Almost all maladaptive daydreamers have to deal with shame. It’s one of the biggest barriers to overcoming maladaptive daydreaming. Shame makes you want to hide. And it’s hard to overcome anything when your shame is urging you to avoid it.
Daydreaming will always be part of who you are, even if you’re able to control it. So it’s really important that you learn to like yourself as a daydreamer.
I’ve written before about what you can do if you’re ashamed of being a daydreamer. But what happens when it’s the content of your daydreams that you’re ashamed about? There are many common daydream themes that have the potential to cause shame.
Daydreaming about someone you know
It can feel inappropriate to daydream about someone you know. Maybe you have a crush on a colleague, and you have to sit opposite them all day trying not to think about the hot daydream sex you had last night. Or maybe you’re worried that you’ll accidentally reference a daydream conversation when you’re talking to the real person. But you cannot put a real person in your daydreams; you can only base a character on them. What you do with that character is none of the real person’s business.
Making your characters suffer
If you’re emotionally attached to your characters, you can feel bad about making them suffer. But suffering is part of life. Just like you, your characters would not be the fascinating, complex beings they are if they’d never had to overcome adversity. And you wouldn’t have a compelling plot if you never allowed anything bad to happen to anyone.
Pretending to be “better” than you really are
If your daydream self is an idealised version of you, you might feel ashamed about pretending to be someone you’re not. It might feel fake. But I believe that the person you become in the safe space of your imagination is the real you. There’s nothing grandiose or narcissistic about daydreaming as the person you have the potential to be.
Daydreaming about being cruel or hurting people
Some daydreamers believe that our daydreams reflect our hidden desires. And that can be shame-inducing if you daydream about doing things you see as immoral. But our daydreams are rarely that literal. Wish-fulfilment is just one reason we might daydream about something. There are many others. We might need to process emotions that we can’t safely express in real life, we might be exploring a scenario to learn something from it, or we might want to create a bad situation so that everything can come right afterwards. Daydreaming about hurting someone isn’t that unusual and doesn’t automatically make you a bad person.
Having “childish” daydreams
Have you ever been told that pretend play is only for children? Did you think your imaginary friends would leave when you grew up? Do you think you’re too old to be playing superhero, or yearning for a world where magic is real? Why? What makes something OK for children but not for adults? The only reason you think certain daydreams are “childish” is because, at some point, someone told you that you were supposed to grow out of it.
Your plot is full of holes
If your daydream plot is repetitive or inconsistent or not exactly original, you might assume you’re not very creative or imaginative. And thinking you’re no good at something you spend several hours a day doing can quickly turn into shame. But the only person who has to enjoy your daydream is you. If you were going to publish your daydream as a novel, you’d have to have a coherent, consistent and original story. But if you’re not, the only requirement is that you enjoy it. If you’d rather spend your time enjoying your plot instead of fixing it, that’s completely OK.
You have feelings for people who aren’t real
Many daydreamers are ashamed of how emotionally attached they are to their characters. We think that getting emotional support in our daydreams somehow makes us unworthy of receiving that same support in the real world. Or we think that having a real emotional attachment means that we subconsciously believe our character is real. Neither of those things are true. It’s completely normal to be emotionally affected by things that aren’t real – the best novels and movies are great precisely because they have the ability to move us emotionally.
Why you need to let go of the shame
In all these cases, shame arises because you’re judging the content of your daydreams. You believe that certain topics aren’t OK to daydream about. But the only person who can tell you what you can or can’t daydream about is you. So don’t let fear of judgement make you ashamed of what you daydream about. No-one is going to judge you. Because no-one is going to know.
You also shouldn’t feel ashamed of what the contents of your daydreams might say about you. Daydreams are rarely literal. There are many possible reasons why you might daydream about something, and “because you’re a bad person” almost certainly isn’t one of them.
The only way you can overcome maladaptive daydreaming is by making peace with your daydreams. That isn’t going to happen while you’re ashamed – whether you’re ashamed of being a daydreamer or you’re ashamed of what you daydream about. So if you’re feeling shame, your first priority is to let it go, because doing so really will change your life.