My Perspective: What Is Maladaptive Daydreaming?
What Is Maladaptive Daydreaming and Why Should I Care?
Everyone daydreams. But some of us daydream excessively, to the point that it interferes with our day-to-day, real lives. It can take many forms. At times it can even involve 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. Does this sound like you or someone you know? You're not alone.
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 its 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.
Symptoms of Maladaptive Daydreaming
- It 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.
- Daydreaming 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 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.
- A compulsion 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 and 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.
Physical Signs of Maladaptive Daydreaming
Another sign of a Maladaptive Daydreamer is that many, though not all, tend to have their own repetitive 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.
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. It may be something more than daydreaming, maladaptive or otherwise.
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.
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.
Online Resources for Maladaptive Daydreamers
Whether you're a Maladaptive Daydreamer, or just occasionally enjoy daydreaming, I'm interested in what you have to say.
What seems to trigger your daydreams the most?
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.