Five things that helped me heal from maladaptive daydreaming

Last week, I explained why some commonly used strategies don’t help you overcome maladaptive daydreaming. In this article, I’m going to share my experience of things that do work. None of them are quick fixes. But by following the strategies below, I honestly believe that anyone can develop a healthier relationship with their daydreaming.

Awareness

The single biggest thing that helped me overcome maladaptive daydreaming was learning that my struggles had a name. When a random internet search led me to an article on maladaptive daydreaming, my life shifted. Once I knew what I was suffering from, I could research it, understand it, and figure out how to deal with it.

Learning that other people also suffer from maladaptive daydreaming helped me release most of the shame I felt about it. I was no longer some weirdo that no-one would ever understand. I was a person with a mental-health problem, and I was committed to doing something about it.

Mindfulness

Mindfulness is a hard skill for daydreamers to master, but it’s worth the effort. It’s the best way I know to ground myself in the present moment. And it also helps me regulate my emotions. Before I discovered mindfulness, the only way I could process emotions was through daydreaming. I couldn’t control my daydreaming, because it was serving an essential function. It had control over me because I needed it.

Mindfulness doesn’t have to mean sitting still with your eyes closed, focussing on your breath. That’s just one way to practice mindfulness. If that doesn’t work for you – if it just opens space for daydreams to creep in – there are many other ways to be mindful. You could try mindful walking, mindful eating or even mindfully listening to music.

Therapy

Therapy isn’t available to everyone. It can be prohibitively expensive, waiting lists can be long, and you may be limited in the type of therapy you can access or the number of sessions you can have. But therapy helped me in two very important ways.

First, therapy gave me a safe space to talk about and come to terms with my past. I didn’t have childhood trauma in the way it’s often defined – I wasn’t physically or sexually abused, there were no addiction issues in my family, and we were financially secure. But things happened in my childhood, and later, that shaped the person I became in ways that weren’t helpful. Therapy helped me to acknowledge and process that.

And, second, therapy taught me healthy coping skills and strategies for emotional regulation. The therapy that changed my life was DBT, but for some people CBT might be helpful. Learning healthy coping skills meant that I was able to release my daydreaming from serving as an unhealthy coping skill, which then made healing much easier.

Taking charge of my life

I spent years escaping into maladaptive daydreaming because I didn’t like my life. And because I escaped from reality so much, I never did anything about improving it. A huge part of healing from maladaptive daydreaming was accepting that the only person responsible for making my life better was me, and nothing was going to change unless I got off my backside and did something about it.

One of the unexpected ways I made my real life worth coming back to was by recruiting my daydream characters to help me. I turned two of them into “free characters” – I freed them from the plot – and started talking to them about my real life. It was my way of having a daily check-in with myself. Back then, I didn’t think I deserved a better life; my characters believed that until I was able to believe it for myself.

Self-acceptance

The final thing that played a huge part in overcoming my maladaptive daydreaming was accepting myself as an immersive daydreamer. I learned that I could embrace everything I love about daydreaming, while also taking responsibility for using it in a healthy way.

Trying to stop daydreaming completely would never have worked for me. It’s part of who I am. And for a long time, it was the part of me that held my confidence, my resilience and my motivation. It was a refuge for all the qualities I’d suppressed because it didn’t feel safe to express them in the real world. For me, recognising that my real life and my daydream life could come together in a positive and powerful partnership was the most healing thing of all.

Healing is hard work, but it’s worth it

Healing from maladaptive daydreaming has taken time and effort. I’ve had to explore parts of myself that weren’t always easy to love. I’ve had to be brutally honest with myself about the ways I’ve sabotaged my own success and my own happiness. And I’ve had to commit to making some very profound and necessary changes. But I’m grateful for every part of the journey. Because I haven’t just overcome a lifelong addiction to my own imagination; I’ve also found a deep sense of meaning, purpose and love, and an unshakeable belief that, at 52, the best years of my life are still ahead of me.

(I go into much more detail about how I overcame maladaptive daydreaming in my forthcoming book, Extreme Imagination. If you want to be notified when it’s published, sign up for my newsletter, or follow me on Instagram at kyla_m_dreams.)

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