Is Maladaptive Daydreaming Bad?Last Updated:
Chances are you're like most people: you've had maladaptive daydreaming for months or years, but are just now realizing that this is an actual thing that others have as well.
This leads to the obvious question of whether or not maladaptive daydreaming is bad or not. Perhaps the answer seems like it should be obvious. After all, anything that is maladaptive you would think is at least not ideal to have. If you were told your friend has a maladaptive shoulder you wouldn't necessarily know what's wrong with their shoulder in particular, but you would know it's not functioning the way it should.
Determining if Maladaptive Daydreaming is Bad
If you surf around the internet you'll quickly find a lot of conflicting commentary on just how bad maladaptive daydreaming is. Some think maladaptive daydreaming, no matter how severe, is an unmitigated harm to oneself. Others think that if maladaptive daydreaming is enjoyable, then there's nothing at all wrong about it.
What I stressed in How to Stop Maladaptive Daydreaming is the need to look at MD through a rationalist lens.
What I mean by this is that one of the best ways to begin your journey towards stopping further maladaptive daydreaming is to take a step back and think about why your daydreams could have become maladaptive in the first place. In other words, how could your maladaptive daydreams have rationally been developed in order to help, not hurt, you?
For most people - including myself - life became so overwhelming and outside of my control that I gave myself over to my maladaptive daydreams. To actually deal with my own reality - or even just think about it! - constantly was simply too much.
...I needed a diversion from my real world, so I began to dive deeper and deeper into my maladaptive daydreams.
As I go over in the Maladaptive Daydreaming Test, one of the signs of severe maladaptive daydreams is playing over the same script over and over again. This is a rational version of maladaptive daydreams because there's comfort in going over something continually where you know what will happen next.
So Is Maladaptive Daydreaming Actually Good?
My personal view is that everyone who engages in maladaptive daydreams, if they think long enough about how they started, can come away with a rational explanation for why they occurred and how they helped them during a difficult time.
But - and there's a big but here - that doesn't make maladaptive daydreams good. While maladaptive daydreams provided comfort, reprieve, or diversion from your real life when it got too difficult to continually think about the issue with maladaptive daydreams is that once they're embedded in your mind they don't go away.
Think about it this way: imagine one day you break your arm. If you don't put a cast on your arm then your arm will heal, but it won't be set in the right way and you'll lose a great deal of functionality in your arm. So you go to the emergency room, have a cast put on, and then a few months later when the cast is removed you'll be able to use your arm just as it was before.
However, if you never remove the cast, you'll always be limited in how you can use your arm. Your arm is protected, sure, but what's the point of having a fully protected arm when it can't be utilized.
Likewise, with maladaptive daydreams they can provide temporary protection. But due to how alluring and entrenched maladaptive daydreams become, they can be difficult to remove from your life.
So, you shouldn't feel poorly about yourself because you've had maladaptive daydreams. Chances are if you think hard enough you'll realize that they've helped you overcome something, or protect yourself from something. There's a reason they started.
But, if you're visiting this site right now it's because you've realized that maladaptive daydreams are no longer just protecting you, they're now actively hurting you.
Take a spin through the freely available Maladaptive Daydreaming Test on this site and see how you score. If you find yourself noting that you're spending an increasing amount of your day in maladaptive daydreams, or if you find it difficult to develop plans about the future due to your maladaptive daydreams, or if you find your maladaptive daydreams are actively harming your life by making you focus on the wrong things, then you know it's time to put a game plan together to stop maladaptive daydreams.
Stopping Your Maladaptive Daydreams
If you've taken the test and realize that maladaptive daydreams are actively harming your life, then the reality is that you should focus on stopping them.
Many people get overwhelmed at the thought of stopping their maladaptive daydreams because they think to themselves, "If I've spent months or years in these daydreams, it'll probably take months or years in order to stop them".
Luckily, in my experience and in the experience of hundreds of others that I've talked to, this is not the case.
The first step is always to take the rationalist approach and ask yourself why these maladaptive daydreams started and how they could have helped you. Many maladaptive daydreamers (myself included) are incredibly hard on themselves over their daydreams and are embarrassed by them.
I developed the Maladaptive Daydreaming Survey in order to help folks realize that there's nothing to be embarrassed or ashamed of. Rather, there's a real purpose behind these daydreams and it's perfectly fine to let them go away.
The second step is to begin to engage in a series of techniques - I list a number of these in the Maladaptive Daydreaming Guide - that fit for you. These include things like trying to ruin your most common maladaptive daydreams by spoiling the plot (creating situations within the dreams that make them no longer appealing).
The third step is constantly write down your progress and not be hard on yourself if you have any relapse. The process can take time, but when you open yourself up, are honest with yourself, and keep at it within just a few days you can see a severe decrease in your maladaptive daydreams.
To go back to the analogy about breaking your arm before, if you keep your cast on too long then that's not ideal. It'll hamper what you can do with your arm, of course! But if you have your cast removed later than it should have been, then your arm may be a little stiff, but it'll go back to working just as it did before.
After spending months or years in maladaptive daydreams it can seem like there's endless amounts of free time when you stop. However, you'll find new diversions, distractions, hobbies, and interests to fill that void that has developed.
Even if you've spend countless hours in your maladaptive daydreams, it can only take a few days to get fully out of them. It doesn't seem like it should be so easy, but it most certainly is for most if you approach it the right way.
Maladaptive daydreaming can be bad, certainly, but that doesn't mean you are bad for having engaged in it. Think about why it could have occurred to begin with and how it could have rationally helped you. Then develop a plan - using the guidelines above - to get rid of them.