Everyone experiences shame. It’s that little voice in your head that tells you that you aren’t good enough, or that you don’t deserve to be successful, or that nobody loves you. And for a lot of maladaptive daydreamers, it’s the voice that says that daydreaming makes you a bad person or is a sign that something’s wrong with you.
We all have an urge to be accepted, to be loved and to belong. But shame drives us away from that. Shame makes us believe that we can’t be accepted or loved for who we are. Shame encourages us to pretend to be someone we’re not, and it makes us fearful about opening up to anyone about the things that cause us shame.
Daydreaming in the way we do is natural for us. But at some point we realised that not everyone daydreams in this way. That realisation might have come when someone implied it wasn’t normal to pace around muttering under your breath or criticised you for not paying attention or questioned whether you could tell the difference between imagination and reality. Whatever it was, it made you feel different, and when we are so desperate to feel acceptance and belonging, different is scary; different feels wrong. And shame creeps in.
This shame can be the start of a vicious spiral. We feel shame, and it feels horrible, so we escape it in whatever way we can. And usually that escape is into our daydream world because that’s the only place where we feel love, acceptance and belonging. But then we feel guilty about having wasted more time daydreaming; we imagine what other people would think if they knew that we rely on imaginary friends for comfort; we wonder what it says about us that the only place we feel accepted is in a carefully crafted world where we control every detail. And it reinforces that idea that we aren’t enough, aren’t deserving, aren’t loveable. And the shame grows.
But for most of us, the daydreaming isn’t the original cause of the shame. We didn’t create our fantasy worlds because we needed to escape – the daydreams were already there. It was only when real life took a wrong turn that we started using our daydreams to escape reality. This escapism isn’t good for us, particularly if it gets out of control, but the actual daydreaming isn’t the problem.
The first step in tackling maladaptive daydreaming is to accept your daydreaming as a natural part of who you are. You’ll never get rid of it, but you can control it and you can make it work to your advantage. But you can only do that if you move past any shame you feel about being a daydreamer. Shame is a powerful force that will hold you back. But if you can convert that shame into self-acceptance and authenticity, you will have a powerful force that will drive you forward.
So how do you do that?
First, recognise that your daydreaming is just one part of who you are. It doesn’t define you. Whether you’re an immersive daydreamer or a normative daydreamer is no more important than whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert, an early riser or a night owl, someone who likes routines or someone who goes with the flow. There are so many aspects to who we are, and daydreaming is just one of them.
Second, accept that your daydreaming isn’t inherently bad. If you can control it, it’s not really that different from getting lost in a good book or enjoying watching a movie. If it helps you relax, recharge and cope with the stresses of everyday life, then allow it to do exactly that.
Third, know that you are not alone. There are many people who daydream the way we do. If it would help to reach out to them, to open up about your daydreaming in a safe place full of like-minded people, there are links to several groups on my Resources page.
Feeling as though you’re not loved or accepted is one of the hardest feelings to endure. It’s not surprising we try to run away from it. But ultimately, we need to understand where the shame is coming from, so that we can move past it. And we can begin to do that by accepting that daydreaming is almost certainly not the only, or even the original, cause of the shame. It is only once we accept our daydreaming for what it is that we can truly begin to heal.