Three ways maladaptive daydreaming makes you feel bad about yourself

Many maladaptive daydreamers don’t like themselves very much, and when you don’t like or respect yourself, you tend to act in ways that reinforce the idea that you’re a bad person. Although I don’t believe that immersive daydreaming is, in itself, a bad thing, I do think that if your daydreaming is more on the maladaptive side, your self-respect is likely to suffer. Most maladaptive daydreamers will fall into at least one of the following three traps that can negatively impact the way you see yourself:

1) Criticising yourself for the amount of time you spend daydreaming

Daydreaming is fun; it’s the place we escape to when life gets tough; we can use it to process our emotions or live out our fantasies. But it’s also addictive, and it’s easy to spend more time daydreaming than we intended. And then other things don’t get done. Whether we’re neglecting the big stuff, such as our relationships or our careers, or the little things like housework or checking in with a friend, it’s easy to start judging ourselves. We tell ourselves we “wasted time” or that we “should have more willpower” or that we’re “weak”. But it wasn’t the daydreaming that was the problem – it was the amount of time we spent doing it. We spent (a lot of) time doing something we enjoy, that helped us to recharge, but which wasn’t particularly productive. That’s a time-management problem, not a daydreaming problem, and time management is something a lot of people struggle with.

2) Feeling embarrassed about the content of your daydreams

Even if you don’t tell anyone else what you daydream about, you aren’t immune to judging yourself. It’s all too easy to start telling yourself that you’re “too old to still have imaginary friends” or that “it’s weird to be pretending to live in a world with magic and superpowers” or that “there must be something wrong with me if I think I could actually date [inset name of celebrity crush]”. But none of that’s true. Everyone likes to try out “what if…” occasionally. That’s why normative daydreamers enjoy reading novels and watching movies. The only difference between daydreaming and reading a novel is that we get to enjoy our own fantasy instead of someone else’s.

3) Comparing yourself negatively to your alter ego

Many of us become an idealised version of ourselves in our daydreams. And it’s easy to get frustrated with yourself when you can’t live up to that ideal in real life. You think you’re a failure because you aren’t as confident or funny or attractive as that person in your head. But how much more successful would you be if you knew you couldn’t fail? Because that’s the situation your alter ego is in – even if they don’t consciously know they can’t fail, they’re living in your daydream. You make the rules, you control the outcome, and you’re going to make sure that your alter ego gets what they want in the end.

If you can relate to any of the above, and if your self-respect has suffered because of how you feel about your daydreaming, what can you do about it? Changing your daydreaming habits isn’t easy, especially while your daydreaming is still fulfilling some unmet need. So I recommend starting to build up your self-respect with some simple non-daydreaming-related steps:

1) Say no

Most of us don’t have as many high quality friendships as we’d like. And when you want more/better friends, it’s easy to think you need to say yes every time someone asks you for something in the hope that they’ll like you. But if you always say yes to other people, you find that you have to say no to yourself. You’re so busy trying to please other people that you forget what’s important to you. And that sends a powerful message to yourself that you don’t matter. So start saying no to the things that aren’t helping you, so that you can free up time for the things that will.

2) Set aside time to enjoy doing nothing

Block out time in your diary at least once a week to do something purely because you enjoy it. This isn’t about being productive, or working towards your goals. This is about sending a message to yourself that it’s OK to take time for you. And it’s about finding things that you enjoy besides daydreaming. Lie on the ground and watch the clouds, take a long bath surrounded by candles, sit on a bench in the park and listen to the birds sing – whatever it is that you enjoy doing purely for the pleasure it gives you rather than because you achieve something tangible by doing it. Because when the only reason you do something is because you enjoy it, you are valuing yourself.

3) Do something small every day that makes you proud

We spend too much time saying negative things about ourselves. We need to give ourselves something positive to say. What’s one thing that you know you could do easily but you never seem to get around to, perhaps because you think it doesn’t really matter or that you aren’t worth it? It could be dressing nicely even though you aren’t going out today, it could be doing the washing up before you go to bed so that it will be done when you wake up in the morning, it could be making yourself a healthy meal, or going to an exercise class. You can probably make a long list of things that would make you feel good but that you never quite get around to. Do something off the list and notice how it makes you feel. Celebrate your achievement.

Moving from being a maladaptive daydreamer to being an immersive daydreamer means accepting your daydreaming as part of who you are, and finding a balance where you can enjoy daydreaming in moderation without it negatively affecting real life. That’s not a change that you make overnight. It’s a journey that will take time and effort. And that journey is going to be easier if you like yourself. By changing the way you view your daydreaming, accepting that it fulfils a need for now, and starting to improve the way you feel about yourself, you’re setting yourself up for success at overcoming maladaptive daydreaming in the future.