Imagination and the Fantasy Prone Personality
The fantasy-prone personality (FPP) -hmmm….
The term fantasy-prone personality certainly sounds like a diagnosable psychological condition in which a person has difficulty differentiating between fantasy and reality.
Yet, is it? Yes and no.
In its extreme, maladaptive, or pathological form (extreme in a way that is not normal or that demonstrates a mental illness), FPP interferes in a person’s ability to function effectively.
-have abnormally long and immersive daydreams
-daydreams which are difficult to escape from causing the inability to carry out daily tasks
-lead to sleep disruption and insomnia
A non-pathological FPP (functioning in a healthy psychological/emotional manner) is often referred to as having an “overactive imagination” or “living in a dream world.” Lynn and I are both “psychologically sound” FPPs, as are the vast majority of people who experience extraordinary phenomena.
What exactly is fantasy-proneness and which individuals tend to exhibit FPP traits?
Fantasy-proneness is typically regarded as an adaptive response to stress. FPPs are atypical and comprise a minority of the populace. There exists a limited group of individuals (possibly 4% of the population) who fantasize a large part of the time, who typically ‘see,’ ‘smell,’ ‘touch,’ and fully experience what they fantasize.*
Numerous FPPs have reported that, “When they were children they believed their dolls had feelings and personalities, while others had imaginary companions, engaged in fantasy games pretending to be ‘someone else,’ and/or had a childhood belief in guardian angels, spirits, and magical creatures.**
As FPP children, both Lynn and I spent countless hours fantasizing and daydreaming.
As a child, I was always daydreaming. My vivid imagination helped me escape from an abusive, unhappy childhood. My parents used to tell me, “You live in your own world.” My mother nicknamed me “Sarah Bernhardt” (a French stage actress active in the late nineteenth to early twentieth century). Bernhardt was known for her over-the-top onstage gesturing and highly theatrical lifestyle. I was deeply offended by the nickname and my family’s inability or unwillingness to take me seriously. In their view, I over-exaggerated and fantasized, and lacked the ability to live in the “real world.” In actuality, I saw the reality of my childhood with crystal clarity. I just didn’t happen to like it.
From as far back as I can remember, my mind seemed to be in adventure mode. One of my first toys was a real microscope. My dad gave me two heavy cast iron scopes. I took them everywhere. I always found things to observe, and saw an entire world underneath that set of lenses. Nature and science were my first loves. As far as I can remember, I did not have any imaginary friends … well, that were human. My toys and my stuffed animals were my friends. They were alive and had feelings. I had no need for human friends. I would wander the alleys behind my house, looking for horned toad lizards. I loved them with a passion. I would kiss their heads, and we would go on great adventures together. They became my magical beasts! I would take one home with me and create a comfortable bed in a shoe box. I kept it next to me all night. The next morning, I would always set it free. My two dogs, Buster and Sandy, were also my comrades on these great adventures. My mother never knew how far off I would wander into the deserts of Texas. We moved around a lot, but if I wandered far enough, I would find nature, away from people and neighborhoods. Although I eventually became more sociable with my peers, my feet continued to take me into the serene surroundings of the sky, the animals, and all things green. In these places I would experience moments of stillness—ones in which my body escaped me, and I became one with my surroundings.
Both FPP children and adults exhibit:
High hypnotic susceptibility; psychic abilities/experiences; healing powers; OBEs; vivid or waking dreams; apparitional experiences; and had/have an imaginary childhood companions, experience multiple transpersonal phenomena including ESP, mediumistic trances, automatic writing, and psychic healings. The majority are female.
Unfortunately, societal and cultural norms pre-judge and frequently label such persons as freakish, odd, bizarre, and/or peculiar. Possessing the ability to experience alternate realities is a unique quality; however, this does not make fantasy-proneness an abnormal trait. We can’t help having vivid imaginations. After all, we are hard-wired this way.
The most interesting people are the unusual. No one writes about or discusses the average, the ordinary, or the common; they write about and discuss the weird, the mad and the different, so if you are one, even though the opinions of others are of no importance, you are, in their eyes, significant to notice and remember.
-Elaine Aron, Psychologist
*The H.I.S.S. of the A.S.P.: Understanding the Anomalously Sensitive Person, David Ritchey, Headline Books, 2003
**Harvey J. Irwin, "Fantasy Proneness and Paranormal Beliefs," Psychological Reports, 66, no. 2 (1990): 655-58.