Twelve things you shouldn’t say to a maladaptive daydreamer

One of the reasons many maladaptive daydreamers keep their daydreaming a secret is that non-daydreamers usually don’t get it. It can be frustrating to have to explain – every single time – how our daydreaming differs from what non-daydreamers do (i.e. mind-wandering). We feel judged when people don’t appreciate the intensity of our struggles. And we feel invalidated when people say that maladaptive daydreaming is a gift. So this guide is for the non-daydreamers in your life, to help them understand what you shouldn’t say when someone tells you they’re a maladaptive daydreamer.

Everybody daydreams

No; everybody mind-wanders. Everybody has thoughts that aren’t related to what they’re doing in that moment. Not everybody creates a carefully crafted parallel life that they get lost in for hours at a time and which they return to over and over again.

Psychologists want to pathologise everything these days

Psychologists seek to understand, and alleviate, mental suffering. Maladaptive daydreaming causes significant suffering, and many maladaptive daydreamers need support and treatment to overcome their addiction. Maladaptive daydreamers are just as deserving of support as anyone who has been diagnosed with depression, anxiety or any other mental disorder.

You could just stop

Have you ever tried to control your thoughts? It’s not that easy. If your brain is wired for daydreaming, you can’t just stop doing it. It’s the way you think. Most maladaptive daydreamers have tried to stop daydreaming many times, and they’ve failed every time. Maladaptive daydreaming isn’t something you can just choose not to do.

But you never had trauma!

Maladaptive daydreaming is often caused by trauma, but it doesn’t have to be. Many maladaptive daydreamers don’t know why their daydreaming became maladaptive. And trauma is a very subjective experience. Whether something is traumatic depends on the person experiencing it just as much as on what happened. No one can say whether what happened to someone else does or doesn’t count as trauma.

There are worse addictions

Is there any such thing as a good addiction? Is it OK to trivialise someone’s suffering just because someone else might be suffering more? Maladaptive daydreaming doesn’t usually have catastrophic physical or financial consequences. But it’s much harder to get support for maladaptive daydreaming than for better-known addictions. And treatment options for maladaptive daydreaming are limited, because you can’t take away someone’s access to their own thoughts.

Does that mean you’re schizophrenic?

Maladaptive daydreaming is not the same as schizophrenia, and there is no scientific evidence that maladaptive daydreaming turns into schizophrenia. They’re different things. Maladaptive daydreamers know their daydreams aren’t real.

You need therapy

Therapy can be part of the treatment for maladaptive daydreaming. But telling someone they need therapy isn’t helpful. Almost all maladaptive daydreamers will have considered therapy. The reality is that therapy isn’t available to everyone, and it may not be the right approach for everyone. Many maladaptive daydreamers are simply too embarrassed or ashamed to consider discussing their daydreaming with a therapist.

You’ll never achieve anything if you don’t get out of your head

Most maladaptive daydreamers already feel like failures or losers because of the amount of time we’ve wasted daydreaming. We think we’re falling behind with life. We’re aware of how much our daydreaming is holding us back. We hoped we’d have grown out of this by now. Trying to shame us into changing isn’t going to help.

But you can’t really be heartbroken – it’s not real

You can replace “heartbroken” with any other emotion. They’re all real. Maladaptive daydreamers know that the situations they imagine aren’t real. We know our characters don’t really exist. But that doesn’t mean the emotions aren’t real. They are. And they have the power to affect us deeply.

I used to be into that

I doubt it. Maladaptive daydreaming isn’t a hobby you choose to pick up, and then put down again when you’ve had enough of it. Most maladaptive daydreamers have been daydreaming since they were very young. And it’s something you live with, not something you just “get into”.

You’re so creative! You should write a novel

Some immersive daydreamers have the ambition and literary talent necessary to turn their daydreams into bestselling novels. Most of us don’t. A study in 2019 showed that maladaptive daydreaming does not make someone more creative. Much of what goes on in our heads wouldn’t interest other people. Our daydreams are deeply personal to us. They’re not intended to entertain anyone else.

What do you daydream about?

For many maladaptive daydreamers, the content of our daydreams is intensely personal. Talking about being a daydreamer is totally different from talking about what we daydream about. You don’t need to know what we daydream about to understand how being a daydreamer affects us. If we don’t want to talk about the content, don’t ask!

It takes a lot of courage for us to admit that we’re struggling with maladaptive daydreaming. If a maladaptive daydreamer has opened up to you, it’s because they trust you, it’s because they want you to understand something important about who they are, and it’s because they want to be able to be honest with you and still be friends. It’s a sign that you have a precious connection with that person. So listen without judgement, try to understand, ask thoughtful questions, and let the maladaptive daydreamer know how grateful you are to have them in your life.

[Photo by Hayg Balis]