Is Maladaptive Daydreaming Weird?Last Updated:
Often I see discussions online related to maladaptive daydreaming in which people ask whether or not its weird. While determining whether or not something is "weird" is entirely subjective, it does raise some interesting questions (primarily around how people who engage in maladaptive daydreaming perceive themselves and the negative consequences that can flow from that).
When thinking about whether or not maladaptive daydreaming is weird, we need to take a step back and ask ourselves what the attributes of something that is "weird" even are.
If we define something as being weird solely because it's abnormal - or something that's not done by the majority of the population - then, yes, maladaptive daydreaming would fit that definition. But so would many other things like studying math in college or knowing how to ice skate!
In Defence of Doing Weird Things
As I've written many times before, for most people maladaptive daydreaming is simply an abnormal form of a coping mechanism. What one is trying to cope with can vary significantly; from things that are rather mundane like avoiding studying to things that are more serious like past trauma that has been experienced.
The reality is that there's nothing wrong necessarily with having coping mechanisms. Most coping mechanisms are just release valves that you can turn to during times of stress. For example, some people use going for a long drive, working out, or cooking as coping mechanisms.
Likewise, for some daydreaming works as a coping mechanism by being able to escape momentarily from your real life and distract yourself from whatever is currently troubling you. And, importantly, there's absolutely nothing wrong with that at all.
The trouble with coping mechanisms is when they become something you engage in for longer periods of time and that provide no real world utility to you. So, for example, some like cooking and eating a nice meal as a form of coping mechanism. There's nothing inherently wrong with that, but if you take it to an extreme and begin to become quite overweight then that can have a serious negative impact on your life.
Likewise there's nothing inherently wrong with daydreaming. However, when you begin to engage in maladaptive daydreaming it begins to fit the definition laid out in the prior paragraph: you engage in it longer and it provides no real world utility for you.
What I'm trying to get across here is that there's nothing wrong with doing something "weird", even if it's truly just a coping mechanism. Everyone has somewhat idiosyncratic tendencies that others would view as weird or odd -- that's part of what makes each individual unique!
So you should never be overly preoccupied with how others might perceive what you're doing as being weird. But you should be wary when what you're doing begins to weigh heavily on your real life (as maladaptive daydreaming does for so many people).
Understanding What Your Daydreams Provide You
Throughout my writing one thing I've tried to always do is stress that if you're experiencing maladaptive daydreams, and they're negatively impacting your life, then it's likely wise to try to stop engaging in them. However, that doesn't mean that you should aim to cut out all your daydreaming forever.
What research seems to suggest is that those who are most likely to engage in maladaptive daydreaming have quite creative minds. This is what allows them to spin up such enticing worlds that they end up getting overly engrossed in. This is a wonderful attribute to have, and one that not everyone does have. So just because your maladaptive daydreams have metastasized and become harmful doesn't mean that you should preclude yourself from ever daydreaming about anything! To do so would be like getting rid of your car because the brakes need to be replaced.
Instead, your aim over time should be to still daydream when you have some free time, but to ensure that you have the ability to not let them become an overbearing part of your life that then has the ability to distract you from fully living your real life.
In my own experience, when I decided I needed to get rid of maladaptive daydreams I cut out almost all of my daydreams. However, over time I began to allow myself to daydream every once in awhile, but always kept myself to a rough time limit and tried not to continually daydream about the same subject.
What many former maladaptive daydreamers find is that they've started to feel much more creative by being able to harness their daydreams. Some even use their daydreams as a way to explore abstract solutions to problems that they're facing academically or at work.
For example, one medical student recently e-mailed me saying that she has begun to utilize her talent for daydreaming to imagine herself interacting with patients with different ailments. She pretends that she walks into the emergency room, assesses the situation, and then imagines herself doing whatever needs to be done.
While this is perhaps a "weird" thing to do - because her peers probably aren't doing this! - she has found that it's really solidified the academic concepts she's been learning and has made her excel in a clinical setting during her rotations.
This is really the power of daydreaming. Because the majority of people have difficulty spinning up creative daydreams as described in the example above. So if you can do so, then begin to harness the power of your daydreams to actually make your real life better. This stands in stark contrast to how maladaptive daydreams, by definition, interfere with your real life and make it worse.
Given how much discussion there's been online about whether or not maladaptive daydreaming is weird, I wanted to write a post on it. However, the very question itself is somewhat silly -- anything can be made to sound weird, and everyone does something routinely in their life that most people would consider weird.
So, you shouldn't focus on whether maladaptive daydreaming is weird. Instead, you should focus on thinking deeply about what your maladaptive daydreams are, why you think you're having them, and what ways you can get rid of your maladaptive daydreams while still extracting the benefits of regular daydreaming (of which there are many!).
If you aren't sure whether or not you even have maladaptive daydreams, you may find it interesting to take the maladaptive daydreaming test.
As always, I wish you the best of luck in your journey.