Fantasy as a defence mechanism

George Vaillant categorised defence mechanisms into a continuum based on their developmental level.

Level 1 – Pathological – delusional projection, denial, distortion, splitting

Level 2 – Immature – Acting out, fantasy, idealisation, passive aggression, projection, projective identification, somatisation

Level 3 – Neurotic – Displacement, dissociation, hypochondriasis, intellectualisation, isolation, rationalisation, reaction formation, regression, repression, undoing

Level 4 – Mature – Altruism, anticipation, humour, identification, introjection, sublimation, thought suppression.

The fantasy defence mechanism is a retreat into fantasy in order to resolve inner and outer conflicts.

The individual achieves temporary satisfaction through the fantasy of the imagined achievements. Or a retreat into a fantasy world to stop thinking about one’s current distress.


Movies can be used as a form of fantasy defence. The observer does more than just watch the movie but feels like they exist in it.



If one is hungry one may gain substitute satisfaction by thinking about food.

If one is unassertive and feels bad about self in everyday interaction with others he can withdraw into a fantasy world as a temporary release from the distress.

Fantasy is considered as immature but not pathological meaning it is quite a child like way of coping but is not a sign of severe psychopathology. As one can see from the diagram it involves the Child ego state attempting deal with its own disquiet. The other ego states are by and large not involved unlike many other defence mechanisms.

Fantasy Jpeg


Halloween allows for the experience and expression of magical, ‘dangerous’ and frightening aspects of ourselves through the mechanism of fantasy. It allows us to temporarily feel like we have completed our own gestalt by accepting disowned parts of self. Aggressive urges are particularly lived out in halloween fantasy.


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