There are two components to maladaptive daydreaming. There’s the ability to construct intricate narrative stories in your head, with complex plots and life-like characters. And then there’s the fact that your daydreaming becomes excessive and gets in the way of you living real life. The first part is called immersive daydreaming. The second is a behavioural addiction that turns harmless immersive daydreaming into something harmful and maladaptive.
This has important implications for what we mean when we talk about overcoming maladaptive daydreaming. Is it necessary to stop daydreaming completely? Or can you overcome the maladaptive components and keep a healthy level of immersive daydreaming?
To help you figure this out, let’s look at the pros and cons of stopping daydreaming versus converting to immersive daydreaming.
Why you might want to stop completely
Stopping completely is simple to understand and assess. If you decide you’re never going to visit your daydream world or talk to your characters again, you know where you stand. Because you’ve made a clear rule for yourself. And you’ll know if you break it. You’ll know when you’ve gone a day, a week, or a month without daydreaming, and you can celebrate those milestones.
Another reason for stopping completely is that you have to stop using daydreaming as an unhealthy coping mechanism. Therefore, you’re forced to confront what’s wrong or missing in your real life. Because real life is all that’s left, so you have no choice except to deal with it. If you’re mentally well enough to do that, stopping daydreaming could give you the motivation you need to take charge of your life.
Why stopping completely can be bad
But there are times when it might not be safe for you to stop daydreaming. For example, if your daydreaming is helping you cope with something you can’t cope with any other way. In that case, abruptly removing your only coping mechanism could leave you in a very dark place. If that’s your situation, I don’t recommend you stop daydreaming unless you have access to a qualified therapist who can help you with the underlying issue.
Also, although our characters aren’t real, our emotional attachments to them are. And those emotional attachments are often a positive thing, even when the daydreaming overall isn’t. Stopping daydreaming completely means losing daydream relationships that might mean a great deal to you.
Why reducing your daydreaming might be a better option
If you can overcome the maladaptive parts of your daydreaming, you can keep your characters and your worlds. You can enjoy daydreaming in moderation and you can be fully present in real life. You can use daydreaming to creatively solve your problems, manage your emotional state, boost your confidence and motivation, and step out of your comfort zone.
But more importantly, daydreaming is part of who you are. And when you overcome the maladaptive parts of your daydreaming without stopping the daydreaming itself, you’re acknowledging that. So you don’t have to constantly fight or repress something that’s inherently part of you. Converting to immersive daydreaming allows you to be authentic.
Why reducing daydreaming needs careful consideration
That said, converting from maladaptive daydreaming to immersive daydreaming is not an easy option. There are no rules. You have to assess what healthy daydreaming looks like in the context of your life. You’ll need to decide where the boundary between immersive daydreaming and maladaptive daydreaming is for you. You have to constantly ask yourself “is the way I’m daydreaming today healthy?” And some days the answer will be no, and you’ll have to re-evaluate how you’re daydreaming.
And it’s not just about how much time you spend daydreaming. You could reduce your daydreaming to 10-15 minutes a day, but if you’re still using it to run away from a problem you should be dealing with, your daydreaming could still be maladaptive. Eliminating the maladaptive aspects of your daydreaming requires self-awareness, and a willingness to look honestly at your life and your daydreaming. You need to understand what your daydreaming is doing for you, and be able to judge whether that’s a healthy use of your imagination.
For me personally, the answer is to become an immersive daydreamer. My daydreaming enhances my life in ways I’m not willing to give up. And the commitment to constantly evaluating how I’m using my daydreaming is one I’m willing to make. But I’m lucky. I have a supportive family. I’m no longer in full-time employment. And I have a therapist. So I have the time and resources necessary to actively manage my mental health. I have systems in place that allow me to (mostly) keep my daydreaming under control.
Your situation might be different. You might have read this far and concluded that stopping completely is the right (or the only) option for you. And if that’s the case, I wish you luck. There are many articles on this site that can help you.
What healthy daydreaming looks like for you is a very personal choice. You might like the idea of immersive daydreaming and want to make that your goal. Or you might believe that you’d never find a healthy balance and it’s better to just stop. Either way, the important thing to realise is that healing is possible. You don’t need to be a slave to your maladaptive daydreaming forever. You can find a solution that works for you.