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Phantasy vs. Fantasy


Disciplines > Psychoanalysis > Concepts > Phantasy vs. Fantasy

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Phantasy is a state of mind of an infant child during the early stages of development.

They are largely unconscious in that they are not differentiated from conscious reality. In their early, pre-linguistic existence, infants differentiate little, if at all, between reality and imagination.

Phantasies stem from genetic needs, drives and instincts. They appear in symbolic form in dreams, play and neuroses.

They are constructed from internal and external reality, modified by feelings, and emotions, and then projected into both real and imaginary objects.

Phantasies are the means by which infants make sense of the external world and hence relate to it through Projection and Introjection.

In Klein’s concept, phantasy emanates from within and imagines what is without, it offers an unconscious commentary on instinctual life and links feelings to objects and creates a new amalgam: the world of imagination. Through its ability to phantasize the baby tests out, primitively ‘thinks’ about, its experiences of inside and outside. (Mitchell, 1986)


Fantasy is a reverie, a daydream, an imagined unreality that anyone can create.

We fantasize consciously about future possibilities and fulfilment of our basic needs and wishes.

Fantasies may well include elements of the deeper unconscious phantasies.


Klein's view

Klein was particularly interested in the early psychological development. She saws phantasies as prime motivators and thus as important forces for development.

For Klein, unconscious phantasies underlie not only dreams but all thought and activity, both creative and destructive, including the expression of internal object relations. They modify external events, investing them with significance.

"Infantile feelings and phantasies leave, as it were, their imprints on the mind, imprints that do not fade away but get stored up, remain active, and exert a continuous and powerful influence on the emotional and intellectual life of the individual" (Klein:1975:290)

Phantasies satisfy instincts by converting them into ideas and images. Hunger leads to a phantasy of an object that can satisfy it.

Phantasies come from instincts that border physical and psychical activities and are thus experienced both physically and mentally. For example a child who sucks its thumb is enacting the phantasy of feeding. Satisfying experiences are re-enacted internally through phantasies.

Phantasy enables the ego to perform its most basic function of establishing object relations. A world of good and bad objects are thus constructed through a process of projection and introjection between the external and internal worlds. Phantasy thus allows us to construct both our own identity and also, through projection, the construction of Others.

Phantasies develop in and into play, and Klein used 'play therapy' to learn about the early development of infants as a more effective method than Freud's use of free association.

Phantasies continue through childhood and into adult life.

"Phantasies - becoming more elaborate and referring to a wider range of objects and situations - continue throughout development and accompany all activities; they never stop playing a great part in all mental life" (Klein:1997:251)

Freud's view

Freud recognized phantasies, but looked to the unconscious wish as the prime mover. He saw phantasies as imagined fulfilments of frustrated wishes. Klein puts phantasies beneath unconscious wishes, rather than alongside them.

See also


Clarke, S. (2002) From Aesthetics to Object Relations: Situating Klein in the Freudian Uncanny. Free Associations. 8 (4) No 48. pp. 547-560

Klein, M (1975) Love, Guilt and Reparation and Other Works 1921-1945. London: Karnac Books

Klein, M (1997) Envy and Gratitude and Other Works 1946-1963. London: Vintage

Mitchell J. (1986) The Selected Melanie Klein. London: Penguin Books

Spillius, E.B. (2001). Freud and Klein on the concept of phantasy. International Journal of Psychoanalysis. 2001 Apr;82(Pt 2):361-7

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