The Nine Fantasies that will Ruin Your Life

(and the eight realities that will save you)


Dr. Joy Browne


These are my personal notes from the book. You may find other chapters and notes helpful. Nonetheless, these notes give you a feel for the book and enough to learn whether or not you want to invest the time.


Chapter Two: Everybody’s perfect…except me


  • Perfection can’t change and to be alive means to change
  • The gnawing sense of imperfection can taint the simplest pleasure and the greatest triumph

In this fantasy, relationships must be perfect lest they reflect badly on us. So being critical of others is an integral part of maintaining the fantasy that you are perfect and others must strive to keep up with you. This who process of the best defense being a good offensive is tiresome and joyless, but obsessive, because to fail means to be unworthy of love.

    • Erroneous notion that there are only two groups: the blameworthy and blameless
    • In order to feel safer, we attempt to divert attention elsewhere before our flaws can be scrutinized
    • I criticize; therefore I’m above being criticized. So I’m safe. You just escalate your private war
    • Growing up insecure because we believe there is an ideal way to be.
    • Attracting someone is dependent on looking or smelling or tasting different than you do
    • We belittle our opponent as a way of deflecting attention from our own imperfection


  • Everybody feels that way. Whatever we are isn’t enough


  • Advertising can remind us seven days a week in the comfort of our living rooms that we don’t have the perfect Evian body or Jell-O child
  • Parents admonitions combined with those impossibly perfect images are so overwhelming that we’ve lost our ability to distinguish between the possible and the impossible. The price of failure has never seemed higher
  • When you combine an excruciatingly small chance of success and a fear of failing, you get people who are afraid to look at themselves honestly for fear of what they will discover. The flip side of this ugly coin is a willingness to aggressively find fault with others as a way to feel superior and safe
  • Teens develop independence and a clear sense of self by rebelling, talking back, and experimenting with music, clothes, and friends that drive you absolutely crazy. Ask what you can do to help. You’d like his opinion on what the problem is and what the solution might be
  • If we could shift from the perfection model of child rearing, where any minor deviation has to be instantly eradicated, to a kinder, gentler, more realistic style, we could catch kids doing good rather than bad. Instead of constantly communicating our disappointment, we could find behavior to praise
  • When you communicate disappointment you are sending out a message of shame. Shame makes people feel small. For humans to change, they must summon energy from somewhere. If they feel small and belittled, they are unlikely to have the energy or the courage to find that energy
  • When you ask people–adults or children–how they feel about a situation, instead of telling them how disappointed you are, you give them room to evaluate their own behavior and offer a solution that feels appropriate and possible to them rather than just dispensed by you. If you allow people to make their own choices, their conscience goes with them so you don’t have to constantly be there to remind them of what’s right. Your goodness as a human being or even as a parent has nothing to do with your son’s grades. Your willingness to listen to him and to help him reach his goals and understand the obstacles has everything to do with being a good mom and loving human being
  • Pointing out error implies 1) they don’t know any better 2) you do 3) you are morally superior to them 4) unless you constantly remind them, they will revert to their less moral ways
  • Anything that goes wrong has to be someone else’s fault. We set up a system of blame. Somebody has to pay
  • You’re not helping unless people want to hear what you have to say
  • When you correct someone, you take a position of intellectual and sometimes moral superiority
  • The job of being happy is your personal responsibility. Love is about feeling safe enough to be ourselves, even if that means scattering mispronunciations here and there
  • If your son thinks he’s letting you down, he may feel just as awful as you did. We have good days, slack-off days, play-it-safe days, and go-for-it-days. The notion that we should be at peak performance all the time is the Human Being as Robot Theory. None of us can do our best every day
  • What if we became willing to stifle the impulse to offer our opinion unless we were specifically asked for it?
  • If you stop regarding other people’s actions as personal affronts, you might allow yourself to enjoy your imperfect but lovely little self, and your shoulders may unhunch. Loving, Evolving, Respectful, and Reasonable


