Releasing shame is the first step in healing

Nearly all maladaptive daydreamers feel shame. It’s the reason most of us keep our daydreaming a secret. But living under a blanket of shame holds us back. It puts us at risk for depression and anxiety. It makes us feel worthless, and tells us that the way to survive is to stay small and not draw attention to ourselves. It’s impossible to reach your potential and live a fulfilling life if you’re burdened by shame.

Daydreaming is not shameful

If you want to overcome maladaptive daydreaming, the first thing you need to do is release any shame you feel about your daydreaming or about being a daydreamer. And to do that, there is one thing you need to be absolutely clear about: it is not your daydreaming that’s maladaptive, it’s how you’re using it.

I’ve said that before on this blog, but in relation to shame, this distinction is crucial. If you think that maladaptive daydreaming means you pace around in circles listening to music and imagining fake scenarios, then you’re making the act of daydreaming itself the problem. If you believe that the only way to overcome maladaptive daydreaming is to stop daydreaming completely, you’re making the act of daydreaming itself the problem. But daydreaming is part of who you are.

When you make part of who you are a problem, you will feel shame. That’s what shame is: the belief that you’re fundamentally wrong or broken. Shame tells you that a part of you is not acceptable, and that your survival depends on suppressing that unacceptable part, pretending to be someone you’re not, and thereby sacrificing your authenticity. That’s never going to be healthy, and it’s not the way to find deep and lasting happiness or fulfilment.

It’s OK to feel guilty about your maladaptive daydreaming

To release your shame, it is crucial to understand the true definition of maladaptive daydreaming, and to appreciate the difference between maladaptive daydreaming and immersive daydreaming. Maladaptive daydreaming is excessive daydreaming that interferes with daily life. The pacing is irrelevant. The music is irrelevant. What goes on in your daydreams is irrelevant. Your daydreaming is only maladaptive if it has become so compelling, so addictive, that you’re neglecting real life so that you can spend more time in your fantasy.

You need to mentally decouple the “maladaptive” from the “daydreaming”. Maladaptive daydreaming isn’t the ability to imagine complex stories. Maladaptive daydreaming isn’t returning to the same fictional scenario over and over again for months. And maladaptive daydreaming isn’t having feelings for someone who doesn’t exist. Those are aspects of immersive daydreaming, and they’re not necessarily unhealthy. Maladaptive daydreaming is simply daydreaming that has become maladaptive.

In other words, maladaptive daydreaming isn’t something you are, it’s something you do. And that distinction is what will help you release the shame. Feeling bad about something you did isn’t shame, it’s guilt. And guilt is a lot easier to work with.

Guilt can be healthy; shame is not

If you procrastinated about something important, or you let someone down because you prioritised daydreaming over a real-life relationship, you’re supposed to feel guilty about that. Putting your daydreaming first in situations where you know you shouldn’t is one sign that your daydreaming is maladaptive. But it’s also something you have control over. It isn’t easy to change your behaviour when you’re in the grip of a powerful addiction to your own thoughts. But it is possible. How you use your daydreaming is up to you.

Being a daydreamer, however, is not something you have a choice about. It’s the way your brain is wired, and it’s not going away. As long as you believe there is something fundamentally wrong with the way your mind works, you’re going to see yourself as broken and you’re going to feel shame. And I don’t want you to live like that.

Releasing your shame is the first step in healing

But if you can see your wild, unconstrained imagination as a gift that you haven’t yet learned how to use, then you can stop seeing yourself as unworthy. You can let the shame go. And once you do that, you open the door to an exciting possibility. If you’re not irretrievably broken, and if all that’s happened is that your powerful imagination has got out of control, then you can start to believe that you deserve better.

Once you want better for yourself, you’ll find the motivation to overcome your maladaptive daydreaming. You’ll be able to ask for support if you need it. You’ll be able to confront the issues that led to your daydreaming becoming maladaptive. And you’ll be able to build a real life that’s more compelling than your daydreams. Because you’ll believe you deserve it. It all starts with releasing the shame.

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