What your daydreams can tell you about what’s missing in your life

Maladaptive daydreaming often has its roots in a need to escape. Something in real life is too painful to deal with, or is outside our control, so we retreat into a fantasy life to escape from it. But for many immersive and maladaptive daydreamers, it can also work the other way round. Instead of being pushed into our daydreams by a need to escape, we can be pulled into our daydreams because they’re providing something we need.

We have many different, and often conflicting, needs in our lives. We need the company of others, but we also need time alone to rest and reflect. We need ease and security, but we only grow and develop when we push ourselves out of our comfort zone. Regular predictable routines make life simpler, but novelty excites and inspires us. We live our best lives when these opposing needs are in balance.

When things get out of balance, and some of our needs aren’t being met, our subconscious will try to alert us to what’s missing in our lives. One of the ways it does this is through our daydreams. But there are many aspects of our daydreams that are under our conscious control, and we’re not always aware of where we need to make changes in our lives, so how can we tune in to the signs that our subconscious is sending us?

Don’t take the messages in your daydreams too literally

It might be fun being a world-famous singer in your daydreams, but that doesn’t mean your subconscious is telling you that’s what you should be in real life. It’s better to look under the surface and reflect on what positive emotions your daydreams are bringing up, or which scenes you replay over and over again. For example, if you’re always daydreaming about how your celebrity alter-ego feels on stage, that could indicate you want more attention from those around you, but if it’s more important that your celebrity alter-ego gets to date your celebrity crush, then perhaps it’s romance rather than attention that you want more of in your life.

Don’t ignore what’s going right

If things have got out of balance, it’s likely you have enough, or even too much, of one good thing in your life, but not enough of the thing you need to balance it with. Your subconscious is trying to restore that balance through your daydreams, so the thing that’s going right in real-life probably won’t feature prominently in your daydreams. But that doesn’t mean you don’t need it in real life. So, for example, don’t give up the security of a job you enjoy just because you realise you need more adventure. That would swing the balance too far the other way.

Pay attention to the background

The main plot of your daydream, and probably the main characters, are things you have consciously crafted to suit what you enjoy daydreaming about. They are under your conscious control. If you want to tune into the parts of your daydream that are created by your subconscious, you’ll need to pay attention to the things that are just there; the little things that don’t really affect the plot one way or the other. These are the areas where your subconscious filled in the gaps so you wouldn’t notice them. Does that crucial conversation take place while strolling along a tropical beach, or while curled up in front of a log fire? Do any of your characters remind you of someone, even though you made them up and didn’t base them on that person? Which of your real-life friends made it into the daydream and which never seem to turn up? All of those things can give you clues as to what’s going on in your subconscious.

For many of us, our daydreams will always be more fantastic and more exciting than real life can ever be. It’s easy to dismiss our daydreams as “just fantasy”, especially if they are set in a different universe or a different era. But we always bring aspects of ourselves and our lives into our daydreams in some form or another. And when we start to pay attention to that, our daydreams can give us some very powerful clues about how we can be happier, more fulfilled and more successful in real life.