Chapter Three: Winning the lottery will free me


  • If money were the key to happiness, millionaires wouldn’t have ulcers. They do and it’s not
  • Lottery-fueled fantasies raise untold zillions of dollars in all fifty states
  • Getting something for nothing is the heart and soul of a country that seems to believe that dreams come true. We need to harness that ability to dream by focusing on our goals
  • We dream rather than problem solve
  • We buy into the completely fanciful notion that money is the fountain from which all goodness flows
  • The dream of getting something for nothing is as old as human history. A search for free wealth is pointless. The daydream of unearned wealth allows our heart to escape our day-to-day feeling of failure
  • Marriages are often more solid when there is little rather than a lot of money
  • Successful people seldom mention money as a primary motivation
  • Lottery winners are almost universally less happy after winning than before they won
  • Sudden wealth is actually slightly more stressful than sudden poverty.
  • Worrying eats up your time and energy without accomplishing squat, and it makes you feel victimized. Take action! The thing to do is figure out how much you need for what you want; the difference between need and want; and what you can do to stop worrying
  • The real seduction of the money-equals-happiness equation is that it diverts us from an analysis of the real problem
  • Money is only symbolic, so it can’t make you or anybody else happy. You’ve got to figure out what money represents to you. (For me it is safety and comfort.)
  • Money is often a taboo subject. When it comes to our feelings about money, we fall silent
  • Money has become a big green tug-of-war in your marriage, where you are consciously or unconsciously pitting your husband’s ability to take care of you against your parents’
  • Work out a budget. Get a job. Money is a by-product of this energy
  • When both men and women are able to support themselves, this will be a brave new world where all of us will be valued for something other than our credit rating
  • If women want to be treated as equals, they may have to assume more of the financial burdens of life
  • The point of a business is to get you to work for the least amount possible. Taking work personally is a major mistake
  • Access to money is access to traditional male bastions: status, control, and choice
  • Scope out what money specifically symbolized for you so you can figure out how to make your life richer without that winning lottery ticket. Ask yourself what you would do if you won the lottery. The answer is the meaning to your life
  • Anything you’d do if you had the money, you can likely do without the money if you put your mind to it and plan
  • Let yourself dream of what you thought he could give you and figure out how you can get it for yourself
  • Perhaps this isn’t really about money at all, but as long as both of you believe it is, you’re stuck
  • Being in the middle encourages people to aspire to have more while being aware of the danger of losing what they have
  • Figure out what your fears are about money, control, and feeling taken advantage of


Chapter Four: The Truth Will Set You Free


  • We each have to find our own truth
  • We all have to find our own truth, that truth is going to change, and that your personal truth won’t necessarily be shared by anyone else
  • Truth is personal. Give up the notion that you have to convince others that their truth is wrong and yours is right
  • Perhaps you two can relax and admit that there are different paths to follow and each of us has to find those paths on our own. This philosophy allows for more than one true path. If there can be multiple truths, there can be multiple paths and choices, all appropriate and right for the individual. When our truth doesn’t allow for anyone else’s vision, we can get into some nasty, unhappy conflicts
  • Often we don’t ask the question because we’re afraid to hear the answer, which may be part of what is going on in your marriage. The two of you are trying to ignore your fears. As much as we try to avoid it, discomfort is an inevitable and unavoidable part of life. We can sometimes be misled by our own wish to be comfortable
  • There are different paths to the truth. All of us need to have rules by which we guide our course, but they are personal and are not necessarily transferable to other people or other situations. Be willing to listen to ideas, not believe them, be willing to hold our own actions to a rigid standard and free everyone else to do likewise
  • Shame undermines people’s self-confidence, and in order to change, we have to feel that we can deal with the unknown. That comes from good feelings, not bad
  • Do something or refuse to do something because it makes sense to you, not because it’s valuable or important to someone else
  • When we explain a situation in terms of someone else’s behavior–”He made me do it…She’s really nasty…It wasn’t my fault”–we give away our power to someone we already view as dangerous, which makes no sense
  • Focusing on behavior rather than motive is a much easier way to do business. The only person it’s okay to ask why of is yourself


