Can you overcome maladaptive daydreaming without therapy?

I’m a big fan of therapy. It’s got me through some very dark times. And it’s been a major part of how I’ve turned my life around. I wouldn’t be where I am today without it. But therapy is expensive, and waiting lists can be long. There are many people for whom therapy simply isn’t an option. Which raises the question: is it possible to overcome maladaptive daydreaming without therapy?

Why therapy is helpful

To understand how to manage your daydreaming without therapy, you need to understand the benefits of therapy. Because if therapy isn’t an option for you, you’ll need to give those benefits to yourself.

Firstly, maladaptive daydreaming typically begins as a coping mechanism. That means there’s nearly always an underlying condition or situation that you’re coping with. You need to understand and manage that underlying condition before you can overcome maladaptive daydreaming. If you’ve experienced trauma, or you’ve been maladaptively daydreaming for a long time, it might be difficult to address the underlying condition on your own.

Secondly, maladaptive daydreaming is often a way to escape from difficult or overwhelming emotions. Some types of therapy, for example dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT), teach you to manage difficult emotions in a healthier way. That’s vital if you want to curb your excessive daydreaming.

And the third benefit of therapy is that it’s a safe, confidential space where you can talk about your struggles with a trained mental-health professional. Having regular appointments keeps you focussed on your recovery. And having someone to talk to means you feel less alone in your struggles.

But ultimately, you’re the one doing the work

However, therapy isn’t essential in overcoming maladaptive daydreaming. Whether you’re in therapy or not, you have to take responsibility for your recovery. Your daydreaming goes on in your head, and there’s no-one in there but you. No-one can force you to think a certain way. A therapist might suggest strategies, but you’re the one who has to implement them.

Also, maladaptive daydreaming shows up differently for everyone. Even if your therapist understands maladaptive daydreaming (and many don’t), you are still the expert in your daydreaming. So whatever methods you use to overcome it have to be right for you.

And the good news is that you have science on your side. The only scientifically validated treatment protocol for maladaptive daydreaming is a web-based programme that doesn’t involve one-to-one time with a therapist. The participants involved in the trial of that programme proved that it’s possible to overcome maladaptive daydreaming without therapy.

How do you overcome maladaptive daydreaming without therapy?

Overcoming maladaptive daydreaming on your own, without therapy, is hard. It won’t happen overnight. But it is possible. It will take effort, commitment, determination and a fair bit of patience. And you’ll need to take responsibility for finding your own way through the process. But overall, your strategy will probably look something like this:

First, you’ll need to accept that immersive daydreaming is a natural part of who you are. Your goal is not to stop daydreaming completely, but to overcome the aspects of your daydreaming that make it maladaptive.

Next, you’ll need to understand why your immersive daydreaming became maladaptive. What were you using your daydreaming to escape from? What need was your daydreaming meeting? You’ll need to manage the underlying condition as best you can. If you’re depressed, talk to your doctor about antidepressants. If you suspect you’re living with undiagnosed ADHD, look into getting a diagnosis. And if you’re under more stress than you can handle, you have to find ways to reduce it. That might involve making a significant change in your life, such as leaving a toxic relationship or living situation.

You’ll also need to learn healthier ways to regulate your emotions. Fortunately, mindfulness is a great tool for emotional regulation, and it’s something you can learn online free of charge.

Finally, don’t try to overcome your maladaptive daydreaming in isolation. Work on improving real life at the same time. If reducing your daydreaming means you’re spending more time trapped in a miserable reality, you won’t be any better off. But when real life is happy and meaningful, you’ll have less need to escape from it by daydreaming. And that in itself will make your maladaptive daydreaming easier to control.

You can take charge of your daydreaming

Working with a knowledgeable and supportive therapist is the easiest way to overcome maladaptive daydreaming. But it’s not the only way. If therapy is available to you, please consider it. But if it’s not, don’t despair. It doesn’t mean you’ll be a prisoner of your maladaptive daydreaming forever. It’s possible to overcome maladaptive daydreaming without therapy. You can take back control of your mind. You can learn healthier coping strategies. And you can find a balance between daydreaming and real life that works for you.