When Fantasy Becomes a Great Pitfall to Your Self-Healing
Living an unexamined life can make fantasy seem like real-life
Who doesn’t love a great fantasy story? The unlikely hero overcoming all odds, the enchantments, the magic, the mystical creatures and landscapes, all the epic battles, and so on. When I’m really into a story, I feel just like Bastian from The NeverEnding Story reading under the blankets while accompanying Atreyu on his epic journey as if I was there. Like Bastian, I would be so absorbed in the story that I wouldn’t even notice the signals my body sent, such as “I’m hungry.” I can quickly lose myself in stories because it feels good; it feels safe.
Stories are a wonderful escape for me. There are moments in life when I need a break from the now to escape into a more pleasant place. It seems harmless until subconsciously that fantasy narrative starts to deny my reality and becomes a defense mechanism against the negative emotions from the present, the now. I began to develop my own story, my fantasy, as an alternative to my reality, and I couldn’t let it go.
On 7 January 2019, I moved to a new country with my family. Before the move, my partner and I were going through some hardship. To me, this move represented an opportunity to revitalize our relationship as new experiences could only help bring us closer together. Therefore, restarting my professional and personal life outside of our relationship was a no brainer, and I was happy to make this sacrifice for our relationship.
The move will fix our relationship, and I should be happy about that.
That was my narrative; this was the fantasy I couldn’t let go.
Throughout 2019, I was living an unaware life. Subconsciously, I blocked the pain and sadness I’ve felt from losing the sense of worth I’ve attached externally in my work and other activities. Yet, I continued to believe in my narrative that I should be happy, and, just like Bastian, I ignored the signals my body was sending me. The fantasy became so real that even after hitting rock bottom, I couldn’t let it go.
“Unfortunately, though, when people try to block out the pain, their filter also blocks out the good”
— Heather Gray
When I started my journey to heal from an anxious-preoccupied attachment style, I kept thinking to myself, “Why can’t I just go to the past when we were together and perfect?” I still believed in this narrative months after starting my journey, and with this thought, I couldn’t accept the present for what it is. Not letting go gave me the mindset that I was the victim and unappreciated for the sacrifices I made. I missed many, what John Gottman calls, bids for connection because of this mindset, and it caused tremendous suffering for both my partner and myself.
How could I move forward if I keep looking backward?
You don’t know what you don’t know until you know it
What it took for me to understand I wasn’t letting go of my false narrative was for my therapist to say just it to me. That’s it.
Sounds too easy, right? However, this sudden realization that I denied myself to feel the pain from the move shook me to my core. My story was now changing, and yet I wasn’t let go of the fantastical narrative, rejecting the healing I needed. I was so motivated to relive the past that I refused even to acknowledge the negative emotions that caused me to disconnect in the first place.
The harder I suppressed my needs, the harder it was for me to appreciate and be grateful for the good things. Instead of acknowledging my feelings, I was missing opportunities to build a new healthier relationship with myself and my partner. My refusal to show up for myself has created the following behaviors:
- Passive-aggressive behaviors;
- Projecting my negative feelings onto my partner;
- Lying to myself and the ones I love about my emotional state; and
- Ignoring the early warning signs that I and the relationship needed help.
Since that faithful session with my therapist, I became aware that my narrative wasn’t as rosy as I once thought. Why?
- I was in denial of my own needs;
- I rationalized and downplayed the meaning of impactful events had on me;
- I downright don’t remember most of the warning signs as they went mostly ignored as they didn’t fit the narrative I kept telling myself; and
- I played the victim, rejecting the accountability to meet my own needs.
I don’t want to go back to that way of living in denial. I deserve better, and so do you.
To help move forward on your journey, acknowledge that your past might not be as good as you remembered. Don’t get me wrong; I’m sure there were a lot of great moments; however, the rose-colored lens also prevented you from understanding the not so great moments. By examining the past for what it was, then you can honestly recognize the negative patterns and work towards repairing them. Otherwise, you could fall into the trap I did lumping all the good with the bad blocking real awareness of the negative patterns and core wounds that impacted the relationship.
Learn to challenge your stories from an outsider’s point of view with compassion. In turn, you will change your narrative, where you are no longer in the mindset of being the victim and feeling powerless. You are the unlikely hero on your journey, overcoming all odds and becoming a better version of yourself.
“Who are you if your story begins to change? Do not be so loyal to your suffering that your healing doesn’t stand a chance.”
— Vienna Pharaon
Now a hero’s warning, when you start recalling the moments you believe you should’ve acted differently, resist the urge to start blaming yourself for missing those opportunities. Remember, it’s not your fault. Don’t get caught up in the “Should’ve,” “Would’ve,” and “Could’ve” negative thought loops. You don’t deserve to make yourself suffer in this way as you didn’t know what you didn’t know. The best thing you can do is to reframe these moments as learning moments to help you break the negative patterns for good.
My refusal to show up for myself meant I held onto a narrative that was pure fantasy. I’ve neglected the warning signs that my relationship with my partner needed special attention. Even after I started my self-healing journey, I continued to hold onto the false narrative until someone challenged its validity. Fortunately, you don’t have to wait for that someone as you have the power to challenge your stories and see what meaning you’re attaching to them.
Letting go of the past isn’t easy. Acknowledgment doesn’t come easy. It will feel like crap, and at times it will really hurt. That’s just it, though, we are now finally allowing these feelings we’ve been avoiding for so long to come through our defensives. The fact we are now sensing these emotions is evidence we’re healing. Now that’s a good story.