Chapter Five: Men and Women are from Different Planets


  • While there are obvious anatomical differences between men and women, quite simply, we were all born on earth
  • For most of human history, women were perceived as a sexual, anatomical, and economic threat
  • Fantasies that serve to divide, humiliate, and demean aren’t worth embracing. This difference has virtually nothing to do with biology and everything to do with economics
  • A search for similarities is much more profitable than labeling someone as foreign
  • If a man can comfortably view women as essentially different, then there is no need to treat women equally or faily
  • Why, then, would women accept this incredibly destructive fantasy that men and women have nothing in common?
  • Don’t allow a man to convince you that you cannot spend money on yourself
  • What if women accepted that they were going to support themselves for a large part, if not all, of their lives and therefore planned to do just that? NOt only would work be a priority for both sexes, but social ties would be based on genuine affection rather than economic necessity
  • Flaunt your degrees, not your derrieres
  • Differences between men and women are all about money. Power shifts are seldom comfortable. Don’t be daunted by a bit of resistance here and there


Chapter Six: Ignorance is Bliss  (Knowledge is Power)


  • Ignorance is the ultimate dependence. Opting to be taken care of means you’re giving up control of your own life and assuming that someone else has your best interests at heart
  • The problem about accepting responsibility is that the buck stops squarely with you, and what if you make the wrong choice?
  • By sharing information, we level the playing field, leave ourselves open to judgment, and force ourselves to be responsible.
  • Knowledge can free you to make decision
  • Slaves were kept enslaved by having no access to information, and kept ignorant by being prohibited from learning to read and write. What people are forbidden to learn has traditionally separated classes, castes, races, and sexes
  • Don’t be intimidated by what you don’t know, but be challenged to learn what’s important to you. None of us can know everything, but we can decide what’s important to us and what’s important to the people who are important to us. Knowing doesn’t mean we have to have an opinion about it or be a world-class expert. Once we become defensive about what we don’t know, we become brittle and frightened and act as if we’re proud of our limitations. Being proud of ignorance is a costly attitude. Ignorance is blinding, isolating, and frightening
  • If you were being interviewed for a job and your prospective employer said, “Hey, you’re going to get paid the same amount of money and do the same thing every day with the same people for the next thirty years,” most people would run screaming to the hills. During an interview, we ask about opportunities for advancement, when the next raise is likely to occur, and what skills we need to acquire to reach the next level; yet in personal relationships we are offended by the idea that we may actually need to learn new things, work at it, or change. If we were as sloppy and unwilling to work at our jobs as we are reluctant to improve our relationships, unemployment would be at an all-time high
  • It’s your job to figure out who you are when you want. Then, sweetcakes, tell him
  • Ignorance is passivity at its most virulent and dangerous. Denial is just ignorance with attitude
  • “Hear nothing, see nothing, say nothing” is the ultimate act of hostility toward a loved one

Chapter Seven: Stick to Your Guns: A ferocious commitment to being right is an expensive lifestyle choice. People are going to fight back.


  • The ability to negotiate and empathize is valuable
  • Sticking to your guns means there will be dead bodies littering the landscape, some of which might belong to friends and potential allies. If differences can be understood and appreciated, nobody has to go to war over who’s right
  • Sometimes it’s not a matter of who’s right but of who’s left
  • Humans are the only creatures who are convinced that they know the true path, the right way, and will consistently ignore any evidence to the contrary
  • Larger goal sometimes is not to be right, but to be convincing, impressive, or charming
  • Be effective, moral, and caring, even if you’re not necessarily right. If you’re just looking for an effective joint solution you’ll have a chance to look for a path that pleases both of you
  • Minding someone else’s business is very, very risky and seldom appreciated. What at first glance looks like righteous behavior is often just judgmental or vindictive and is usually a diversion we create so we don’t have to take responsibility for what is going on in our own lives
  • Be aware of your motives
  • We get into trouble when we decide that our right is right for everybody
  • One of the fatal truth fantasies: that people will be grateful if you tell them the truth
  • We should keep our thoughts both private and flexible
  • “Ideas are for using, not believing.” Believing implies not only being right but being divinely right, which limits critical evaluation. Evaluating an idea based on its effectiveness allows field-testing and change without embarrassment. Belive what works for you and let everyone else do the same. Imagine the saved time and energy you can then apply to your own life. You can afford to be curious rather than judgmental about everyone else’s life
  • It’s unwise to assume that everyone will understand us all the time. It also is silly to assume that just because we’re “right,” reiterating the point will win us instant support
  • Asking other people to be grateful is asking for trouble
  • We only have to be right for ourselves and allow everyone else the same privilege and respect
  • The real test of character is not doing the right thing but doing the right thing even when it means that your enemy wins


Chapter Eight: Good Always Triumphs (Live isn’t fair. Get used to it. Do the best with what you’ve got. And no whining.)


