Maladaptive Dreaming and Loneliness
This question comes from Emily, who is a maladaptive daydreamer in Utah. Here’s her question:
I’ve been trying to figure out whether or not I’m maladaptive daydreaming because I’m lonely or not? I don’t necessarily want to be around other people so I feel like maybe it’s not because I’m lonely at all.
Emily (18 Years Old)
Emily’s question is a fantastic one and one that I hear often.
In my experience, many maladaptive daydreamers (including myself!) are rather insular people. We have traditionally enjoyed staying in our own heads and generally enjoy our own company.
This is all perfectly fine. Everyone is wired differently and being comfortable being alone with yourself is a fantastic attribute to have.
However, with the introduction of maladaptive daydreaming all of that changes. It no longer feels productive or enjoyable to stay in one’s own mind.
Instead it feels like we’re wasting our life because our maladaptive daydreams have nothing to do with our own life and we’re now choosing our maladaptive daydreams over doing nearly anything in our real life.
The Connection Between Loneliness and Maladaptive Daydreaming
Maladaptive daydreaming is fundamentally a form of escapism that has gone awry for most people.
For some people, but I think quite few, maladaptive daydreaming can be a form of escapism from loneliness. While for the most part you may be perfectly fine being alone, everyone has their limits. We all need some level of connection with others.
In other words, these maladaptive daydreamers construct an abstract world in their mind where they’re trusted, valued, and cared for by friends and family (perhaps all of them being fictional characters or those you don’t know in your real life).
With that said, an adaptive form of daydreaming can be thinking about other people even if they are fictional. So we do need to be careful here.
For example, you may daydream about a certain kind of boyfriend or girlfriend who is entirely fictional. This may seem maladaptive – and if it consumes lots of your time and energy it certainly can be – but in reality this is a way for your brain to figure out what you want out of a partner in real life.
By running through different potential partners in your daydreams you’re figuring out what kind of partner would actually make you happy. This avoids having to do the somewhat risky thing of figuring it out in real life.
One can argue that perhaps this is not the healthiest form of daydreaming, but that doesn’t make it inherently maladaptive.
The same is true for daydreaming about various career paths. It's adaptive to think about life would be like if you take a certain job or embark on a certain career path.
However, if you are daydreaming continually about an unrealistic career - such as being a professional basketball player when you're 5'4" - then you're entering into the realm of maladaptive.
Remember how we define maladaptive daydreaming revolves around how abstract daydreams are and how detrimental they are to your "real" life.
Most Maladaptive Daydreamers Enjoy Solitude
In my experience, nearly everyone I talk to confesses that they enjoy their free time and being alone with themselves.
While this is a reasonably rare quality there is nothing bad about it at all!
Research tends to indicate – although anything in this field is quite open to interpretation – that loneliness manifests itself most often in a kind of emptiness. Loneliness feels as those there is a giant void within you, full of nothing.
In fact, loneliness tends to come along with something active and in the present. Loneliness deals with your real self in this singular moment. That’s entirely distinct and almost the opposite of what is occurring when we maladaptive daydream.
With that said, it is possible to have maladaptive daydreams that are meant to “solve” your loneliness by constructing a false world where you feel you are not alone.
When Emily and I discussed her maladaptive daydreams in particular, this was obviously not the case. Her maladaptive daydreams weren’t focused on socializing so much as around what her life could have been had her life gone in a different direction.
Emily she recognized that her daydreams were unrealistic. They were fantasies about the way life could have been that were ironically harming her "real" life by consuming so much of her time. This isn't rare for maladaptive daydreamers to experience and many have similar stories to Emily.
Maladaptive daydreams are complicated and the motivations that lead us towards them are frustratingly various.
However, in my experience (and your personal experience may vary!) loneliness and maladaptive daydreaming are not generally tied as closely as many think. Instead, many just assume they are daydreaming so excessively because of loneliness when it is often a sign of something much deeper going on.
If you’re looking for a definition of maladaptive daydreaming, you can find it here: What is Maladaptive Daydreaming?
You can also take the Maladaptive Daydreaming Test, which has been taken by more than 600 people now (the results of those who have previously taken the test are also broken down and explained as well).
If you have any questions please let me know. Emily and I talked after she joined the Maladaptive Daydreaming Course, which you may also find useful.
Take care as always,