On The Fantasy Bond (firestone)

The Fantasy Bond by R. W. Firestone, Ph.D
(1985) The Glendon Association


  • 18 – people generally mistake emotional hunger for love.


  • 22 – peace is purchased at the cost of avoiding spontaneous feelings and encouraging a process of emotional anesthesia – a trade-off in which primal anxieties are ameliorated by sacrificing the zest for life.


  • 29 – most people are afraid of leading separate, independent lives and therefore cling to family ties and fantasies of love, which offer the illusion and false promise of connection
  • 29 – 30 – the avoidance of pain and feeling drastically distorts people’s lives; it makes them resistant to any change in themselves or in their way of life; it shapes rules and roles in society as a fortress against feeling.

The Fantasy Bond

  • 35 – the perversity with which most people avoid or minimize experiences that are warm or constructive. Most . . . reject or manipulate our environments to avoid and emotional interaction that would contradict our  early conception of reality.
  • 36 –  most people prefer to exist in a non-feeling, defended state because to feel for themselves or for another person would make them more aware of their vulnerability and limitation in time.
  • 37 – Winnicott – Maternal failures produce phases of reaction to impingement and these reactions interrupt the ‘going on being’ of the infant. An excess of this reacting produces not frustration but a threat of annihilation. This . . .  is a very real primitive anxiety.
  • 43 – they fear positive experiences that make them feel deeply about their lives, they avoid them and tend to remain passive, somewhat childish, and may even provoke rejection or bring about disappointment.
  • 46 – self-hatred was a major defense. By hating herself, she never had to risk rejection or hatred from others; she rejected herself and them first.

Hunger versus love

  • 48 – emotional hunger is not love. . . . Hunger is a strong need caused by emotional derivation in childhood. It is a primitive condition of pain and longing which people often act out in a vain and desperate attempt to fill a void or emptiness. This emptiness is related to the pain of aloneness and separateness and can never realistically be satisfied in an adult relationship.
  • 52 – denying primitive hunger and pain and pretending connections that, in fact, do not exist, lead to fundamental distortions of each person’s sense of reality. It is a great burden on everyone to play this game of ‘let’s pretend.’
  • 53 – a rejecting and unloving parent will cause a child pain, but a dishonestly rejecting parent causes the child pain and makes him or her feel ‘crazy.’ This type of parent causes the child to become unsure of the ability to think and perceive correctly and ultimately causes the son or daughter to develop symptoms of psychological illness.
  • 54 – real love sustains and nurtures.

Couple and Family Bonds

  • 59 – as a relationship becomes more meaningful and intimate, because the new love object now threatens to disturb their equilibrium by penetrating their basic defenses.
  • [choose] to sacrifice friendship and love in order to preserve their respective defended states.
  • 60 – it is difficult . . . to see the love in these battle-scarred couples. The respect, concern, and caring that exist in a simple friendship are gone. In contrast, their behavior toward one another is made up of secrecy, distrust, deception, hostility, and indifference.
  • 62 – In time, a bond becomes a pact of mutual protection wherein each partner implicitly agrees to honor the other’s defenses.
  • 66 – The psychological equilibrium of the couple must not be disturbed by the intrusion of a spontaneous, lively, loving and affectionate child.
  • 68 – Parents generally want their children to reflect a superior family image by being better behaved, more outgoing, more athletic, or by getting better grades than the children of other families.
  • 70 – meta communications: the child realizes, on a deep level, that he or she is receiving two contradictory messages. However, because of the child’s dependency on the parents and need to believe their words, the child must sacrifice his or her own sense of reality.
  • 71 – real love threatens an individual’s defenses and source of internal gratification and leaves the person feeling vulnerable.

