Ten myths about maladaptive daydreaming that could be increasing your suffering

Having maladaptive daydreaming disorder is tough. But it’s often made harder by the misinformation that surrounds what it still a new and little-known mental-health condition. The following are just some of the unhelpful myths about immersive and maladaptive daydreaming that could be causing you unnecessary anxiety.

1. All fantastical daydreaming is maladaptive daydreaming

Maladaptive daydreaming is not defined by what you daydream about, it’s defined by the relationship you have with your daydreaming. Inventing fictional characters with supernatural powers, or mentally dating your celebrity crush, or imagining you’re part of your favourite novel or TV show isn’t necessarily maladaptive daydreaming. Your daydreaming is maladaptive if it causes you distress or dysfunction. If you love spending time in your fantasy world and it doesn’t get in the way of real life, then what you have is immersive daydreaming. Immersive daydreaming is not a problem, and you don’t need to fix it.

2. If you daydream too much, you won’t be able to tell the difference between fantasy and reality

Immersive and maladaptive daydreamers always know what’s real and what isn’t. If you daydream about people you know in real life, you might occasionally forget whether you had a particular conversation in real life or in the daydream, but apart from that you will always know what’s fantasy and what’s real. Not knowing the difference between fantasy and reality is a symptom of psychosis. That’s a different condition. You can’t develop psychosis simply as a consequence of daydreaming too much.

3. If your daydreams are bothering you, you should just stop

For a more detailed explanation of why this isn’t the case, see my post about why willpower alone isn’t enough to overcome maladaptive daydreaming disorder. Maladaptive daydreaming is an addictive coping mechanism. If you rely on it, and you’ve been doing it for a long time, you can’t just suddenly decide to stop. Like any addiction, it’s going to take time and effort to get it under control. 

4. Recovering from maladaptive daydreaming disorder means you have to stop daydreaming

Immersive daydreaming isn’t a mental illness; in fact, it can be a superpower that helps you tap into your subconscious, navigate the challenges that real life throws at you and generally live an awesome life. If you stopped daydreaming, you’d lose a part of who you are, and waste of one of your most valuable talents. The way to recover from maladaptive daydreaming disorder is to turn it into immersive daydreaming, not to stop daydreaming completely.

5. Because your characters aren’t real, how you feel about them isn’t real either

It’s possible to have real emotions in fictional situations. Have you ever cried over something that happened in a film? Becoming emotionally involved in your daydreams isn’t really any different. In fact, we often use our daydreams to experience emotions that are missing from real life. That isn’t fake, it’s our mind’s way of satisfying an unmet need.

6. Your alter ego isn’t the real you

Do you like the person you become in your daydreams, while at the same time being very self-critical of who you are in real life? Do you think your life would be great if you could really be your alter ego, but you assume it’s just not possible? OK, maybe you aren’t going to develop superpowers, or move into your dream house with your celebrity crush. But you absolutely can develop the confidence, social skills, good humour and other attributes of your alter ego. You’re practicing in your daydreams every day; it’s a smaller step than you think to start practicing in real life too.

7. You’ll never achieve professional success if you’re a daydreamer

If you’re a maladaptive daydreamer who spends many hours each day daydreaming instead of working on your goals, then it’ll be hard to achieve professional success in real life. But once you turn your maladaptive daydreaming into immersive daydreaming, it becomes a tool that can help you achieve anything you want. You can work on your real-life goals through your daydreams.

8. Being in a daydream relationship means you can’t have a real-life romantic relationship

It’s easy to think that you’ll never meet anyone in real life who’s as perfect as the person you’re dating in your head. But the truth is that real-life relationships and daydream relationships are different. And what you want from each is different too. So when you meet the person you’re meant to be with in real life, they won’t be anything like your daydream partner, and it won’t matter. (If you’re fantasising about someone who exists in real life and you believe you can’t be happy unless you have a real relationship with them, that’s limerence, not a daydream relationship.)

9. You daydream because you aren’t good enough in real life.

The truth is, you daydream because your real life wasn’t good enough for you. When real life doesn’t give us what we need, whether that’s social connection, recognition, a sense of control or whatever, we tend to create it in our daydreams. It’s our mind’s way of trying to make up for what’s missing. The fact that something’s missing doesn’t make you a failure or a loser or a bad person. It’s just the way life works out sometimes. If you think being a daydreamer makes you a bad person, you might want to read my post about shame.

10. Normative daydreamers don’t have mental health problems

You know that’s not true, but it’s something we often forget. If you’re a maladaptive daydreamer, it’s easy to blame all your problems on your daydreaming. You assume that if you could stop daydreaming, you’d be happy. It’s true that we use our thoughts as an unhealthy coping mechanism, but so do normative daydreamers. They just call it worrying or rumination.

I hope this list has helped you see your daydreaming for what it is – just a different way of thinking. A lot of the shame we feel about our daydreaming comes from the negative interpretations we attach to it. And a lot of those negative interpretations come from believing myths about maladaptive daydreaming that aren’t actually true. Of course, daydreaming can be unhealthy if it gets out of control or if you’re using it to escape from your problems instead of solving them. But it can also be a tool that helps you achieve your goals and find inner peace. It just depends how you use it.