Five things that won’t cure your maladaptive daydreaming

Overcoming maladaptive daydreaming isn’t easy. If it was, there wouldn’t be so many people struggling with it. Healing from maladaptive daydreaming takes time, effort and commitment. So you need to approach it in the right way. And that means not wasting your energy on these five things that, while they might sound reasonable, won’t help you overcome maladaptive daydreaming.

Dialling your shame all the way up

It can be helpful to reflect on how your daydreaming is harming you and why you would be better off if you had a healthier relationship with it. But that’s very different from focussing on how silly your daydreams would sound to other people, or how idiotic you look when you’re pacing, or what it says about you that the people you love most don’t exist.

You might think that if you lean into the shame you feel about being a daydreamer, you’ll come to hate your daydreaming so much that you’ll just stop doing it. Unfortunately not. Addictions don’t work like that.

Most of us use our daydreaming to escape from uncomfortable emotions. And shame is one of the most uncomfortable emotions there is. So focussing on your shame will almost certainly make you daydream more, not less.

Hoping it will go away by itself

Maladaptive daydreaming is not something you grow out of. Your brain has the ability to immersively daydream; that’s never going to change. And if daydreaming is how you avoid your problems, it’s likely to become maladaptive. Age has nothing to do with it.

And nothing and no-one else can fix your maladaptive daydreaming for you. Therapy can help, but only if you’re willing to do the hard work of fully engaging with it. Your daydreams are created by your imagination, not by some external force. Getting your dream job, moving into a fabulous apartment, or meeting that special someone might mean your daydreaming subsides temporarily. But it’s unlikely to be a permanent fix.  

Avoiding your triggers

Your triggers prompt you to start daydreaming, but the real problem is that you can’t stop. Your triggers might influence what you daydream about, but your mind can come up with a compelling scenario without them. If you daydream to escape from something that feels painful or overwhelming, your need to daydream won’t go away just because you avoid your triggers.

Triggers are just mental connections – things that your brain has learned to associate with daydreaming. They’re not causing your daydreaming. And therefore avoiding them isn’t going to cure you.

Impulsively deciding to just stop

I lost count of how many times I tried this before I fully understood what maladaptive daydreaming is. After all, your daydreams are just thoughts, right? So why can’t you just think differently? If you’re reading this, I’m sure you’ve tried to just stop too, and it hasn’t worked for you either.

The reason you can’t just stop is that maladaptive daydreaming begins as a coping mechanism, and then it takes over your life to such an extent that other activities – work, your social life, even basic self-care – get squeezed out to make space for it. In other words, your life was a mess to begin with and maladaptive daydreaming has made it worse. If you suddenly stop, your life won’t magically improve overnight. When you stop daydreaming and come back to reality, you realise that life isn’t giving you much in the way of excitement, fulfilment or positive emotions. So you go back to your daydreams, because that’s the only place you can find those things.

Making your daydreaming the problem

Maladaptive daydreaming is how you avoid the pain of your life not being the way you want it to be. So your maladaptive daydreaming is not the problem. It’s how your mind is attempting to solve the problem. That means you cannot overcome maladaptive daydreaming unless you also acknowledge and address the problem that it’s protecting you from. If you try to stop daydreaming without addressing the underlying issue, the best that will happen is you will swap your maladaptive daydreaming for some other, probably equally unhealthy, coping mechanism.

You won’t be able to overcome maladaptive daydreaming until your real life is somewhere you want to come back to. That’s why trying to address your maladaptive daydreaming in isolation – thinking that your maladaptive daydreaming alone is responsible for all the problems in your life – is very rarely helpful. You need to understand why your daydreaming became maladaptive so that you can overcome it in a healthy and sustainable way.

There are things that do work

Now that you understand why some of the things you’ve been trying aren’t helping you to overcome your maladaptive daydreaming, you’re probably wondering whether you’re going to be trapped in it forever. But, trust me, that’s not the case.

There are ways to sustainably and compassionately heal from maladaptive daydreaming. None of them work overnight. Most of them involve significant effort. In next week’s post, I’ll share a list of the things that not only helped me overcome my maladaptive daydreaming, but also changed my life for the better in ways I never expected.

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