Organization of the defensive process

  • 74 – to defend against intrusions into this inner fantasy, the person utilizes three major modes of defense: (1) selection; (2) distortion; and (3) provocation.
    1. He or she tends to choose a person for a friend or mate who is similar to the parent because this is the person to whom the defenses are appropriate.
    2. distortion to fit idealized profile.
    3. 77 – individuals will behave in ways that provoke angry, punishing parental reactions other.
  • 78 – at the point where the individual begins to experience more closeness and feels more loving, he or she becomes anxious and retreats to a more familiar, less personal style of relating.
  • The primary defensive process
    1. idealization of parent, parents or family
    2. Negative self image
    3. Displacement of negative parental traits.
    4. withdrawn comfortable state
    5. withholding
    6. self-nourishing habits or routines
  • 82 – in general, people find it difficult to tolerate the positive anxiety inherent in constructive change.

Idealization of the family

  • 84 – the image of the parent must be positive because it would be impossible for the child to feel safe or secure with an internalized parent perceived as inadequate or destructive.
  • 85 – if in reality the mother is punishing and anxiety-provoking, it is not because she is malevolent but because oneself, the child, is bad.
  • 86 – The child retains two images of the parent: the good image which is conscious, and the bad image, which remains largely unconscious and is projected onto other people in the interpersonal environment.
  • 92 – emotionally deprived children find it impossible to see the parents faults; they cannot afford to do that because then their situation would seem genuinely hopeless.
  • They will go through their entire lives trying in a symbolic form to get that love from parent substitutes, going through maneuvers that they think will please, and they avoid and push away people who are not rejecting and appear different from their parents.
  • As long as the defense of  protecting the parental image is kept intact, these individual feel that there is some hope of being loved.
  • 98 – the  perpetuation of an idealized image of parents and family often leads to a life of self-hatred, inwardness, and avoidance of close, satisfying relationships.

The Negative self-concept

  • 100 – the person has certain well-defined thoughts of the self as unlovable, and though these patters of thought cause immense suffering, at least they provide an identity. Thus events that would lead to a positive change in basic self-concept are strenuously avoided because of the anxiety that this perceived loss of identity entails.
  • 103 – it appears that most people do not sufficiently develop their own morality or value system. Instead they judge themselves by external standards and maintain a feeling that they are ‘bad’ in relation to these standards.
  • 107 –  children are not convenient: a negative self-concept, together with feelings of self-hatred and depressive states . . . are basically a response to the parents’ deeply repressed desire to destroy the aliveness and spontaneity of the child whenever he or she intrudes on their defenses.

Displacement of negative parental characteristics.

  • 116 –  eventually adults come to provoke the treatment expected; usually they provoke negative responses very similar to those received in the original family.
  • 117 – in order to rationalize and justify their negative perceptions of others, they increasingly damage their own lives and future relationships.
  • They see others as hostile or threatening  and cannot see that their distorted perception of danger causes them to be the hostile ones.

Inwardness and the loss of feeling

  • 126 – most people will not tolerate the kind of life they say they desire because expanding their boundaries and finding love or warmth trigger painful sadness and revive the emptiness of past hurts.
  • 127 –  in the context of the family situation, the child must not show pain because it would betray the family secret.
  • 129 – 130 – one pretends, to oneself and others, that one is still pursuing realistic goals – love, material success, a rewarding career – while in fact maintaining self-denial and sabotaging one’s life.
  • 130 – 131 – much of human behavior is directed toward the avoidance of feeling – the painful, primal feelings from childhood as well as sad and hurtful feelings in the present. . . . The . . . succeeded in using routines and rituals to dull the anxiety and pain of their daily lives.
  • 133 –  a bond is an unspoken agreement between two people not to intrude on each other’s defenses or inward style. Both persons are afraid to break this pact because they are reluctant to be independent themselves and tend to be restrictive of the other. Therefore, both individuals operate out of guilt, fear, and obligation to maintain their inward state.
  • 135 – they underestimate the pain that is aroused by positive experience in life. . . . They do not recognize the fact that when people are responded to in a new, more positive way, it severs their bonds and cuts them off from their past. It make them aware objectively that they were not loved or treated respectfully, that they were not listened to or responded to realistically or compassionately when they were young.


