This week's problem: An anonymous 25-year-old, "a bit of a loner", is worried that he fantasises too much. He not only dreams of sex with girls, but also of becoming a hero in dramatic situations - he rescues everyone when his office burns down, for instance. He finds the fantasies comforting but overwhelming - they seem to be taking over his life. How can he get rid of them?

The bland reply that fantasising is normal and everyone does it isn't, I feel, quite good enough. The deliverers of such statements have to pin their own fantasies to the mast. Yes, not just "everyone" but I, too, fantasise. In my fantasy time I've been, amazingly, happy to be raped by gangs of bikers (doubtless because it wasn't real); I've produced, in an emergency, an entire newspaper single-handed, to the astonishment of Fleet Street; I have tortured my enemies until they screamed for mercy; I have, through my great love, saved a friend dying of Aids; I have preached in Westminster Abbey. My role as saviour of the world's poor has got me through many a gloomy, lonely, rainy Sunday in Shepherd's Bush.

If all this reassures Anon that he's not peculiar or going mad (or if he is, I am, too) then I'm delighted. But his fantasies are getting out of hand. They steal over him like a fog; he fights to return to reality and finds himself lost. How can he escape?

Fantasy that's used as a delicious enhancement of life, or a way of feeling anger without damaging anyone else, can be extremely constructive. But used as an escape it means that the reality in which the fantasist lives is too painful and bleak for him to bear. It may be Anon's external reality that's the problem - in which case the old chestnut about moving jobs, getting outside interests and so on is the answer. Or it may be that his internal reality is too painful. He thinks so little of himself, regards himself as such scum, that he needs his fantasies to bolster himself up. His preposterously heroic fantasies, then, appear to keep him sane at some level rather than driving him mad. But they sound rather like mini-alcoholic binges, moments when, by glutting himself with daydreams, he can keep the horror of daily living at bay. What is damaging about them is that, like any addict, he craves for more, even though intellectually he knows that they're doing him harm.

Anon is going in the right direction - inwards - but he's ending up at the wrong place. Before seeing his doctor for depression and, perhaps, a counsellor, I'd suggest he tries meditation. Fantasists are excellent meditators; they have the capacity to cut off from the world and sink deep into themselves. But rather than go into the heroic rescuer mode, he should try to think only of his own true self and simply wish himself well, wish himself good. He should applaud himself for himself, rather than have others applaud him for his actions.

By feeding his inner self with real self-love rather than the imaginary love of others, his fantasies will lessen - or at least become only a pleasure to him rather than a curse.

readers' responses

When you are next performing an everyday task, ask yourself if your fantasy hero of the burning building would do the task in hand the same way and as well as you are doing it now. Picture your activities as the people to be saved from the burning building, then compare your performance in real life with that in your fantasy. This may help you to get more satisfaction from what you really do, as well as tempering your fantasies.

Raf Pritchard, Greenwich

I think it's important to realise it isn't the fantasy that is harmful but the frustration, loneliness and isolation that cause it.

When I had a boring job I had similar "work" fantasies. Looking back, I think it was because I had no one to talk to and felt undervalued. My job didn't involve interacting with others much. When I got a more interesting job, these fantasies vanished. Many single people often feel more "at home" at work than they do at home. Disconcerting, but at least it's a start.

Conrad Wiberg, London

There is not a person who has never thought or dreamt of loving or killing people, whether consciously or not. We all possess unfulfilled feelings. Fantasy can become a monster in two respects. First, if you try to make it real by taking it literally, second, by revelling in it to such an extent that life just passes you by.

Until my late teens, I suffered as much as Anon. I could count friends on one hand, I developed an equally powerful imagination, yet I learnt to channel my unfulfilled feelings. Now I write stories for a hobby, which means I can be as violent or as silly as I like without hurting anybody.

I began to speak my mind as well. If riled, I would rebuke an opponent. If I saw a beautiful young lady, I would compliment her. I equally craved to be a hero, so I joined a political party as well as becoming a Samaritan and a union official.

Anon needs only to be more sociable, more assertive. It is never simple to take on such traits, but the rewards are immense. Anon can also become a more social, confident individual if he makes his imagination into his insight.

Symon Grant Phillips, Peterborough

I am a 30-year-old female living alone. I have not worked for 10 years, have gone for months without socialising due to health problems, and I have spent many an hour immersed in mental stories for self-comfort. This might be a romantic encounter, the acting out of repressed anger, or general morbidity. Fantasising is normal and therapeutic, but if it becomes "obsessive" it's probably because the person feels left behind. I'd recommend that Anon experiments with positive things - a new hobby, voluntary work - to develop new skills and meet like- minded people.


next week's dilemma

Dear Virginia,

I have a very good friend who is kindness itself. She's supported me through many difficult times and I love her dearly. Her only blind spot seems to be animals. She loves birds in cages, and now has five around the house. All of them are single, in cages I feel are far too small. I cannot bear the sight of a bird in any kind of cage at all, let alone on its own. She feeds them and cleans them perfectly well - she has them because she says they're so pretty and she loves their songs - but I start to feel, when I'm in her home, that just by being there I am somehow endorsing real cruelty. I have tried saying something, but she just laughs it off saying they're extremely happy, and she loves each of them to pieces. My husband says I'm over-sensitive. But what can I do? I can't just refuse her invitations.

Yours sincerely,


All comments are welcome, and everyone who has a suggestion quoted will be sent a Dynagrip 50 ballpen from Paper:Mate.

Please send any relevant personal experiences or comments to me at the Features Department, the Independent, 1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London, E14 5DL; fax 0171-293 2182, by Tuesday morning. And if you have any dilemmas of your own you would like to share, let me know.