Recovery Workshop

Assessing Compulsive Fantasy

What is it?


Fantasies are something that we all experience. They are necessary, healthy and can actually promote personal growth and facilitate learning. In addiction, they are the truest form of "instant gratification" and tend to expand into many other areas of a person's life (e.g. business, family, future). Fantasies allow a person to change their mood, balance stress, experience success... all with nothing more than the thoughts they have in their mind. The difficulty with too much fantasizing is that the differences in reality and fantasy are often great. Such a contrast often creates an emotional imbalance when comparing the two...and by now, we know where emotional imbalances lead. To further acting out.

In the context of this workshop, fantasies will be considered those sexual/romantic thought patterns that consistently distract you from your daily routine. The range of fantasy spans widely. Some experience it literally hundreds of times each day for just a few seconds each time (as in the case of a man in a shopping mall — with each woman walking by triggering brief sexual images); some experience fantasy as an event ("scheduling" an hour or more to do nothing but fantasize); and still others fantasize as a distraction from mundane work. As you review the behaviors associated with fantasy, look for general patterns that might translate specifically to your experiences — then focus on the boundaries, values and cues that you associate with fantasy. For instance, while Playboy may be used as a trigger for fantasy in one person...a romantic novel may be used in triggering another. Fantasy is your mind's need to escape, at least temporarily, from reality. To experience life in a way that you would not have otherwise. There is nothing wrong with this, until it begins to effect that reality in a negative way.


Obsessions are one of the most difficult obstacles to overcome in recovery and one of the hardest to identify PRIOR to their development. They are the purest form of the "all or nothing principle", as they allow the obsessed person to focus on a single element in its extreme, and tend to process everything associated with the particular element as black and white. This is especially difficult in love addiction, where the target is a particular person with whom a relationship has already developed. Such relationships tend to be extremely chaotic and emotionally exhausting for the target of that obsession. Typically, obsessions allow a person to balance the stress in their lives by focusing on a single (or several) element(s). This makes their lives easier to manage — scratch that — this allows them to perceive that their lives as easier to manage, though they continue to experience the pressure, anger, anxiety and other negative emotions not usually experienced in fantasy.

Obsessions, in a sexual/romantic context, involve the compulsive need to think about certain people, situations and/or behavior. Even if they want to stop (or slow down) these thoughts, they are unable to. Obsessions distract the individual from focusing on a balanced life, and so as the obsession grows, the life becomes more and more out of balance. Relationships are destroyed, other values are lost. The person's reality becomes consumed by one or two major events in their life. Such obsessions may involve pleasure (in the case of "new love" and/or infatuation); they may involve pain (in the case of not being able to trust a partner); or they can even include an obsession with NOT have sex or being in a relationship (e.g. sexual anorexia, preoccupation with maintaining one's virginity).

Romantic Delusions

Romantic Delusions are a rather rare form of both fantasy and obsession. They occur when an individual begins fantasizing about developing a romantic relationship with a particular person and becomes obsessed in the pursuit of that person. The original attraction and associated fantasies become what the individual now considers "reality". He/she believes that the person targeted is the true love of his/her life. Like obsessions, the behavioral pattern becomes a complete focus on the reciprocation of this love, and his/her perception of reality is lost in the process.

Common Patterns Associated with Fantasies, Obsessions and Delusions:

I. Fantasies

  • 3-5 second sexual fantasies that occur as part of a daily routine (up to hundreds of such fantasies daily — especially when in public places)
  • Numerous daily sexual/romantic fantasies involving a particular person, memory or act (can consume several hours each day)
  • Setting aside time to fantasize where such time is considered an actual event in the person's life (e.g. an hour in the bath tub; fifteen minutes over the lunch hours; Friday evening in the apartment, etc.). The key here is that it is considered an event similar to going to the movies or taking the dog for a walk.
  • Consciously using triggers to promote fantasy — as in the use of pornography, romantic novels, "people-watching", chat rooms, e-mail
  • Increasing sleep patterns to trigger an increase in fantasy/dreams (e.g. naps, early to bed)

II. Obsessions

  • Infatuation, when the infatuation involves the loss of one's own boundaries and balance
  • Constant worry over the fidelity of a romantic partner (checking gas mileage, following them, hiring investigators, asking others to seduce their partners to see how they will respond)
  • Not wanting to lose the love of a romantic partner (e.g. placing constant pressure on the partner to "prove" his/her love; voicing frequent need for reassurance; overanalyzing day to day events)
  • Wanting to get a partner to fall in love with you (e.g. exhibit overly generous symbols of your affection/interest in the relationship; displaying/voicing a willingness to sacrifice your own boundaries for this person)
  • Inability to emotionally let go of a former romantic partner

