The Fantasy Bond
The Fantasy Bond
Years ago I began searching for answers to a mystery, a seemingly perverse phenomenon about people, that had me deeply puzzled: that is, why most people choose an emotionally deadened, self-limiting mode of life. I first focused on this problem when a small group of select patients decided to meet in a rural setting to explore their deepest feelings.
To accomplish this, we came together in the summer of 1971 for a weekend in the wooded mountains near Lake Arrowhead. Our surroundings were peaceful, the atmosphere invigorating. We started talking around 8:00 p.m. Friday. As the hours passed, we began to feel the stress of being continuously with other people. Challenging each other's defenses and remaining in an emotional situation for a long time period were part of this stress.
The exposure of defenses was vigorous and intense. At one point, a young woman, Jane, talked about her rage toward her friend, Mike, who was withdrawn and unresponsive. She confronted him in strong language because she was infuriated at his refusal to reciprocate her feeling for him. Other individuals with similar emotions also attacked Mike's indifference. Mike, a man who could not remember ever crying in his life, finally broke into sobs. In this unfamiliar emotional state he felt terribly disoriented. At first, he did not even know that it was he who was sobbing. He thought the sounds were coming from someone else. But before the night was over, Mike, who had denied his feelings all his life, felt a depth of feeling and a tenderness toward himself and others that he had never experienced.
During subsequent meetings, as I became more skilled in breaking down defenses and creating an accepting atmosphere where people could be themselves, people revealed more and more of their inner pain. Many relived feelings that had been pent up for a lifetime. Occasionally they sobbed or moaned or vented explosive anger. These primitive emotional reactions were followed by dramatic relief and clear insights. The participants were very excited by the encounters and the results, and they expressed appreciation for what they felt had been a remarkable experience. They said they felt closer to themselves and to other people and perceived their lives with unusual clarity.
Those times together were very meaningful to me. I have always been deeply touched by people expressing personal honesty and being loving and accepting toward one another in a truly democratic way. These moments brought me close to myself and made me feel calm and strong. I gave a good deal of thought to the weekend experiences, and I knew that the people's lives during those days together had great value and significance. Their faces changed and their bodies relaxed. They seemed more multidimensional. They felt invigorated and excited, yet when they returned to the city, they lost, sometimes slowly and sometimes very quickly, this edge of feeling and communion with themselves. They resumed their defensive posture and closed off their emotional reactions and sensitivity toward others.
Many of the men and women who traveled to the mountains for those weekends came without their spouses. They came as independent, separate persons, not as one-half of a couple. They were recognized as such, and they flourished for a few days for they were treated as individuals and their sexual identity and attractiveness were confirmed verbally. As a result, they felt better about themselves and had a more positive image of their bodies and sexuality. However, when they returned home, they gave up this good feeling and went back to being half of a couple once more. In returning to their families, they were in fact going back to the "security," the "togetherness," that was more familiar to them than the aliveness and genuine closeness they had experienced in the unfamiliar atmosphere of the mountains.