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Robbins, B.S. (1943). Wishful Thinking. Am. J. Psychoanal., 3(1):64-65.

(1943). American Journal of Psychoanalysis, 3(1):64-65

Wishful Thinking

Bernard S. Robbins, M.D.

Wishful thinking is that type of walking mentation characterized by an active change in and distortion or denial of reality. It ranges from the common-place day dreaming of children to the rich imaginative flights of some adults that are preludes to creative activity. It expresses in the child a displeasure in things as they are, as well as his hopes and ambitions for things as they might or will become. It is provoked in him not only by real dissatisfactions, with the subsequent total denial of real limitations (the “I can fly” of a child), but also by the rapidly expanding the differentiating inner needs which demand changes in his environment so that he can best and more freely fulfil these needs. In the healthy child, wishful thinking is the necessary prelude to progressive and increasing cooperative action with other humans as well as to independent work; in the unhealthy child, it reinforces his withdrawal and strengthens his defenses erected to obtain security in a world generally regarded as hostile. To thoughtfully alter reality (wishful thinking) is universal. Whether or not it is pathological depends not so much on the character of the imaginative alteration or distortion as upon the motivation for the change and the function it serves the child.

When a seven-year-old youngster, voluntarily confined to the bathroom, converts the setting into a clubhouse, surrounds herself with imagined club-mates who clamour for her election as president, she may well be said to be indulging in wishful thinking.

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