Using Dreams and Fantasy in a Positive way to Escape Pain.
Whenever I sit in the dentist’s chair I fantasize about being somewhere else. I often imagine myself walking through the Old City of Jerusalem, one of my favorite places from my travels. I can hear the clatter from the narrow streets, smell the air in the marketplace, fragrant with exotic spices, and see the golden glint of the Dome of the Rock against the skyline. I become completely immersed in the fantasy until the dentist’s drill seems far, far away.
Of course, it doesn’t always work. There have been times at the dentist when I haven’t had time to get involved in my fantasy, and I’ve sat there and flinched at the slightest pain. “Oh, my God, he’s about to use the slow drill–the one feels like it’s screwing you into the floor. Ahhh! Here it comes. Here it comes! Let me out of here!”
I’ve concluded that it’s good to use escapist fantasies in such situations.
Fantasy can be used to escape intolerable pain. For example, some people can perform amazing physical feats, such as piercing their body with skewers or hanging by piano wires threaded through their bones, yet they apparently feel no pain. Some have an unusual physiology that allows them to do these things but others accomplish these feats using only the power of the mind. They imagine they are somewhere else. One stuntman I saw described imagining that he is in a “warm comfortable place a little like a womb where nothing can possibly harm me or hurt me.” He then proceeded to do things to his body I won’t even begin to describe.
The man used the incredible power of fantasy to allow him to push his body to the limit. Under normal circumstances such pain would be unbearable. Yet he didn’t even blink. Asked whether he ever feels pain, he explained that he always feels pain if he has not had time to prepare and put himself in that “special place.” If he unexpectedly stubs his toe he will cry out in pain like any normal person. Only when he is immersed in his fantasy of another place can he be free of pain.
Clearly fantasy can be used to help cope with severe pain. Similar techniques have been tried with hypnotism, the first being in 1766when Antonio Mesmer successfully used hypnotism as a form of anesthesia. The first full operation was conducted by Recamier in 1821. Jules Cloquet followed him in 1829, Dr. John Elliotson in England, Dr. Albert Wheeler in the United States, and the well-known Dr. James Esdaile in India in 1840. Today some clinicians use hypno-anesthesia to prepare patients who can only have moderate use of anesthetics or are nervous about their operation.
To help a patient deal with pain, the hypnotist will suggest that the patient imagine being somewhere else. The hypnotist will help the patient imagine being in a place that is secure and happy, and will encourage the patient to experience the pleasurable sensations that this place provides. Often the place he suggests will be somewhere the patient already knows.
In a similar way, most people use fantasy about other places to escape unpleasant situations. How often have you been at work or in a classroom and fantasized about being somewhere else? When you feel depressed or worried about your situation, you might recall an enjoyable vacation or a place where you felt happy and at ease. These fantasies come naturally and are a safe, temporary escape from the harsh rigors of everyday life.
Dreams use travel and other places in a similar way to help you escape the trials of everyday life. In addition, they use settings as symbols to describe feelings and thereby give insight into problems. Most importantly, fantasies about travel and foreign lands are symbolic of a journey of self-discovery.
Also, by transferring a familiar problem to an unusual dream setting you are given a new perspective about patterns of behavior that have trapped you. Just as you see our old routines in a new light when you return from a vacation, so too, a fantasy dream set in another place can give you a fresh insight into your current concerns.