What is Maladaptive Daydreaming and Why Should I Care?
There is daydreaming. Then there is excessive daydreaming. Sometimes to the point that it interferes with our day to day real lives. It can take many forms. At times even involving what people might call imaginary friends. Many may feel ashamed, childish, embarrassed, isolated, and not know where to turn. They might spend hours pacing, rocking, listening to music, lost in their heads.
For those of you familiar with dissociation, and the dissociative spectrum, you may already be aware that daydreaming is considered a ‘normal’ form of dissociation. The general public and mental health community is not yet fully aware of the existence, let alone the impact, of Maladaptive Daydreaming. It is slowly finding it’s way into the public consciousness as more and more people come forward and begin to open up about this often secret, but life altering problem.
And it is a problem.
So how can you tell?
Daydreaming That Tends to Have Triggers
Even someone who has found a fairly stable way to control their excessive daydreaming, can find themselves being pulled back in by triggers. Some triggers include, but aren’t limited to: Television, movies, music, books, real life events, new traumas, facing old traumas, anxiety, stress, and other outside stimuli. These triggers can pull them right back into daydreaming excessively. Even something good, like a movie they enjoy, can take them out of the world for hours upon hours on end.
Daydreaming That Feels Like an Addiction
Some of you who don’t experience Maladaptive Daydreaming may be thinking, so what if they daydream too much, what’s the big deal? They think everything is a disorder nowadays! It’s not like they’re an alcoholic, drug addict or have a gambling problem. The problem is that it is an addiction in the same way as any other addiction. It can be all consuming and impede on peoples’ abilities to lead a healthy, happy, full life.
People who experience Maladaptive Daydreaming may feel compelled to daydream. They may avoid friends, work, family, life in general, in favor of their daydreams. It just happens many times, taking them away before they even realize that it’s been weeks since they’ve been in touch with this person or done that thing. They can lose friends, jobs, family support, be alienated and isolated as they daydream for hours and hours daily sometimes.
Novel or Movie-Like Elaborate Daydreams
Maladaptive Daydreamers aren’t just casually having random fantasies they tuck away and leave behind as they go on about their lives the way the average person does. Their daydreams can often resemble the details you might find in your favorite book or television series. They might develop entire false realities of their own. These daydreams often include complex characters (imagined/imaginary people), relationships, plots, stories, situations, places, images, with details beyond belief. They may have heroes, villains, families, friends, enemies, fantasy creatures, real life scenarios, and everything and anything in between. Ask a Maladaptive Daydreamer to give you the details of some of their daydreams and you’ll find yourself swept up into a whole new world.
Daydreaming, But Not Losing Touch With Reality
Maladaptive Daydreamers may become so absorbed in their daydreams that they feel emotionally attached to the people, places, and relationships they’ve developed in their own minds. A few may even feel like their daydreams are more real to them than their real lives. But they never lose touch with the fact that it is in fact all fantasy. They haven’t lost touch with reality. They don’t believe the people, worlds, places in their daydreams are real. They don’t ever get confused between fantasy and reality. They’re very aware of the real life going on around them and that their fantasies are just that.
*If you or someone you love is showing signs or symptoms of losing touch with actual reality, then you need to seek out professional help because something else is going on and wrong and it isn’t daydreaming, maladaptive or otherwise.
Daydreaming That Might Include Repetitive Physical Movements
Another sign of a Maladaptive Daydreamer is that many, though not all, tend to have their own repetitious behaviors while they’re daydreaming. Some may have only one behavior they do repeatedly while daydreaming and they may not even do it every time they daydream, but only in certain situations. Others may have various different repetitive behaviors they use. Some of the common repetitive behaviors by Maladaptive Daydreamers include: Pacing, rocking, holding an object and shaking or tapping it, tapping a foot, dancing, spinning, etc.
Other Physical Behaviors
While we may think it’s cute to see a small child playing with their imaginary friend, it becomes more uncomfortable when an older child or adult does so. This is something many of us with Maladaptive Daydreaming learn to hide or wait until we’re alone to daydream too fully. Because some other behaviors associated with Madalaptive Daydreaming include: Making facial expressions, laughing, crying, moving one’s lips/mouthing words, whispering, talking out loud, and gesturing with hands.
Again, some may think this sort of behavior to be very bizarre, but it is fairly common amongst Maladaptive Daydreamers.
Often begins in childhood
It may start out as an imaginary friend or simple random daydreams brought on by loneliness, struggles, neglect, a trauma, abuse, anxiety, or other stress related events. It then begins to develop and grow into a more chronic form of daydreaming. It can also start later in life, but it generally begins in childhood.
Is excessive daydreaming always a bad thing? Does being a Maladaptive Daydreamer mean I’m mentally ill? Should be I ashamed of my daydreaming?
