Fantasy Net

Fantasy Net” is one of Donald Kalsched’s terms that I became very fond of. Pondering how I ended up where I did in life, the term took on a significance that eventually became one of the core ideas in Focusing Emptiness.

The reference In Focusing is to childhood trauma – my own childhood trauma -- and the psyche’s way the psyche has of protecting itself by splitting off  its most vulnerable parts, and pushing them into the unconscious. Sometimes, these parts can be caught in a kind of archetypal safety “net.”

As is the case throughout the narrative in Focusing, I build examples of this archetypal safety net into the story, but I don’t stop along the way to explicitly point it out. But almost immediately, the story begins hinting at archetypal possibilities. The first chapter is entitled “The Witch in the Closet,” about an old woman (or a witch, depending whether you are an eight year old boy, or an adult) who provides the reference story of Peter Pan. And there are the dogs in the story, most of which are named for the pirates in that story.

Split off or repressed content, what I call the lost child, or the lost children, that slips into the unconscious,is always looking for a way out…looking for a resolution. Projecting unconscious material out into the “external” world is one way such material can present itself to consciousness. But unconscious material doesn’t just project itself out onto anything; it requires a “hook” (so to speak).


You see this especially with scapegoating (see my article: The Scapegoat Archetypal and the Need to be Right: depth approaches in organizational cultures, Fall 2010 Annals 51 in the Annals of the American Psychotherapy Association) where a group’s collective unconscious begins to search around for someone to appropriate its material. In other words, the “hook” needs to be appropriate…participating in some way.

In some cases, the hook might be an individual. In other cases, it might be a group of individuals (e.g., the Jews). But it could also be a story, in which case the projection would not be so much projected “onto” the hook, but “into” the story.

In Focusing, the witch provides the story. On the one hand, it is a story of Peter Pan, but on the other hand – the archetypal hand – it is the story of a warrior. And that is just what Peter Pan is – a warrior… a child warrior. In the original story, as opposed to the watered down version by Disney, Pan was in fact a killer. He killed pirates with his knife.

So…it is this fantasy story that becomes the safety net into which my own vulnerable, split-off parts fall. Later, as I get older, the surface structure of Peter Pan will be exchanged for something more “appropriate.” But the warrior archetype, with all its implications, will remain as the core of whatever surface structure is adopted – e.g., a marine in Vietnam, a kung-fu practitioner, and so on.