I’ve written before about how a conflict between the basic human needs for attachment and authenticity in our early childhood can potentially set the stage for the development of maladaptive daydreaming disorder.
Throughout our lives, we need to feel attached to the people we care about; we need to feel we belong somewhere; we need to feel loved. But as young children, we occasionally behave in ways that our parents or caregivers find unacceptable, whether that’s hitting a sibling, running out into the road, or having a tantrum in the middle of the supermarket. How the adults in your life handled those moments when you were growing up, along with how naturally sensitive you are, will have played a part in shaping how you see yourself.
Unfortunately, you may have got the message that you were only acceptable, only lovable, if you behaved in a certain way or if you suppressed certain emotions. For example, you might have felt that it wasn’t safe to express anger, because you’d be punished for it. Or you found that being sad made the people around you uncomfortable. So you learned to suppress particular emotions in order to be accepted by the people who cared for you. You believed that to be loved, you had to ignore your instincts and become someone you were never meant to be.
In real life, when the world doesn’t accept us for who we are, the only way to fit in is to pretend to be something we’re not. We can’t change the world, so we have to change ourselves. At that comes at a price. But in our daydreams, it’s different. In our daydreams, we can change the world, so we don’t have to change ourselves. We can make our daydream world a place where we’re accepted just the way we are. We can create characters who love us for who we are. We don’t have to make that choice between attachment and authenticity. In our daydream worlds we’re free to be ourselves without fear of judgement or rejection. That’s a big part of what makes daydreaming so appealing – and so addictive.
And that’s why, if there’s a disconnect between who you are in real life and who you are in your daydreams, I think it’s probably your daydream self that’s closer to the real you. Maybe not literally – in my sci-fi paracosm my daydream self has superpowers, so clearly I’m not turning into her in real life any time soon. But she’s also confident, loyal, energetic, talented, outspoken – all qualities I have but which I suppressed in real life because I’d developed a belief that other people don’t like you if you stand out or draw attention to yourself.
In my daydreams, I was free to explore who I could be when I had complete freedom to be myself. I was free to express parts of my personality that might have landed me in trouble if I’d expressed them in the real world. In my daydream world, it felt safe to be seen.
The belief that being authentically me would lead to judgement and rejection is something that started in my childhood, so long ago that I don’t even remember where it came from. So long ago that I don’t remember a time when I didn’t believe that. But believing something your whole life doesn’t make it true. That was something I learned the hard way, in hospital.
The magical thing about being in a psychiatric hospital is that you leave all your judgements and assumptions and pretences at the door. Everyone has hit rock-bottom, and when that happens, you really have no choice except to show up as your authentic self, because you don’t have the energy to pretend any more. And what I learned is that when people show up with authenticity and vulnerability, deep and profound connections can be made surprisingly quickly.
When we’re afraid to show up as our authentic selves, we actually push people away. We can’t connect to someone on the deep level we yearn for if we’re not allowing them to see who we truly are. So sacrificing your authenticity doesn’t just disconnect you from yourself, it disconnects you from the people around you, and thereby brings about the very loss of attachment that you were trying to avoid.
When you consciously suppress an emotion or a part of your authentic self, you don’t destroy it. You push it down into your subconscious. And that’s where we daydreamers are fortunate. Because we have a window into our subconscious. Messages that our subconscious needs to send us tend to come through in our daydreams. And the most powerful of those messages is who we really are.
As daydreamers, we spend a lot of time reminding ourselves that our daydreams aren’t real. But that doesn’t mean that the person you become in your daydreams isn’t real. If you don’t like the person you are in real life, that might be an indication that the real-world you isn’t the authentic you. And if you feel sad that you aren’t the amazing person you become in your daydreams, I’d invite you to consider the possibility that you are that person – and the only reason you think you’re not is because your real life isn’t ready for you yet.