If you’ve been struggling with maladaptive daydreaming disorder for a number of years, especially if those struggles have impacted your education, career and relationships, you’re probably wondering whether maladaptive daydreaming ever goes away. Is healing possible? Can you just grow out of maladaptive daydreaming disorder?
It’s a complicated question. First of all, we need to be clear about the difference between being a daydreamer and struggling with maladaptive daydreaming disorder. Having detailed, vivid, fantastical daydreams can make you either an immersive daydreamer (if your daydreams, on balance, have a positive impact on your life) or a maladaptive daydreamer (if your daydreams get in the way of you living your best life). If you’re not sure which type of daydreaming you have, check out this post.
I don’t believe that our ability to daydream ever goes away. You will always be either an immersive daydreamer or a maladaptive daydreamer. (Although, since immersive daydreamers can control their daydreaming, you can be an immersive daydreamer who chooses not to daydream). But over your lifetime, you may switch multiple times between immersive daydreaming and maladaptive daydreaming. All daydreamers start out as immersive daydreamers. Some then develop maladaptive daydreaming disorder. But it’s possible to go back the other way. You can heal from maladaptive daydreaming disorder and become an immersive daydreamer again. I’ve done it – several times. So just because you’re struggling with maladaptive daydreaming disorder right now doesn’t mean you’ll have it forever.
But you don’t just grow out of it either. Healing from maladaptive daydreaming disorder doesn’t happen by itself. There are quick fixes such as avoiding triggers or learning to ground yourself. But these quick fixes are unlikely to be enough to overcome maladaptive daydreaming disorder in the long term. To achieve a more sustainable change, you need to make real life more compelling than your daydreams.
As you get older, some things make it easier to heal from maladaptive daydreaming disorder. First, you gain more control over your life. As a child, you have limited autonomy. Your parents make most of the big decisions for you. You can’t choose where to live, which school to go to or who your classmates are. So if your life isn’t the way you want it to be, there may not be much you can do about it. Even when you first become an adult, your choices can be limited. The career you want to pursue might require you to study a particular course, or you might find that financial constraints prevent you from living where you want to live. But the older you get, the more chances you have to work towards the life you really want. The life that’s more compelling than your daydreams.
Second, as you get older, you get more responsibilities. And those responsibilities demand your time and attention. It can be hard to find the time to daydream. You might have a job that requires you to stay focussed. You might have to care for other family members. You might find yourself supporting a friend through a difficult time. Those responsibilities are your opportunity to make a difference. They can make life incredibly rewarding. More rewarding than your daydreams.
The time in my life when I daydreamed the least was when my twins were babies. I was in charge of these two tiny people who filled me with joy but who were also dependent on me for everything. It was wonderful and exhausting in equal measure. I loved my life, and I had no time for daydreaming. I didn’t consciously choose to stop daydreaming; I didn’t even realise it was happening. My daydream world just took a backseat for a few years because real life needed me.
But my daydreaming didn’t stop just because I was older; I didn’t grow out of it. Although I didn’t have to work to overcome my maladaptive daydreaming, I still had to work at real life. My husband and I made a choice to have children. We bought a house that we could imagine ourselves raising children in. We found careers that would allow us to be the kind of parents we wanted to be while still being financially secure. In short, we had a vision of what we wanted our lives to look like and we worked towards it. I didn’t know at the time what effect it would have on my daydreaming, but I was still putting a lot of effort into building the life I wanted. If I hadn’t got married, if I hadn’t chosen to become a mum, my daydreaming would probably have remained maladaptive.
Maladaptive daydreaming disorder is a big deal. It steals your time, your motivation and your self-esteem. And you won’t just magically grow out of it. But with time, you’ll be better able to do the work. You’ll gain a better understanding of the things that drive you into your daydreams. You’ll be able to make better choices. You’ll be able to improve real life. You might need help to do that, but that’s OK, because you can choose to ask for help. And as real life improves, you’ll be able to get better control over your daydreaming. So, no, you don’t grow out of maladaptive daydreaming disorder, but neither do you have to remain trapped in it forever. You can do the work to build the life you want. It’s not as easy as daydreaming. It’s not as quick. And you’ll probably have a few setbacks along the way. But I promise you, it’s worth the effort.