  • 138 – a deep-seated fear of being drained or depleted.
  • 139 – control is all-important to withholding individuals. They regulate their inner fantasy world, composed of idealized parental images and their own negative self-image, so that it remains stable, predictable, and under their control.
  • 139 – 140 – the intensity of this rage is overwhelming and terrifying because its object is the very person on whom the child is dependent for survival. Hence, the rage is repressed, which subsequently leads to a basically hostile attitude that is expressed through patterns of withholding.
  • 141 – passive-aggressive: this particular type of withholding tends to be resorted to especially when there is no outlet for anger or hostility.
  • When parents are unable to meet a child’s needs, the child tends to turn against those wants as though they were bad.
  • 144 – the fact of first being loved and cared for, and then not being responded to, or being inconsistently responded to, creates a pull on the child that has a strong addictive quality. The child is compelled to try, by whatever means are at his or her disposal, to recapture the love once experienced, and this emotional hunger will tend to persist into adult life.
  • 149 – Women . . . often falsely equate meanness with strength and mistakenly perceive passivity as sensitivity or kindness.
  • A man’s ability to perform the sex act principally depends on the woman’s genuine desire for sex.
  • 151 – withholding is ultimately suicidal in that the person, in attempting to gain control over potential loss or separation, kills the self off in small ways each day.
  • 152 – there still exists a strong social pressure for women to build up a man’s vanity and there may be negative consequences and recriminations from her mate if she does not comply.
  • 154 – on an existential level, the couple bond . . . becomes a death pact in which each partner alters behavior and withholds admirable traits to such an extent that he constantly hates himself. . . . Through withholding, many people effectively commit a slow suicide, systematically ridding themselves of all that is most valued until, in a sense, they have nothing left to lose.
  • The ‘voice’ represents the parents’ wishes to destroy that part of the child which is the most threatening to the parents’ defenses. In most cases, it is the child’s natural capabilities, enthusiasm, spontaneous attraction to the parent, lovability, liveliness, exuberance, humor, that break into the parent’s well-defended state of emotional deadness.
  • 155 – progress in therapy requires that the patient become aware of his or her typical methods of manipulating the environment through withholding responses.

Self-nourishing habits and painkillers. 

  • 156 – psychological methods used to dull pain generally become addictive. Like drugs, they reduce anxiety and lead to feeling better temporarily.
  • 158 – later, in times of emotional stress, the child retreats into an inner world of fantasy and utilizes these same techniques to sooth and comfort itself.
  • Many children eventually learn to substitute eating for the love and companionship that is missing in the family situation.
  • 161 – the most significant factor is that both . . . overeating and self-starvation, preserve the patients’ illusion that they can take care of themselves, because they temporarily alleviate anxiety.
  • 168 – becoming dependent on another person out of a desire for security is one of the most prevalent forms of human addiction and plays a prominent role in the deterioration of couple and family relationships.
  • 169 – the therapist must help the patient re-experience the painful feelings and deep frustration that originally caused the person to seek gratification inwardly.

Separation, regression and fusion

  • 173 – each step forward is accompanied by reminders of the terror of being abandoned as a totally dependent infant.
  • 174 – regression to an earlier stage of relating, where there appeared to me more security, tends to fixate behavior at that level and leads to the preservation of a childlike immaturity.
  • 176 – the inevitable traumas of life: poverty, injustices, inequalities, illness, and eventual death.
  • The child who is deprived or rejected will tend to over-react to successive separations throughout life.
  • 177 – the fear of breaking his bond with his wife, despite the poor relationship in actuality, is typical of separation anxiety.
  • 183 – on a behavioral level, regress individuals appear to seek environmental support and direction. They give up autonomy and authority over their own lives and desperately try to elicit parental responses.
  • 184 – in reverting to childlike behaviors, there is a strong desire to imagine or even provoke rejection from love objects.
  • Regressive trends also manifest themselves in self-destructive and careless actions that elicit concern and worry from loved ones.
  • 185 – all are examples of efforts to manipulate parents or other authority figures to behave in a manner that supports the child’s illusion of safety and perpetual care and attention.
  • These behaviors act to cement the bond by manipulating other persons or institutions into a parental role. The resulting parental responses, in turn, support the illusion of connection.
  • Rmg – One must find an equally damaged partner, as a strong partner is too dangerous and would require that the defenses be lowered and expose one to the existential vulnerability concomitant with actual intimacy.


