Five Myths About Maladaptive Daydreaming: What You Should KnowLast Updated:
For those just beginning to learn about maladaptive daydreaming, it can all feel a bit overwhelming because there is still much to be understood about it, and perhaps much that’ll never be fully understood.
But there are certainly some myths about maladaptive daydreaming that persist and that are worth debunking – or at least throwing a bit of cold water over. These myths primarily originate from those that haven’t taken the time to read through the ever-increasing amount of peer-reviewed academic research on maladaptive daydreaming or have never taken the time to talk to those who have felt impacted by it.
So, it’s worth taking the time to highlight some of these myths – especially those of more practical significance – and illustrate why there’s little underlying truth to them. Like many myths, those relating to maladaptive daydreaming can largely be disproved through proof by contradiction, but we’ll get into that a little more later...
Myths About Maladaptive Daydreaming
Below are the top five maladaptive daydreaming myths (in no particular order). Feel free to click the links below to be taken to each one, or read this post from start to finish.
- Maladaptive Daydreaming Isn’t Real
- Maladaptive Daydreaming is a Result of Boredom
- Maladaptive Daydreaming Can be Overcome Through Willpower
- Maladaptive Daydreaming is Something You Grow Out Of
- Maladaptive Daydreaming is Innate and Immutable
Part of my rationale for writing about maladaptive daydreaming (now for nearly three years!) has been to try to illustrate that maladaptive daydreaming should not be merely rolled in with other psychological phenomenon but rather treated as a real, discrete phenomenon that can be addressed separately.
It’s certainly true that those with, for example, ADHD have a slightly higher propensity to engage in maladaptive daydreaming than the general public (as Theodor-Katz, Somer, et al. illustrated) but the vast majority who describe themselves as maladaptive daydreamers do not fall into this camp.
This is partly why there’s relatively modest overlap between ADHD tests and maladaptive daydreaming tests: they’re related to two relatively distinct phenomenon. Insofar as there is a relationship between the two, it’s because both are driven by a similar trait of elevated creativity and a desire for rich stimulation.
Those who say that maladaptive daydreaming isn’t real – or that it’s simply a manifestation, or side effect, of something else – rely primarily on the fact that maladaptive daydreaming hasn’t yet been inducted into the DSM.
However, this ignores the fact that many psychiatrists and psychologists have been pushing for its inclusion and that it appears to be a matter of when not if it gets included. Therefore, it’s dubious at best to make the claim that maladaptive daydreaming is somehow not real just because of its lack of inclusion in what is, effectively, a resource manual (one that has frequently gone through major revisions).
But, putting aside that more academic discussion, the way that one knows, in their bones, that maladaptive daydreaming is real is that every month hundreds of thousands search around seeing if there’s some turn of phrase that describes the kind of disruptive daydreams they’re having.
These people aren’t hearing the phrase “maladaptive daydreaming” and then pretending they have it – rather, they have this somewhat bizarre experience occurring in their life and then seek out if it’s unique to them or if others have had a similar experience.
And for many, including myself, after taking some time to think through their maladaptive daydreams, put together a strategy, and implement a few tricks they’re able to overcome their maladaptive daydreams. All without needing to deal with anything else.
There’s a common myth that maladaptive daydreaming really just boils down to being bored: if you had a truly busy life, then you wouldn’t have the time (or, perhaps, the luxury) to engage in maladaptive daydreaming.
Like many myths there is a tenuous connection between maladaptive daydreaming and boredom for many. Because many do start engaging in maladaptive daydreaming after a disruptive life event that suddenly leads to them having more time, and maladaptive daydreaming provides an outlet for them to think about something other than their real life which perhaps isn’t overly appealing to do.
For example, those who suddenly leave school, but are unable to find a job, often report sinking into maladaptive daydreaming. This is likely a form of escapism to avoid having to think constantly about the fact that their job search hasn’t gone exactly as planned.
But what makes maladaptive daydreaming unique is that it has a way of metastasizing over time – to the point where one’s maladaptive daydreaming begins to blot out all of your other lines of thinking.
So, for some, it may be true that maladaptive daydreaming starts because of boredom, or because one is trying to escape from their day-to-day life, but then it becomes so lodged in the rhythm of one’s life that it’s extremely hard to dislodge no matter how busy one is. Therefore, it’s entirely incorrect, or at least partially incorrect, to just say that if one had a busier life than their maladaptive daydreaming would suddenly dissipate.
This is perhaps the biggest myth and the one served up by well-meaning people who simply don’t understand the nature of maladaptive dreaming.
The interesting thing about maladaptive daydreaming is that it’s something most drift into: they don’t make a conscious decision to start doing it, they just fall into it and then realize after ten or twenty or sixty minutes that they’re doing it.
Therefore, it’s incredibly difficult – since maladaptive daydreaming is just a psychological phenomenon – to exercise your willpower to not do it. Instead, you need to use tactics and tricks – as outlined in the maladaptive daydreaming book – for making it unappealing for your unconscious to enter into maladaptive daydreams to begin with.
It’s not surprising that this myth about maladaptive daydreaming persists. It’s very similar to the way well-meaning people, decades ago, would tell those suffering from a depressive episode that they should just try not to have negative thoughts (it’s harder than it appears, there’s only so much willpower someone can exercise!).
Like the myth about the connection between maladaptive daydreaming and boredom, there is some level of truth to this. Because it does appear, on average, that those with maladaptive daydreams will naturally stop after some number of years (e.g., it’s much more common for those under thirty to have maladaptive daydreams than those above).
However, there’s not been nearly enough data collection to say anything definitive on this subject. And there are plenty of cases of those who have carried their maladaptive daydreams with them for years or even decades.
But the most important point here, and why this myth is at best deeply wrong to assert, is that maladaptive daydreaming is, by definition, disruptive to your real life in the present. Waiting around for years in the hopes that they’ll naturally decrease or dissipate isn’t a feasible strategy, and there’s plenty of indications that they won’t naturally decrease or dissipate for everyone.
Finally, sometimes folks will concede that maladaptive daydreaming is real, but they’ll say it’s some innate personal characteristic and is thus immutable (unchangeable). In other words, it’s just something that some people do and there’s nothing much you can do about it (similar to someone being taller than average or being shorter than average).
It may be true that some have a higher propensity to engage in maladaptive daydreaming based on their innate characteristics but it’s entirely a myth that maladaptive daydreaming is immutable or, in other words, can’t be changed.
Indeed, this site is dedicated in large part to deconstructing the unique reasons why many fall into their maladaptive daydreams and then how they can create a pathway to getting out of it.
Just as many seem to seamlessly fall into maladaptive daydreaming – even if they aren’t even aware of what maladaptive daydreaming is – they can (relatively) seamlessly work their way out of it. Thereby reducing the disruption to their real life and giving them the space, time, and mental energy to focus on their real life.
While it can be jarring to recognize that you’re engaged in maladaptive daydreaming – especially with how many myths about it abound – it’s always worth keeping in mind that there are many thousands who have found themselves in a similar position and worked their way through it (myself, obviously, included).
There’s no getting around the fact that maladaptive daydreaming is a relatively opaque subject: there’s limited information on it and what information does exist tends to be regurgitations of what was written before.
So, hopefully this post has helped debunk a few of the more common myths about maladaptive daydreaming that you may have heard (or at least given you something to think about).
There’s still much to learn about maladaptive daydreaming, but just because we don’t know everything about it doesn’t mean that those having their lives disrupted by maladaptive daydreams can’t make progress towards ending them. In the end, that’s the most important takeaway you should have and, ultimately, what matters the most.