Do not kill off your characters

I sometimes see people suggesting on social media that you can overcome maladaptive daydreaming by killing off your characters or taking the plot in a direction you find disturbing or even just boring. The idea is that if you make the daydream less appealing, you’ll be less tempted to indulge in it. It sounds fine in theory, but I think there are very good reasons why this approach is unlikely to work.

Killing off your characters

If, like me, your daydreams aren’t linear in time, killing off your characters won’t do anything. My daydream plot spans many decades, and I can jump into it wherever I choose. Some of my characters die. My daydream self even dies in the final scene. Just because I know how the story ends doesn’t mean I can’t go back and enjoy the earlier parts. If I want to spend time with a character who dies part-way through the story, I just drop into the plot at a point where they’re still alive.

Even if you don’t jump around in your timeline like that, does killing off a character ensure they’ll stay dead? Might you give yourself the option to rewrite history and magically bring them back to life? Could you think of a bizarre plot twist where it’s later revealed they never actually died? Alternatively, does their death open up a whole range of possible scenarios you want to explore?

Making the plot unappealing

If killing off your characters isn’t going to stop you daydreaming, how about taking the plot in a direction you don’t want it to go? Many years ago, I did that by accident. I tried to make my daydream world “perfect”. But I didn’t understand that my daydream world exists to provide me with excitement and adventure. In making my plot “perfect”, I also made it boring. That particular plot collapsed fairly quickly. And a more exciting one jumped in to take its place.

If you try to make your daydream world unappealing, it’s not going to stop you daydreaming. At best, it might mean that particular plot comes to an end. But if you aren’t ready to overcome your maladaptive daydreaming, you’ll just invent another world that’s more enticing than the one you spoiled.

What happens in your daydream doesn’t matter

The reason that killing off your characters or spoiling the plot won’t help you overcome maladaptive daydreaming is this: your daydreaming didn’t become maladaptive because your plot was so compelling you couldn’t stay away from it. Your daydreaming became maladaptive because real life was so painful that you needed to get away from it.

The causes of your maladaptive daydreaming are outside your daydream world, and therefore the path to overcoming maladaptive daydreaming is outside your daydream world too. You can’t solve maladaptive daydreaming from the inside, because that’s not where the problem started.

Making your daydreams unhappy will just make you unhappy

Maladaptive daydreaming is a coping mechanism. It’s an escape from a painful reality. And it’s the desire to escape instead of facing the problem that makes your daydreaming maladaptive. But the daydreaming itself is usually a lot of fun. Killing off your characters or spoiling the plot takes away that fun. But it does nothing to solve the underlying problem of real life being something you want, or need, to escape from.

You can be miserable in the daydream, because you’ve messed up your plot or killed off a character you loved. Or you can be miserable outside the daydream, because you still haven’t addressed the reason you were daydreaming in the first place.

There are no easy answers

Ultimately, there are only two ways to overcome maladaptive daydreaming. Either you fix the problem that you’re trying to run away from, or you find a healthier way to cope with it. Tinkering with the contents of your daydream does neither.

If you’re ready to address the issues underlying your maladaptive daydreaming, great. You might even find that you can recruit your characters to help you do that. But if you don’t currently have the resources or emotional strength necessary to overcome your maladaptive daydreaming, it’s important that you acknowledge that. And if that’s the reality of your situation – if you still need your maladaptive daydreaming as a coping mechanism – then you might as well allow yourself to enjoy whatever plot your mind comes up with. Because killing off your characters isn’t going to help you with anything.