I fantasise all the time – and almost committed fraud as a result. How can I stop myself?
PROBLEM: I would describe myself as the living embodiment of two well-known fictional heroes/antiheroes, both called Walter. The first being the world-famous fantasist Walter Mitty and the other the wannabe villain Walter White from the drama Breaking Bad.
I have always lived in my head and as a child I often daydreamed of being a soldier, a superhero or an Olympian. I know that this is relatively normal for children, but, as life progressed, the amount of time I spent fantasising has increased greatly. I am now in my late thirties and, unlike my alter egos, I see myself as relatively successful in my real day-to-day life.
I completed both graduate and postgraduate degrees, without much effort, and have progressed really well in the career of my choice, have a beautiful wife that I love and two amazing children. I have also had a number of sporting achievements with local clubs.
Nonetheless, I spend hours every day, mostly during my two-hour commute to work, in different worlds that I have created in my mind. Though it is not just when I am driving that this happens – when I go for a run or spend any time on my own, I drift off. Over the course of time the content of my fantasies have changed, I no longer daydream about curing rare diseases or saving people from harm, it is much darker. I often conjure up thoughts of being a producer of adult pornography or an international drug dealer.
For the first time ever, I have started to find myself acting out on these fantasies. I work in the financial sector and had put mechanisms in place to commit fraud. I stopped myself just before it was too late, but I am now scared that in the future I will go too far.
I do not know how to stop these thoughts.
ADVICE: You describe very well the trajectory your fantasies have taken, and you have a very good awareness of the potential danger you now face in terms of acting out these creations. Fantasy serves a huge purpose for human beings and it allows us to play around with different identities and roles in our minds.
The hero fantasy may feed into our desire for greatness and help us to see a need in the world that needs attention and we may stretch ourselves to serve something big or noble – but that is usually a very different experience to childhood fantasies. It is interesting to see what adult fantasies are arising in you. Could it possibly be a need to rebel, to challenge the norms of society or to break out of the structure you have set for yourself? If you are getting to the point of exposure, these needs are becoming very pressing and demanding and require some real attention.
Of course, you will not be alone in dealing with the consequences of any acting out of your fantasies and perhaps this is what has stopped you so far – love is indeed very powerful in terms of calling us to protect others. But your desire is demanding your attention and if you do not face this you will, in all likelihood, end up with a situation where you could do something very damaging. It is urgent that you seek out psychological help so that you can untangle the threads of this lifelong pattern and gain some understanding of what lies behind this compulsion. It is entirely possible to have fantasies, and for them to be enjoyable without the threat of them destroying your life. It is the putting them into reality that is the cause of serious concern.
If you want to curtail the possible pitfalls in your acting out, you first need to understand your fantasies
People’s sexual fantasies span a whole range of possibilities and in fact, these days, shame is more likely to be associated with having “vanilla” fantasies rather than the more edgy options. We are able to understand these and even have ways of acting them out in contained, safe ways (think the TV series Bonding) but we also know that acting out our sexual fantasies in unconstrained ways can be damaging for ourselves and others. If you want to curtail the possible pitfalls in your acting out, you first need to understand your fantasies, to have open conversations where all the pieces are investigated and accepted.
It is probable that your partner needs to be part of this dialogue so that she can be compassionate and supportive in helping you get to grips on this issue. This might be very difficult for you and perhaps some one-to-one psychotherapy can assist you in figuring out how you might find a way of telling the story in a way that makes sense to you and include her as you work things out going forward. At the very least, this exploration with a therapist will help you discover your unconscious drives and desires and make you more intelligible to yourself and this should offer you more self-awareness and choice in any actions you might take.