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Arlow, J.A. (1969). Unconscious Fantasy and Disturbances of Conscious Experience. Psychoanal Q., 38:1-27.

(1969). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 38:1-27

Unconscious Fantasy and Disturbances of Conscious Experience

Jacob A. Arlow, M.D.

The role of unconscious fantasy in mental life has been recognized as of primary importance in psychoanalytic theory and clinical practice from the very beginning. Expressing the fulfilment of unconscious wishes, such fantasies were recognized by Freud as the common basis of dreams and the symptoms of hysteria (25), (28). He showed how hysterical attacks proved to be involuntary daydreams breaking in upon ordinary life. He had no doubt that such fantasies could be unconscious as well as conscious. Under favorable circumstances, it was possible to account for otherwise inexplicable disturbances of conscious experience in terms of the intrusion of an unconscious fantasy. The example he gave involved an upsurge of affect. He reported how a patient burst into tears, without apparent cause, while walking on the street. Thinking quickly, she came to realize that she had been involved in an elaborate, sad, and romantic daydream. Except for the psychotherapeutic experience in which she was involved at the time, the awareness of the fantasy and of its connection to her otherwise unaccountable outburst of emotion might have eluded her completely. Observations of this kind have since formed part of the experience of every practicing psychoanalyst.

Freud went on to demonstrate other ways in which the drives may find discharge by way of the intrusion of unconscious fantasies upon ordinary conscious experience (31). These may not only influence daily activity, as part of the psychopathology of everyday life, but they may also become part of the character.

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