Here are the false ideas discussed here:

Life is fair

Love is unconditional

Love is eternal

Easy is best

Effort is rewarded

Nothing changes

Luck is a reward


Chapter Nine: Somewhere I Have a Soul Mate (Believing you have a mirror image who will love you gives mirrors a bad name)


  • That other person then has a manageable task: to merely add pleasure to her already functional and meaningful life
  • Where is the little girl I married, and how do I get her back?
  • Joe, I’m not sure how little your “little girl” was when you married, but it takes a certain number of years to form an adult personality. Even if she was ninety-four when you married, you better believe that if love does last forever, it’s going to change form. This shape-shifting can confuse us. I am convinced that women choose men thinking they can change therm and men choose women assuming they will never change. How can we expect these relationships to work? First of all, they need a firm basis in reality that will allow for change without catastrophe. Fantasy is resistant to change.
  • Implicit in our fantasies about the eternal nature of true love are three heartfelt beliefs that: 1) nothing will ever change; 2) if there is change, both people will change in the same direction; 3) only the things you dislike will be changed.
  • As you may recall from high school biology, every cell in our bodies is replaced in a a seven-year cycle. If our bodies change that much, the likelihood of our feelings remaining constant is unlikely. Not only is the little girl you married all grown up, but so is the fresh-faced guy she married. You’ve both changed. I’m not saying people will fall out of love or stop loving, just that feelings, bodies, perspective, and expectations change. Sex may very well change a relationship, but sex isn’t love–even though in our charmingly benighted way, we pretend it is. Change is movement, and when you’re dealing with sex and expectation, movement is seldom predictable. While it is undoubtedly true that people change, the direction of that change is often hard to predict. The assumption that to people will change in the same direction is therefore even less likely, and the assumption that only the irritating stuff will change is definitely not logical. The reasons people change are often hard to ascertain, difficult to understand, and surprisingly personal. The behavior we are most likely to change is our own. The behavior we are most likely to want to change is someone else’s.


**  Expectation is the death of serenity. Expectations say a lot about you and nothing about the other person, which is a sure recipe for disappointment.


Realities: Chapter Four: We’re responsible for our behavior. Everybody has bad thoughts. It’s bad behavior that separates the good guys from the bad guys.


  • Regardless of how we were raised, we must be held responsible for our actions. Ignorance about our own behavior doesn’t mean we’re any less responsible.


Realities: Chapter 5: Romance is the poison of the Twentieth Century. Unrealistic expectations mean never being satisfied with what you’ve got, and romance is the ultimate unrealistic expectation.


Realities: Chapter Six: Go for Short-Term pain and Long-Term Gain. Get the icky stuff out of the way first, so you can enjoy everything else for a long time.


  • A saint without an audience would just be a masochist with no place to go.
  • A friend tells you what is going on with her; a Friend asks what’s going on with you.
  • A person who has seen you cry
  • A person who throws the party or comes early to help you cool
  • A person who knows you
  • A person who chats
  • A person who tolerates
  • A person who understands
  • A person who accepts
  • You BE that friend


Realities: Chapter Seven: People Do Things for Reasons. Even though it may not be obvious, there is always a reason for action.

  • When we look at someone else’s behavior and deem it nutty, we are simply unaware of the link between that person’s thoughts and actions, but a link does exist
  • View his behavior from his perspective
  • People do things for reasons
  • The reasons are knowable
  • There is a consistency of response


Realities: Chapter Eight: Attitude: Hey, Dude, It’s Everything. We can’t control what happens to us, but we’re in charge of how we respond


  • You are an active participant in your own happiness. You truly are the architect of your own well-being. The bad news is that this signals an abrupt end to the tendency to whine, complain and blame
  • Being negative may seem hip and trendy, but you’ll be totally miserable, and folks will avoid you like the plague, which will just make you lonelier. Bummer.
  • If you have a choice, there is no victimization, no one option, no destiny, and no whimpering

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I'm a doctor of philosophy in Literary and Cultural Studies which makes me interested in everything! I possess special training in text analysis, African American literature, Women and Gender Studies, American lit, World Lit and writing. I work as an assistant professor of English in Memphis.

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