No. No. And no. Some people with Maladaptive Daydreaming have learned to harness the creativity they normally would exert toward daydreaming, and use it in more productive ways. They have also learned to explore just what caused them to begin daydreaming so excessively, learned to recognize their triggers, and learned to accept themselves.
Maladaptive Daydreamers tend to be imaginative, creative, intelligent people. Finding ways to fuel that imagination of yours into healthy creative outlets is a great way to utilize something you or others may see as a negative, and turn it into a positive. Artists, actors, writers, musicians, inventors, and many other professions can be wonderful ways in which being a daydreamer can work for, and not against you. If not a profession, it can also be channeled into a healthy and fun hobby. Even one you can share with others!
You shouldn’t be any more ashamed of your daydreaming than you should of anything else that makes you, uniquely you!
I think daydreaming is interfering with my life. I really don’t like it anymore. How can I stop?
Seek out others who feel the same way you do and can help offer you support. This can be extremely helpful. First, you won’t feel so alone and frustrated. Secondly, you’ll have others who relate, understand, and can give you solid advice on where to turn and what to do.
Therapy can also be very helpful. A therapist, counselor, or psychologist that you’re comfortable with and can be open with, can help unravel why you daydream excessively and find tools to help you heal old wounds, and cope with current problems in ways that are healthier for you.
Creative outlets. Look for outlets for that amazing imagination for yours! Instead of thinking of your Maladaptive Daydreaming as a disorder, syndrome, or illness that is ruining your life, turn it around and make it work for you. Maybe you have a passion for painting, or always wanted to be an actor/actress. Look for a painting class or find a play to audition for. Find careers that work best for creative people and see if there is one out there that you might thrive in. Even if you don’t find a life career, you might find a healthy, fun hobby to put your energies into that makes you happy.
These things, and I’m sure others, can help make your excessive daydreaming enhance your life, rather than impede it.
So here are methods:
Stay Busy; Avoid Procrastination:
You do have a real life, and actual things that need to be accomplished in that life. Strive to do the real life things that you need to do, and plan for things that you need to accomplish in your real future. Try to avoid putting things off that need to get done. You could try making a weekly list of things that you need to do, and that are reasonable and attainable, then work to accomplish those goals. Praise yourself every time you check something off the list!
Some people may want to make a deal with themselves; if they finish certain tasks, they will give themselves some free daydreaming time (with a DEFINITE start and finish time.) Other people may find that this is a bad idea for them. Perhaps a better plan would be to reward yourself with an enjoyable real life activity instead. You have to experiment and see what works best for YOU.
Take Care of Yourself:
It’s easy for people suffering with this illness to ignore or neglect their body and health.
It’s very important to get enough sleep every night, eat regular, healthful meals, exercise if possible, and promptly attend to any physical problems that you may have. You will feel better, and also be actively focusing on your real life and body – as you should be.
When you start daydreaming or are tempted to do so, occasionally remind yourself that the daydreams are NOT reality. This seems obvious, but it is actually very helpful to sometimes stop yourself when daydreaming and say to yourself, “No, I’m not a TV star or rock singer, and no, I’m not rich and famous. That is NOT the real me, or my real life.” I know it’s hard to back away from the seductive world of daydreaming, but it’s important to remind yourself that when you’re in love with your daydreams, you’re in love with…..NOTHING.
Avoid Self Hatred:
Ultimately this kind of attitude is extremely self-destructive, counter-productive, and worse than useless.
Please keep in mind that this is an illness just like OCD, Bipolar Disorder, or any other mental health problem. There is still a great deal of stigmas on such disorders, and this is very unfortunate.
This problem is really no different from any of the above issues, or even different from having diabetes, arthritis, or any other physical malady. It is simply an illness that needs to be dealt with.
Remind yourself of this if you find yourself falling into patterns of self hatred: you did NOT ask for this problem, and you did NOT choose to have it. Forgive yourself for not being “perfect” or “normal.” Be gentle and loving with yourself as you work to deal with this issue, the same as you would to a good friend who came to you with this problem.
Some people have stated that they have experienced some emotional withdrawal symptoms when they try to lessen or stop daydreaming. People have mentioned such symptoms as anxiety, depression, a feeling of emptiness, changes in sleep patterns, etc. You may or may not experience this, however, daydreaming is by definition an escape from reality. By removing that activity, feeling, thoughts, and issues that have not been dealt with may rise to the surface and now need to be faced and worked through. Please consider both therapy and medication if you find it hard to cope without daydreaming in your life. Both of these things have been very helpful to me. At the very least, be aware that this could initially happen when you start to control your daydreaming, and be prepared to work through it.