III. Romantic Delusions

  • "Love at first sight" fantasy is often triggered through public places, television (and other media), social engagements
  • Person frequently lacks the interpersonal skills necessary to develop and sustain healthy relationships, displaying instead a pattern of "instant intimacy" with others.
  • Extreme fear of rejection leads to fantastic displays of hyper-romanticism [e.g. the writing of intensely intimate and passionate love-letters to relative (or complete) strangers in an attempt to overwhelm them with emotion — as well as to decrease the opportunity for immediate rejection; sending poems, flowers, gifts "anonymously"]
  • Extreme fear of rejection leads to extreme measures in efforts to alleviate that fear. This is usually accomplished through information gathering (e.g. searching through the target's trash, breaking into their apartment, stealing their mail, following them without their knowledge). This types of behavior will be discussed further in the Stalking section.
  • Unrequited advances often lead to rage in the person exhibiting the romantic delusions for "not being understood", and for "not being given a chance". This rage often lasts until a new target is found.

Elements Frequently Associated with:

  • Fantasy (duh!)
  • Accomplishment [when achieving temporary relief from an emotional imbalance (stress/depression, anxiety)]
  • Fantasy (in creating an unending series of possible scenarios)
  • Suspense (in not knowing how the situation will turn out, what the truth really is, etc.)
  • Power (affords the individual the perception of control over a situation, though this is not an accurate perception as the obsessing often underlines the lack of control that a person has)
Romantic Delusions
  • Fantasy (in selecting a target)
  • Power (in not facing initial rejection)
  • Suspense (in not knowing whether or not his/her target will reciprocate his feelings

Other Elements Commonly Found in a Ritualistic Chain where Fantasy, Obsession and/or Delusions are the Primary Behavior:

  • Sensory (especially physical/visual)
  • Depending on the fantasy, just about any elements can be included in such chains
  • Orgasm (especially when masturbation is involved)
  • Accomplishment (when partner caught in a lie; evidence discovered; admission of guilt; when acknowledgment of a romantic gesture is made)
  • Past (when previous partners have cheated and the memories of such create emotions towards a current partner)
Romantic Delusions
  • Danger (when stalking, married targets are involved)
  • Accomplishment (when feelings are reciprocated)

Frequent Cues/Triggers Often Associated With:

  • Pornography
  • Stress (especially related to low self-esteem, trauma and/or depression)
  • Boredom
  • Feeling unappreciated, taken for granted
  • Media (TV, songs, books, Internet, etc.)
  • Love
  • Lack of intimacy
  • Visual attraction
  • Social situations/Public places
  • Conflict (especially as it relates to boundaries involving trust and honesty)
  • Love (especially highly passionate, intense relationships)
  • Affairs (both yours and those discovered/suspected involving your partner)
  • Breakups
  • Low self-esteem
  • Previous obsessive relationships
Romantic Delusions
  • Stress (especially related to low self-esteem, trauma and/or depression)
  • Visual attraction; Mental attraction
  • Social situations/public places
  • Media [television/movies (falling in love with an actor/actress through watching an interview, movie); songs (falling in love with a singer because of they way he/she sang a song), Internet (chat rooms, sites with personal stories), newspaper stories with a personal touch, etc.]
  • Poor social comfort zone (Intense shyness)

Boundaries Frequently Violated By:

  • Intimacy
  • Identity
  • Meaning
  • Autonomy
  • Self-respect
  • Intimacy
  • Identity
  • Love
Romantic Delusions
  • Identity
  • Integrity
  • Safety
  • Social Acceptance
  • Order

If you have experienced similar behaviors as described above (or have experienced additional behaviors that were not mentioned, but fall under the category of fantasy, obsession or romantic delusions, please include them in the exercise below.

My History with Fantasy, Obsessions and Romantic Delusions

First Name and Last Initial:

E-mail address:

Describe your history involving each of these three behaviors. If one or more does not apply to you, there is no need to mention it. :

Think for a few minutes, then list all of your most common triggers for this type of behavior:

List any concerns, unusual circumstances that you currently have regarding this behavior. For instance, any bizarre rituals that you perform, dangerous objects that you use, frequency issues, etc.

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