be more like our ideal (or fantasy self).
  • If you’re struggling to find a balance between fantasy and reality, try journaling or talking to your therapist about. A therapist can help you explore fantasies, process realities, and learn additional coping skills.

This page is also part of the Roamers Therapy Glossary; a collection of mental-health related definitions that are written by our therapists.

While our offices are currently located at the South Loop neighborhood of Downtown Chicago, Illinois, we also welcome and serve clients for online therapy from anywhere in Illinois and Washington, D.C. Clients from the Chicagoland area may choose in-office or online therapy and usually commute from surrounding areas such as River North, West Loop, Gold Coast, Old Town, Lincoln Park, Lake View, Rogers Park, Logan Square, Pilsen, Bridgeport, Little Village, Bronzeville, South Shore, Hyde Park, Back of the Yards, Wicker Park, Bucktown and many more. You can visit our contact page to access detailed information on our office location.