The fantasy bond is a form of self-parenting and self-protection that offers an illusion of pseudo-independence at the expense of real relating. The degree of reliance on the illusion of connection or fantasy bond is proportional to the degree of frustration and pain experienced in a person’s developmental years.
The concept of the fantasy bond was introduced by psychologist and author of The Fantasy Bond, Dr. Robert Firestone. In his book, Conquer Your Critical Inner Voice, Dr. Firestone explains the fantasy bond as follows:
Generally speaking, the single most important factor that contributes to the deterioration of love and friendship in a relationship is the formation of a fantasy bond. People who develop this type of destructive bond often deceive themselves and each other by imagining that they still love each other long after their feelings of love, affection, and friendship have diminished or disappeared altogether. Understanding the concept of the fantasy bond helps answer questions that all of us have asked at one time or another, “ Why did this love affair die?” or “Why did this marriage fail?”
Why is it that many people find comfort and security in fantasy and turn away from the real satisfaction and happiness they could have in genuinely loving relationships? The answer lies in childhood. All children, to varying degrees, suffer emotional pain and anxiety in the process of growing up. In families where the parents are unable to provide the love and affection as well as the direction and guidance necessary to meet their child’s needs or to enhance his or her development, the child forms an illusion of being at one with the mother or primary caregiver as a substitute for what is missing in the environment. Children develop a false sense of being totally self-sufficient by relying on this fantasy to partly relieve their pain, anxiety, and hunger. They feel as though they are a complete system within themselves, made up of the nurturing parent and the needy child.
The more seriously deprived or rejected we were as children, the more we tend to create this fantasy and believe that we need no one but ourselves. Later, as adults, we resist real closeness and genuine love from other people and are reluctant to take another chance in an intimate relationship. We are afraid that if we take the risk, we will be exposed to the same depth of anxiety, fear, and emotional pain that we were trying to escape when we originally formed the fantasy bond, at a time when we were helpless and dependent. So we form a fantasy of being close and loving, of being connected to our partner, just as we imagined we were connected to our parents. We repeat the patterns of the past and avoid taking a chance on having a real relationship with another person. It seems that many people would rather repeat the same pattern, which feels familiar and somehow safe, than take a chance on something new.
However, we can act courageously and break this self-protective habit, and let someone else into our lives. And when we do, we will be open to the real intimacy, warmth, or affection that is available to us.