The protective influences in the mind differ from the protective influences in the body, in the sense that they are capable of greater abuse. The woman whose husband is missing may by some conscious process permit the compensatory fantasy that he is alive to attain such a degree of stability that it upsets her sanity. That is, the very thing provided to preserve sanity may destroy it. Thus fantasy has a double aspect; it is benevolent and malevolent.
There are many professional strengtheners of fantasy, especially in war-time. The woman seeking to consolidate her fantasy might consult a medium. Her condition would be comparable to that of a man who having taken alcohol during a period of great strain—when it was perhaps beneficial—goes on taking it to excess.
But why should the woman consult a medium ? In her state of increasing over-compensation there must be some force in her mind which seeks to break down the fantasy and against which she strives to fortify herself. This force might reveal itself in dreams. What she seeks to keep out of her consciousness may find expression in dreams. In such a case the system that wove the dream would be working against the fantasy-building system, and this condition of affairs would be caused by the excessive degree of over-compensation.
Let us take an actual example. A young man began to paint pictures during a period when it was impossible for him to pursue his normal line of work. He achieved a minor degree of success, and gradually conceived the fantasy that art was his true vocation. His normal work followed a difficult path. Art, on the other hand, seemed to him easy by comparison. His fantasy-building system wove pictures of a large studio, pleasant surroundings, easy-going companions, and unscheduled hours. In this state he experienced the following dream. " I was at an exhibition of pictures ; some of my own were hung in a corner. The room was empty. A man entered, wearing a fur coat, and I seemed to know that he was a millionaire and a great connoisseur. He began to examine the pictures. He came to the corner where mine were hung and passed on with scarcely a glance at them. . . ." The dream went on to deal with other matters. The point that concerns us here is that this fragment as it stands might be taken as an expression of an impulse in the dreamer's psyche that acts in opposition to the fantasy that had gone beyond the point of normal compensation. The taking up of painting was a compensation under the existing circumstances, but the idea of taking up art as a vocation was pushing the fantasy too far. The dream shows a wealthy connoisseur taking no notice of the dreamer's pictures, as if, in his opinion, they were totally worthless. Fantasy operating in consciousness had built up the idea that the pictures were of value. The dream, springing from levels below consciousness, seems to contradict this. But why, it may be asked, should the dreamer experience this dream ? We might see in it another attempt at compensation—an attempt to correct the overcompensation of the fantasy-building system. If this be the case, we obtain a glimpse into the workings of the human psyche that may be valuable. For we see, underlying the compensatory system on the conscious levels, a more deeply-lying compensatory system which operates from unconscious levels.
Now the pseudo-artist in his over-compensated state was like an extreme optimist. He took an excessively optimistic view of his artistic powers. Something deeper within him appeared to take a correspondingly pessimistic view. If we regard extreme optimism as over-compensation on conscious levels, then we must regard extreme pessimism as under-compensation in the same sphere.