Don’t fight the wrong battle

As long as you keep secrets and suppress information, you are fundamentally at war with yourself.

Bessel A. van der Kolk

Bessel van der Kolk’s words are particularly relevant to daydreamers. For all the harm that maladaptive daydreaming can do, it’s important to remember that all maladaptive daydreamers were born immersive daydreamers. Our daydreaming is the lens through which we see the world. But it’s a lens that many maladaptive (and some immersive) daydreamers are deeply ashamed of. So we keep our daydreaming secret. And we try to suppress something that’s a fundamental part of who we are. And doing so feels very much as if we’re at war with ourselves, at war with our own minds.

But there’s nothing to be gained by going to war with yourself. Trying to eradicate your daydreaming completely from your mind and from your life is an attempt to destroy part of who you are. And if you repress or destroy a part of yourself, you can never be whole. I repressed aspects of my true self for over 40 years, and I’m now able to see that many of my struggles in life came from that repression, from feeling that, for whatever reason, there were aspects of myself that I needed to keep hidden.

When you try to suppress your daydreaming, you’re not really getting rid of it. You’re pushing it down somewhere deep where you refuse to acknowledge it. But it wants to resurface. Every part of who we are longs to see the light. The harder you push it down, the more intensely it pushes back up. Keeping it down there takes effort. You have to keep fighting the war.

But your daydreaming isn’t, and has never been, the enemy. You’re fighting the wrong battle. The problem isn’t your daydreaming, but how you’re using it and the relationship you have with it. Compare the maladaptive daydreamer who uses their daydreaming as a way to escape from real life and avoid facing their problems, with the immersive daydreamer who uses their daydreaming as a window into their subconscious and a way to creatively solve life’s problems. These two daydreamers could be daydreaming about exactly the same things, but their levels of success and happiness will be very different. The content of your daydreams has little or nothing to do with how your daydreaming affects you. The difference between maladaptive daydreaming and immersive daydreaming lies in what your daydreaming is doing, or not doing, for you.

Maladaptive daydreaming has two components: the first part is immersive daydreaming, the second part is an addiction to that daydreaming, or the overuse of it as an unhealthy coping mechanism. You can’t control the first part. You were born an immersive daydreamer. You can control the second part. Addictions can be overcome. Unhealthy coping mechanisms can be replaced with healthy ones. The pain you’re running from can be addressed. It’s not easy – if it was, you’d never have fallen into maladaptive daydreaming in the first place. You probably can’t do it alone. You might need the help and support of a therapist. You will almost certainly need the help and support of the people who love you. And that means you’ll need the courage to ask for help.

Maladaptive daydreamers use their daydreaming to avoid facing their real-life problems. And blaming your daydreaming for those real-life problems is another example of exactly that. If we think that the daydreaming is the enemy, we can put all our resources into fighting that war against ourselves, and ignore everything that’s going on outside of us. But when we realise that that’s what we’re doing, we take the first step towards cultivating a healthier relationship with our daydreaming. We’re able to accept our daydreaming as part of who we are, to nurture it, understand it, work with it, and, ultimately, make peace with it. And when we make peace with our daydreaming, it tends to make peace with us. It was after I accepted my identity as a daydreamer that I was able to see more clearly how my limiting beliefs and unhealthy coping mechanisms had been holding me back. I was able to focus my efforts on the real problems – my fear of conflict, my lack of motivation, my discomfort with myself. These are all things that my daydreaming is helping me to address. It’s a work in progress. Maybe, in a sense, I’m still fighting a war, but now my authentic self and my daydreaming are on the same side.