Dipping your toes in darkness: The role of negative fantasy

Have you ever imagined yourself doing something crazy? Maybe you briefly fantasized about executing a PIT maneuver against a car driving impossibly slow in front of you. Maybe during difficult financial times, you imagined robbing a bank. Maybe you’ve imagined yelling some obscenity in a crowded room just to see the shocked reactions on the faces of others. Or maybe these have been my negative fantasies and not yours. I would imagine though, at some point, you have found yourself fantasizing about doing something that in reality, you would never do. I have heard people describe all sorts of negative fantasies in therapy, and they are most often preceded by the statement, “I would NEVER do this, but…” So, why do our brains seem to need to occasionally engage in stomach turning, gut wrenching, self-shocking fantasies?

I believe the answer has to do with conformity. From the time we are itty-bitties, but are told we must conform to the values of our society. Don’t hit! No talking! Wait your turn! And most of these conformities go against our nature. We all go through a training process to get us to the point that we can get along well with others. So, as we get older, most of us learn to ignore or resist our negative impulses. We learn what is acceptable and we force ourselves to act in those ways. But sometimes, like a drop of water squeezing its way through a tiny crack in a dam, a little piece of those negative impulses slips out, and into our consciousness. Once seen in our mind’s eye, they often disappear again into the dark recesses of our subconscious, but those brief glimpses can be quite unsettling. However, I believe they are also a necessary part of living in a civilized world. I believe they release the pressure of living within the boundaries of rules and laws, both moral and legal. Let us not forget that we are still animals.