  • 192 –   the . . . process is an attempt to withdraw from socialization and preserve some integrity. It is a solution in the sense that the psychotic delusions, hallucinations, and fantasies seem to alleviate the intense anxiety and panic, and in the patient’s eyes, act to protect and preserve his life.
  • 193 – the child elaborates this inner world, entering it at will whenever  feeling threatened by potentially hurtful interpersonal situations.
  • Relying on fantasy progressively debilitates the person in a capacity to cope with the real world; that is, it impairs ability for reality testing.


  • 215 – once people have been damaged in their basic feelings about themselves in their early lives, they react against experiencing themselves as being lovable and capable of offering real love and companionship. They are reluctant to change or give up their negative self-image and thereby risk incurring anxiety and subsequent disappointment.
  • 217 – it is because the . . . child is rejected and deprived that he or she must fantasize about being close to the parents.

Society and conventionality

  • 228 –  the family’s function is to repress Eros; to induce a false consciousness of security ; to deny death by avoiding life, to cut off transcendence; to believe in God, not to experience the Void; to create . . . one-dimensional man; to promote respect, conformity, obedience.
  • 230 –  society and social mores [act] as a pooling of combined defenses of all its members.
  • 231 – Unfortunately, they are taught to be selfless, to conform to senseless and unnecessary prohibitions at the expense of self.
  • 232 – perhaps the single most important reason that parents fail in their desire to provide love and care for their offspring is that the parental defense system must be kept intact to avoid pain and anxiety.
  • Children find many methods to defend themselves in order to deaden their pain and relieve feelings of frustration when their needs are not met. They begin to act and respond in terms of roles rather than expressing their real selves. Their actions are geared to manipulating their parents and other people and in this process they lose themselves.
  • 235 – the precept of unconditional parental love is a fundamental part of society’s morality and the core of family life. It leads to considerable guilt feelings in parents.
  • 237   the truth is that many parents are adults physically, but still children emotionally. To the extent that they have been malformed in their own development, they will act out their neurosis on all persons who come into close contact with them, especially their children, who are helpless and cannot escape.
  • 239 – when children are given two opposing messages or are expected to act in contradictory ways without being able to comment on the discrepancy, they tend to develop serious behavior and thought disturbances. . . . on a larger scale, double messages permeate our society to such an extent that one can predict similar effects on a social level.

The development of individual defenses against death anxiety

  • 243 – denying death leads to a progressive giving up of life-affirming activities and pursuits for the security of an imagined fusion with another person.
  • 249 – Becker: Kierkegaard understood that the lie of character is built up because the child needs to adjust to the world, to the parents, and to his own existential dilemmas. It is built up before the child has a chance to learn about himself in an open or free way.
  • control, absent a safe and loving environment: the infant learns to defend itself from feelings of annihilation and separation.

Conventional defenses against death anxiety

  • (Erich Fromm – escape from freedom) The majority of men have not yet acquired the maturity to be independent, to be rational, to be objective. They need myths and idols to endure the fact that man is all by himself, that there is no authority which gives meaning to life except man himself.
  • 272 – many people expect far more security from couple relationships and marriage than it is possible to extract.
  • Indeed, when a person perceives a mate as he or she really is, a mortal human being with flaws, weaknesses, and blemishes, generally the response is one of anger and disillusionment.
  • 273 – when family bonds develop, real togetherness is replaced by special attention, intrusiveness, and possessiveness on the part of parents. Children come to expect this counterfeit ‘love;’ indeed, after a time, they demand it, using annoying behaviors like whining, excessive crying, and temper tantrums whenever they feel the absence of special treatment.
  • 274 – it has been said that the neurotic is an artist without talent.