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Imagination is a determining factor in the search for self-realization.

Imagination is a determining factor in the search for self-realization. Imagination is a determining factor in the search for self-realization.
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Neurosis and Human Growth
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Neurosis and Human Growth
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The second characteristic inherent in all the elements of the search for glory is the great and peculiar role imagination plays in them. It is instrumental in the process of self-idealization. But this is so crucial a factor that the whole search for glory is bound to be pervaded by fantastic elements. No matter how much a person prides himself on being realistic, no matter how realistic indeed his march toward success, triumph, perfection, his imagination accompanies him and makes him mistake a mirage for the real thing. One simply cannot be unrealistic about oneself and remain entirely realistic in other respects. When the wanderer in the desert, under the duress of fatigue and thirst, sees a mirage, he may make actual efforts to reach it, but the mirage—the glory —which should end his distress is itself a product of imagination.

Actually imagination also permeates all psychic and mental functions in the healthy person. When we feel the sorrow or the joy of a friend, it is our imagination that enables us to do so. When we wish, hope, fear, believe, plan, it is our imagination showing us possibilities. But imagination may be productive or unproductive: it can bring us closer to the truth of ourselves— as it often does in dreams—or carry us far away from it. It can make our actual experience richer or poorer. And these differences roughly distinguish neurotic and healthy imagination.

When thinking of the grandiose plans so many neurotics evolve, or the fantastic nature of their self-glorification and their claims, we may be tempted to believe that they are more richly endowed than others with the royal gift of imagination—and that, for that very reason, it can more easily go astray in them. This notion is not borne out by my experience. The endowment varies among neurotic people, as it does among more healthy ones. But I find no evidence that the neurotic per se is by nature more imaginative than others.

Nevertheless the notion is a false conclusion based upon accurate observations. Imagination does in fact play a greater role in neurosis. However, what accounts for this are not constitutional but functional factors. Imagination operates as it does in the healthy person, but in addition it takes over functions which it does not normally have. It is put in the service of neurotic needs. This is particularly clear in the case of the search for glory, which, as we know, is prompted by the impact of powerful needs. In psychiatric literature imaginative distortions of reality are known as "wishful thinking." It is by now a well-established term, but it is nevertheless incorrect. It is too narrow: an accurate term would encompass not only thinking but also "wishful" observing, believing, and particularly feeling. Moreover, it is a thinking—or feeling—that is determined not by our wishes but by our needs. And it is the impact of these needs that lends imagination the tenacity and power it has in neurosis, that makes it prolific—and unconstructive.

The role imagination plays in the search for glory may show unmistakably and directly in daydreams. In the teenager they may have a frankly grandiose character. There is for instance the college boy who, although timid and withdrawn, has daydreams about being the greatest athlete, or genius, or Don Juan. There are also in later years people like Madame Bovary, who almost constantly indulge in dreams of romantic experiences, of a mystic perfection, or of a mysterious saintliness. Sometimes these take the form of imaginary conversations in which others are impressed or put to shame. Others, more complicated in their structure, deal with shameful or noble suffering through being exposed to cruelty and degradation. Frequently daydreams are not elaborate stories but, rather, play a fantastic accompaniment to the daily routine. When tending her children, playing the piano, or combing her hair, a woman may for instance simultaneously see herself in much the way a tender mother, a rapturous pianist, or an alluring beauty would be presented in the movies. In some cases such daydreams show clearly that a person may, like Walter Mitty, constantly live in two worlds. Again, in others equally engaged in the search for glory daydreams are so scarce and abortive that they may say in all subjective honesty that they have no fantasy life. Needless to say, they are mistaken. Even if they only worry about possible mishaps that might befall them, it is after all their imagination that conjures up such contingencies.

But daydreams, while important and revealing when they occur are not the most injurious work of imagination. For a person is mostly aware of the fact that he is daydreaming, i.e., imagining things which have not occurred or are not likely to occur in the way he is experiencing them in fantasy. At least it is not too difficult for him to become aware of the existence and the unrealistic character of the daydreams. The more injurious work of imagination concerns the subtle and comprehensive distortions of reality which he is not aware of fabricating. The idealized self is not completed in a single act of creation: once produced, it needs continuing attention. For its actualization the person must out in an incessant labor by way of falsifying reality. He must turn his needs into virtues or into more than justified expectations. lie must turn his intentions to be honest or considerate into the fact of being honest or considerate. The bright ideas he has for a paper make him a great scholar. His potentialities turn into factual achievements. Knowing the "right" moral values make him a virtuous person—often, indeed, a kind of moral genius. And of course his imagination must work overtime to discard all the disturbing evidence to the ozontrary.

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