If, as babies and infants, our relationship with our mother (or other primary carers) was impoverished, misattuned and lacking in security and our mother/primary carer was insufficiently attuned to our basic needs and could not be relied upon to comfort us during periods of distress then, as a form of psychological defence, we may develop, according to psychoanalytic theory, a fantasy bond with her (i.e. with our mother or primary carer).

What Is A Fantasy Bond?

A fantasy bond between the child and mother/primary carer is an imagined connection (between the child and mother/primary caretaker) that the child formulates in his/her mind and which serves to compensate for the mental distress caused by the mother’s/primary carer’s inadequate nurturing of him/her (i.e. the child) and failure to provide him/her with sufficient love and care. In short, then, the fantasy bond is an illusion the young child creates in his/her imagination in order to provide him/herself with a sense of comfort and safety Indeed, according to Silverman, this illusion, created in the mind of the very young child, is a very effective defence mechanism against psychological distress due to young child’s powerful imaginative abilities.

Possible Effects On Our Adult Lives

If we were put in the psychological position whereby it was necessary for us to create in our imaginations a fantasy bond with our mother/primary carer as a young child, this can have a seriously damaging impact upon our adult lives in so far as we are liable to create similar fantasy bonds with intimate partners manifested by ‘going through the motions’ of being in love or, to put it another way, ‘playing the role’ of being in love as opposed to feeling genuine, intense, spontaneous love for our partner. Such a relationship, then, based on the fantasy bond, is essentially false, artificial and hollow, devoid of meaningful emotional attachment, deep feeling or passion.

According to Firestone, many adults, as a result of dysfunctional early life relationships with their mother/primary carer, have a fear of intense emotional intimacy with others but, simultaneously, fear being alone. The fantasy bond, therefore, can be seen as a kind of compromise between the two extremes (i.e. intense emotional intimacy and being alone) as it provides some connection with another (thus staving off loneliness) whilst, at the same time, allowing one a degree of emotional detachment.

Possible Signs Of Having A Fantasy Bond With One’s Partner In One’s Adult Life

According to Firestone, signs that we may have developed a ‘fantasy bond’ with our partner include the following behaviours :

  1. reduced eye contact 
  2. poor communication
  3. adopting role determined behaviours to bolster the illusion of the fantasy bond
  4. lack of independence and breaching one another’s boundaries
  5. substituting routines, customs and conventional responses for genuine closeness
  6. speaking as one (e,g finishing one another’s sentences; using the pronoun ‘we’ rather than ‘I’).)
  7. emotional aloofness
  8. proneness to anger, manipulation and dominance
  9. routine, cold sex lacking in passion/affection
  10. having a distorted view of the partner’s ‘true self’
  11. playing the role of being in a truly loving relationship

Therapy

Those in an unhappy relationship with their partner may wish to seek couples counselling/relationship therapy.

RESOURCE:

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Firestone, R. W. (1987). Destructive effects of the fantasy bond in couple and family relationships. Psychotherapy: Theory, Research, Practice, Training, 24(2), 233–239. https://doi.org/10.1037/h0085709

Silverman, L. & Weinberger, J. (1985). Mommy and I Are One: Implications for Psychotherapy.  American Psychologist, 40 (12), 1296-1304

Silverman, Frank M. Lachmann, and Robert H. Milich.Richard A. Mackey, The Search for Oneness. By Lloyd H.  New York: International Universities Press, 1982. 306 pp. $24.95, Social Work, Volume 29, Issue 4, July-August 1984, Pages 411–412, https://doi.org/10.1093/sw/29.4.411

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