Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Cathartic and Do-Over Daydreams

I think we’ve all had the experience when we’ve been in an argument with someone and then mentally rehash the conversation in a daydream, fine-tuning and improving our performance. In the fantasized version, we undoubtedly make the perfect comeback remark or score the debate-winning point. In these kinds of daydreams we’re analyzing conversations, giving ourselves an ego-boost in the face of a stressful event, and planning how we might better deal with a similar situation in the future.

These kinds of cathartic “do-over” daydreams help us blow off steam and deal with difficult emotions. They let us imagine a different outcome and process information that would otherwise be almost too much to take in. This past April, upon the 2nd anniversary of the Virginia Tech Massacre—that sad, sad terrible day—I was struck by a Washington Post article about English professor Lucinda Roy, who had the misfortune of having to tutor the killer. Roy has since written a memoir of her experience, No Right to Remain Silent, and of her attempts to get him to counseling and failing in that effort.

Of course, she is endlessly haunted by the tragedy and tries to work it out in her daydreams: “At times, she daydreams she is on the Drillfield on April 16, runs into [the killer] and persuades him to go with her. Perhaps he would kill just her. That would be better, she thinks. ‘Then it would be a tiny tragedy.’”

This is such a human experience, to play out different options in our mind, even impossible options or options we would never choose in real life. We all experience cathartic daydreams—sometimes they’re hostile and vengeful—sometimes they’re do-overs; it’s normal, we’re human, and most of the time it’s nature’s way of helping us deal with difficult emotions--shame, guilt, frustration, anger.

Read more about the different types of daydreams/fantasies/mind wanderings we experience in my book Daydreams at Work, http://www.daydreamsatwork.com/. If you have a question about daydreams, leave a comment here or contact me via my website. Thanks for reading.

1 comment:

  1. Wow, before this I'm not sure I ever had the realization that these are in fact daydreams. I think the daydream factor for me here is that I always visualize myself back at the scene of the argument. How would I act differently? What would my tone be? What would my expression be?

    This also made me think of the prospective daydream of before the argument, playing best-case scenarios in my head. I start with my initial reaction and mold my point-of-view and approach to optimize the result (for both sides).

    I just bought my copy of D@W!!! Very excited to dive in...