One of the reasons most of us don’t talk about our daydreaming is that we don’t know how to explain it. Immersive and maladaptive daydreaming are still not widely known. And what comes so naturally to us is actually really hard for non-daydreamers to imagine. So just how do you explain immersive daydreaming to a non-daydreamer without sounding completely crazy?
Relate daydreaming to something they can understand
Even non-daydreamers probably engaged in imaginative play when they were little. Most children will have spent a happy afternoon pretending to be soldiers or fairy princesses or survivors of a shipwreck or something equally fantastical. Do you remember how much fun that was? So, why should we stop playing when we grow up? Why does our society think that imaginative play is only for children? Daydreamers don’t give up their imaginative play; they take it inside. By playing in your mind, you’re never short of entertainment, no matter where you are or what you’re doing. It’s like watching a movie in your head, except you’re the director, the scriptwriter and possibly even the lead actor.
Differentiate daydreaming from hallucinations and delusions
Although the daydreaming experience is vivid and detailed, daydreamers know that their daydreams aren’t real. It’s like when you recall a memory. You know the events you’re remembering aren’t happening right now. You know what you’re seeing is a mental image. But remembering an emotional event can still bring the feelings flooding back. Daydreaming is the same. We know it’s not real, we know everything we daydream is just a figment of our imagination, but that doesn’t mean that the daydreams can’t evoke real emotions. And that emotional component can make our daydreams very precious to us.
Use the writing analogy
A quote that I absolutely love is “In the positively-regarded context of creative writing… we do not question the adult’s mental health.” When we hear about fiction writers getting to know their characters so well that those characters appear to come alive in their imagination, we accept that as part of a fiction writer’s creative talent. We know that writers have to plan their stories in their minds before they write them down. Daydreamers do exactly the same, except for the writing part. We are fiction writers who don’t write.
Frame daydreaming as a different thinking style
Frank Oppenheimer said that “the best way to learn is to teach“. One way to see if you really understand a concept or situation is to try to explain it to someone else. Daydreamers tend to frame all their thoughts as conversations. We’re always talking to an imaginary audience in our heads. If we’re trying to solve a problem, we imagine talking it over with someone. If we’re trying to understand a situation, we imagine telling someone about it. It’s how we get our thoughts in order, and most of the time it works really well.
Explain how daydreaming benefits your mental health
Most people have an inner critic that pops up occasionally – or frequently – telling them they aren’t good enough, they messed up, they’re not worthy, etc. But daydreamers have a way to drown out that inner critic. We have characters in our heads who love us unconditionally and who always see the best in us. And so when the inner critic starts talking, we have characters who will immediately give us the opposing viewpoint. It helps us maintain a balanced view of ourselves.
Describe it as a difference, rather than a gift or a problem
Researchers believe that the ability to create vivid narrative daydreams is an innate trait that some people just have. It’s probably similar to having good spatial awareness or perfect pitch. Some people can do it, others can’t. It’s no big deal. Daydreamers aren’t necessarily any more creative than anyone else. It’s just that daydreaming tends to be one way in which we express our creativity. It’s part of who we are, but it doesn’t define us.
No two people see and interpret the world in exactly the same way. We all have our own particular thinking styles, our own ways of making sense of life, our own biases and preconceptions. Everyone’s brain is wired slightly differently. And the only way you ever see the world is through the lens of your own particular brain wiring. So no matter how hard you try to explain to someone what being an immersive daydreamer is like, if they aren’t a daydreamer, they won’t get it. Just as you will never understand what it’s like not to daydream.
I’d love to be able to say to someone that I’m an immersive daydreamer without having to explain what it is – every single time – and without wondering whether that person is going to forever see me differently. But ultimately those problems come from the fact that the term “immersive daydreaming” isn’t yet widely known or understood. Hopefully, in time, that will change. But none of us will ever experience the world from someone else’s perspective. And that’s OK, because all those different perspectives are what make real life so enriching.