Let’s Get Real About Fantasy

Daydreaming is often considered a childish activity. So it might come as a surprise that studies indicate at least 96% of adults engage in daydreams and/or fantasizing on a daily basis. These daydreams typically last for just a few minutes while the mind wanders, but they can also be more involved, frequent, and lengthy. And getting caught up in daydreams is not, as previously thought, as sign of tending toward mental illness.

According to an article in the Dartmouth Undergraduate Journal of Science, we’re learning that daydreaming is “a normal part of our cognitive processes.” In fact, it’s pretty normal to “spend one-third to one-half of our waking hours daydreaming, although that amount can vary significantly from person to person.” I was honestly pretty surprised to learn this. I mean, I know I do that, but I wasn’t expecting such a large percentage of the population to also daydream so much.

But while reading different articles about daydreams, I realized something else. They’re talking about people’s minds drifting into fantasies about their real lives. For example, it’s considered healthy for someone approaching a job interview to daydream about getting the job or for someone in a high-stress job to spend time fantasizing about how all their conversations for the upcoming day could go well. Other studies asked people to daydream about taking vacations or their childhood home. These daydreams are about things that could happen or have happened. I have those types of daydreams, too, but that’s not what most of mine are.

Let's Get Real About Fantasy | marissabaker.wordpress.com
this picture is part of a psychological self-portrait I made in a college art class

Extreme Fantasizers

While studying hypnotic suggestibility in 1981, psychologists Theodore X. Barber and Sheryl Wilson discovered that the 27 women they identified “as extremely good hypnotic subjects … all had a fantasy life so intense that it seemed ‘as real as real.'”‘ After more research, people in this group are now described as having a “fantasy prone personality” (FPP). On the more extreme side, where fantasies start to take over reality, it’s called “maladaptive daydreaming” (click here to read an interview with a maladaptive daydreamer).

According to researchers, about 4 percent of people spend half or more of their waking hours absorbed in reverie. The fantasies are not mere fleeting daydreams but something of a cross between a dream and a movie, where an elaborate scenario unfolds once a theme is set. (from a New York Times article)

Reading about this group is where I start to recognize myself. Read more

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So Much Cooler Inside

Like many introverts (and a goodly number of extroverts, if some of my friends are any indication), I have an active imagination and “a rich inner life.” I’m daydreaming most of the time, even when it’s not readily apparent. I do let my musings out sometimes, here on this blog and over on my Pinterest boards, for example. The fact that I’m more comfortable expressing myself this way than in person reminds me of Brad Paisley’s song “Online,” except I’m telling the truth online and often masking my real self when I meet people in person. (Watch the music video if you haven’t yet — William Shatner is in it.)

This image by Gene Mollica makes me wonder how many fantastic things people hide behind their masks.

But even my online persona isn’t as “cool” as the me that stays inside my head. She joins the fellowship of the ring, travels with The Doctor, serves as an exopsychologist on the starship Enterprise, rules the world with Peter the Hegemon (if you don’t get this reference, you’re not reading enough Orson Scott Card), moves to a lake-side yurt to write books, marries Prince Charming, and adopts a couple of kids (just not all at the same time).

I spend a large (unreasonable?) amount of time thinking, daydreaming, and imagining. Sometimes I wonder if there’s something wrong with me — why don’t I spend more time making my real life interesting instead of constructing fantasies? As a fiction writer, I can call some of it research and story plotting, but I wouldn’t have to be in the stories myself if that were entirely the case. And I can only think of two such daydreams which have become full-fledged stories that can stand on their own.

INFJs hate conflict
Things You Should Know About INFJs

Partly because I spend so much time in my head, I often wonder what people think of me in real life. For someone who picks up on other people’s emotions intuitively, you’d think this would be easy. But I get so nervous when I think I’m under scrutiny that it’s hard to get past my own emotions enough to pick up on what other people think (unless their emotions are negative, in which case it’s time to flee the room). And then it’s easier to hide out in my head than spend time with “real” people, and the whole cycle begins all over again.

Well, I’m off to write a post for a different blog while talking over the direction of a novel with a couple of my characters (in my head of course — I’m sure my family would start worrying if such conversations were carried on out-loud).