Disclaimer: I am not a professional and I am not trying to self-diagnose or diagnose anybody else with the psychiatric condition that is: maladaptive daydreaming.
What is maladaptive daydreaming?
Have you ever lost yourself in a daydream with vivid characters you’ve created in your mind, new settings, locations, and a solid plot, all to escape from what’s triggering you in real life? Maladaptive daydreaming is a form of dissociation and a mental illness. People who suffer with this are used to creating new realities or fantasies that don’t always just occur in their minds. Most people of all ages find it difficult to be content in what they already have, and are constantly striving for more. We always hope to be more than who we are and that’s where we fail to realize how harmful it can be imagining ourselves in another lifestyle other than our own. “Maladaptive daydreaming is a psychiatric condition. It was identified by Professor Eliezer Somer of the University of Haifa in Israel. This condition causes intense daydreaming that distracts a person from their real life. Many times, real-life events trigger day dreams” (para. 1).
What’s the difference between daydreaming and maladaptive daydreaming?
Although there’s nothing wrong with daydreaming occasionally, like any other addictive thing, it’s not always harmless. Daydreams are a part of everyday life — they’re pleasant, stimulating, and relieves us of boredom.”While they can distract us from the task at hand, they offer several benefits, such as the ability to plan future events, … find meaning in our life’s story, and boost our creativity” (para. 10). At the end of the day you know it’s not real. While maladaptive daydreaming can also be pleasant and be a good momentary escape—it shouldn’t be what people turn to feel whole. That can have negative effects in the long run.
Considerably, ample amounts of daydreaming can be self-destructive, even if you’re imagining an idealized world. This can foster feelings of loneliness the moment the individual would rather be surrounded by his/her/their made up world and/or characters, than have to face the problems in their real life. Somer (2002) argues that maladaptive daydreaming is known as [a] fantasy activity that replaces human interaction. A Harvard study has discovered that our minds will wander 47% of the time, which can be an indicator of unhappiness. The issue emerges when maladaptive daydreaming overtakes typical, daily functioning to the point where you’re unable to direct your attention to things in the present that you’re meant to be doing.
For example, daydreaming is when we want a celebrity’s lifestyle, their luxury and their fame, but not the hardships that come with it. We watch TV and sometimes imagine what it would be like to be a successful actor, or a singer up on stage performing for fans, or we imagine scenarios to help us fall asleep. These are harmless and most people are self-aware enough to know that it isn’t real, nor will it ever be. It’s fun to daydream about a different life for ourselves, but we must understand that this is just imagination and you need to face the real world.
Maladaptive daydreaming can be harmful to your mental health because it’s more likely to involve “themes of violence, power, control, sex, captivity, or rescue and escape scenarios. Unlike traditional daydreams, maladaptive daydreams commonly enter the realm of fantasy” (para. 11). While regular daydreaming provides a mental break, maladaptive daydreaming provides an emotional escape. The most significant difference between these two is; someone who daydreams for fun, is able to restore their attention back to real life, while the other is difficult to control and it’s not as easily redirected.
Overall, Maladaptive Daydreaming currently isn’t considered being a mental health condition, though I feel that may change in the near future. Dr. Eli Somers who plays a significant role in the research and study of maladaptive daydreaming, recommends for people who struggle with this to seek professional help in someone who recognizes and specializes in trauma as well as behavioural habits/addictions. In addition to this, he also recommends various methods of self-help such as keeping a journal/diary to keep track, join online communities for help and advice, and find better outlets to relieve your stress such as; exercise or meditation.
Lastly, there is no shame in asking or seeking help. There are many people who have struggled with maladaptive daydreaming which often kept them from being able to function day-to-day. As a result, when they escape into their inner fantasies, they’re no longer capable of knowing how to stop this self-developed habit on their own. Getting professional help would be a great start for those who need guidance in how to cope with their maladaptive daydreaming. Maybe in the end, it would be possible to uncover the causes and learn different and healthier ways of coping.