Why you feel conflicted about your maladaptive daydreaming

If you’re a maladaptive daydreamer, you know that too much daydreaming is bad for you. You know it’s stealing your time, your relationships and your motivation. You know it’s stopping you from being present in the real world. But you can’t give it up. Perhaps, if you’re really honest with yourself, you don’t even want to give it up. Why is that? Why do you feel conflicted about giving up something that’s causing so many problems?

It’s because, even though you’re aware of all the problems your excessive daydreaming is causing, you’re also aware that it’s your coping mechanism, and it’s fun, and it makes you feel alive. On balance, your daydreaming is doing more harm than good, otherwise it wouldn’t be maladaptive. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t any good in it. It’s important to recognise and acknowledge the good parts of your daydreaming, because it’s those parts that make it so hard to stop.

You can be a daydreamer AND want to overcome your maladaptive daydreaming

You were born an immersive daydreamer. And you will always be an immersive daydreamer. Daydreaming is part of who you are. It’s how you think. Somewhere along the line, your daydreaming got out of control and became maladaptive. But that doesn’t mean you’re irretrievably broken. There’s nothing wrong with being a daydreamer. There’s also nothing wrong with wanting to be able to control your daydreaming.

You can love daydreaming AND hate the consequences of excessive daydreaming

Most maladaptive daydreamers love spending time in their paracosm. It’s our safe space, our playground. It’s a place to discover ourselves and a place where we can explore without limits. Who wouldn’t enjoy being able to experience literally anything you can imagine? It’s OK to love daydreaming. But it’s also OK to get frustrated with yourself when you daydream for too long. And it’s OK to feel guilty when you prioritise daydreaming over real life. Daydreaming too much is a problem, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be fun in the moment.

Your daydreaming can harm you AND be the way you cope

Maladaptive daydreaming can lead to social isolation. It can lead to low self-esteem. You see other people living their lives, focussed on the real world, and you’re acutely aware of how much this constant dissociation is harming you. But maladaptive daydreaming often starts as a coping mechanism. It was the way you escaped from something that was too traumatic or overwhelming to stay present with. And you needed that escape. You needed a way to not feel the pain. Your maladaptive daydreaming may be slowly destroying you, but it was also the way your mind tried to protect you.

You can know it isn’t real AND feel as if it is

We know our daydreams aren’t real. We know our characters aren’t real. But it isn’t just a fantasy. It’s a fantasy that comes with some very real emotions. You’re not crazy if you’ve cried over the suffering of someone who doesn’t exist. And it’s OK to soothe yourself by imagining watching the sun set with your daydream partner. Emotions are part of the fabric of life. And an emotion that comes from a daydream is every bit as real as an emotion that comes from real life.  

You can need real-life friends AND imaginary friends

Real-life friends and imaginary friends are different. They serve different functions, and it’s OK to have both. Our real-life friends add depth and richness to our lives. They help us feel valued, loved and connected. They support us when we need it, and give us an opportunity to support them. We can’t take them for granted. And in learning how to relate to them, we learn about ourselves. But our imaginary friends are there for us 24/7, they love us unconditionally in the way a real person never can, and we can make the relationship unashamedly all about us. It’s OK not to want to give that up in favour of having only real-life friends.

As with so much in life, it’s all about balance. Uncontrolled, excessive, maladaptive daydreaming isn’t healthy. But, if you’re a natural daydreamer, trying to completely suppress your daydreaming isn’t healthy either. We need to be present in reality most of the time, but it’s OK to crave the excitement, passion and infinite possibilities of your daydream world. As an immersive daydreamer, you were born to have both. That’s why so many maladaptive daydreamers don’t want to give up daydreaming, despite the damage it does.

Ignoring the positive aspects of daydreaming doesn’t make them go away. Pretending there’s nothing good about your maladaptive daydreaming won’t make it any easier to overcome. In fact, it makes it harder, because you’re not just fighting your maladaptive daydreaming, you’re also fighting the part of yourself that wants – or needs – to daydream. It’s only when you acknowledge the good and bad aspects of daydreaming that you can work on maximising the good and eliminating the bad. And then you can turn your maladaptive daydreaming into the healthy immersive daydreaming it was always meant to be.

[Photo by Eberhard Grossgasteiger]