Immersive daydreamer or maladaptive daydreamer?

I talk a lot on this blog about the difference between immersive daydreaming and maladaptive daydreaming. One way to look at it is that immersive daydreaming has a neutral or positive impact on your life, while maladaptive daydreaming has a negative impact. But in practice there can be a grey area between the two. Immersive daydreaming and maladaptive daydreaming exist on a continuum. However, if you’re close to one end of that continuum, it can be difficult to imagine the experience of someone at the other end. So I thought it would be helpful to contrast how an immersive daydreamer and a maladaptive daydreamer might answer the following questions.

When do you start daydreaming?

Immersive daydreamer: When my mind hasn’t got anything better to do. I can daydream while I’m waiting for an appointment, or when I’m doing the dishes or any other activity that doesn’t require my full attention. It’s a fun way to ensure I’m never bored.

Maladaptive daydreamer: Whenever something upsets me or life feels overwhelming, I escape from those difficult feelings by mentally checking out of reality. My daydream world is where I go to feel safe and loved, because I don’t often feel like that in the real world.

How do you feel when you come out of a daydream and back to reality?

Immersive daydreamer: Calm and refreshed, or perhaps motivated and inspired. Spending time in my daydream world fills me up with positive emotions that I can bring back with me into reality.

Maladaptive daydreamer: Terrible. I’m usually angry with myself for wasting time, plus now I have to deal with the crushing realisation that all the wonderful things I just daydreamed about aren’t real and never will be real.

How do you feel about your daydream self?

Immersive daydreamer: My daydream self is the person I could have been if I’d lived my daydream life. They inspire me to be the best version of myself, because they show me what I have the potential to be when I’m free from the constraints of the real world.

Maladaptive daydreamer: My daydream self is an unrealistic fantasy. I’m ashamed about pretending to be famous, talented and admired. In reality, I’m just a loser. I always will be. I hate myself so much that I spend hours at a time pretending to be someone else.

Would you be better or worse off if you weren’t a daydreamer?

Immersive daydreamer: Probably worse. I wouldn’t have a creative way to solve my problems, and I wouldn’t be able to entertain myself with just the power of my mind. I wouldn’t want to lose all the richness and beauty of my daydream world.

Maladaptive daydreamer: I could achieve so much more if I wasn’t spending all that time lost in my head! I’d be able to study and get a good job. I’d be able to go out and meet people. I might even be able to meet a potential partner without immediately having unrealistic expectations of the relationship.

What does being a daydreamer mean to you?

Immersive daydreamer: It’s a gift that I’m grateful for each and every day. I have this huge, beautiful, wild imagination, and even on the days when I’m too busy to spend much time in my daydream world, I know it’s always going to be there for me. It helps me be creative and think outside the box. And it connects me to all the best parts of myself.

Maladaptive daydreamer: I want to get rid of it, and be completely present in reality like normal people. This is such an embarrassing thing to have. I can’t tell anyone, because they’ll laugh at me, or, worse, assume I have schizophrenia or something. This stupid addiction has ruined my life.

What separates these two daydreamers?

These two hypothetical daydreamers could be daydreaming about exactly the same thing. What you daydream about doesn’t determine whether your daydreaming is immersive or maladaptive. What’s far more important is how you feel about your daydreaming and how it affects your life.

If you relate more to the maladaptive daydreamer above, I want you to read through the immersive daydreamer’s answers again and try to imagine how your life would be different if you could have that relationship with your daydreaming. Because it’s possible. Being a daydreamer is not something you have a choice about. If your mind has the ability to generate complex stories and to create characters that are so real you can fall in love with them, that ability isn’t going to go away. But you do have a choice about how you use it. Healing from maladaptive daydreaming is possible. And when you do, you’ll be able to experience the beauty and power of being an immersive daydreamer.

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