Wishful thinking describes the formation of beliefs that are based on what we want to imagine happening rather than what is happening. In wishful thinking, we overlook the evidence, the facts, and concentrate on what we wish for instead.
Is it bad to want my wishes to come true?
In a Disney film or a fairy tale, the gift of a magical wish transforms the hero’s life. The fairy tale, myth, or legend might track the journey the hero goes on in order to be granted this magical gift. In life, we can get caught up in wanting the wish to be granted to us without doing any of the work that is required to get there.
When wishing gets in the way of living
If you are someone who is quickly caught up in magical wishful thinking or ideas about wish fulfillment and find they are getting in the way of creating and living a more satisfying life, then you might need to find a way of developing a more realistic view of how to live and what is possible.
- For most of us, we have to work towards our wishes, we don’t just have them granted to us.
- Often the art of more satisfying living is in learning to take pleasure from that work.
- In this way, we use our wishful thinking as the basis for creating new possibilities for us.
Wishful thinking in myths and legends
In myths and legends, the wish is often granted once the hero of the story has found a way to engage with the struggle of life. Can we come to see a wish not as a piece of chance magic but as part of the way we engage and work at living more satisfying lives?
Problems caused by wishful thinking
- Delaying facing up to problems
- Burying your head in the sand
- Pretending we don’t have problems
Sigmund Freud and wish fulfilment
In Freud’s first model of psychoanalysis, wish fulfillment is a key component of the individual’s psychology. In the Interpretation of Dreams (1900) Freud sees the dream as disguised wish fulfillment. There is an art to understanding this.
Freud understood that a certain kind of work goes on to produce our dreams. Most of this work is unconscious.
So for example a character in our dreams might be a condensed version of several characters in our lives. I find you need to develop a certain capacity to think about dreams in this way. Dreams, as Freud approached them work to disguise our motivations, our wishes, and generally for Freud the basis of these ideas is sexual.
Wishful thinking in the Twenty First century
In 2020 these ideas may seem harmful, outdated and anachronistic, but it is worth keeping them in our minds. Whatever one thinks about Freud, his work on the unconscious is profoundly interesting and influential. For Freud the dream is the product of the unconscious, and the Freudian unconscious is made up of things that have been put there by repressive forces. You don’t need to commit to a belief in this model to take value from the ideas involved.
Jung and wishful thinking
When Jung began his deep association with Freud he found Freud’s conception of the psychodynamics underpinning mental functioning compelling. But over the course of a decade they fell out, principally over the role of sex and libido. For Jung, there was more to our libido than sex. For Jung, libido is about energy, not just sexual energy.
This makes a significant difference when we approach a dream and a wish.
If we imagine a dream in which a person dreams they are in a loving relationship with their mother, for Freud this would involve the idea of an incestuous wish. For Jung this would be different. Jung would see the desire to be with the mother not as about a wish for sex with her, but to do with a wish to reconnect with energy, with energy that nurtures our creativity and self-expression.
For Jung it might be seen as a wish to return to the source of our energy so that we can face the world with renewed confidence.
This level of interpretation lets a healthy wish come to the foreground.
If you are quick to become caught up in wishful thinking and fantasies, if you can see that this happens frequently, that it gets in the way of you engaging with life in a more satisfying way, then you might find psychotherapy helpful.
Something is interfering with your capacity to engage. To see things as they are. It’s not that we shouldn’t have wishes, it’s only a problem when wishful thinking comes to dominate us and we lose our capacity to work on our wishes in a constructive and meaningful way.
If I am honest with myself, I think a lot of the time I am wishing for things to be better rather than finding a way of doing something that changes the way things go. I know I can get caught up in these rather dreamy ideas about life which don’t really go anywhere. In fact, sometimes I can see that I have got caught up in my imagination, in my wishes. It happens so quickly, it’s automatic for me, like second nature. One moment I am at the beginning of something, a new love affair, or a new project. The next everything has gone badly wrong. When I let myself get caught up in my wishes, I lose track of reality.Anonymous client
If you have a sense that you get caught up in your wishes, and that this stops you from engaging in a more meaningful life then it might be helpful to talk about this.
- Wishful thinking can eat up a lot of time and energy.
I have been working with people on issues such as this for twenty years. My work is built around helping people to engage with the problems that they know block their energy, creativity and self-expression.
Working like this in psychotherapy can be a route to developing greater confidence, a better understanding of why you feel the way you do, and of helping you to manage living without feeling out of control.
Contact me to arrange a free 15 minute conversation to discuss how my work might be useful to you.
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