When Does Maladaptive Daydreaming Begin?Last Updated:
In prior posts I've talked significantly about the average age of maladaptive daydreamers and how long folks normally stay in their maladaptive daydreams.
Note: Part of how I've been able to garner all of this data is via the maladaptive daydreaming test, which hundreds of people have now done.
What I've found interesting in looking over the data is that maladaptive daydreaming begins before the age of 25 for nearly everyone (approximately 94%, to be exact) who have taken the MD test.
While I find this interesting, I don't necessarily find it to be surprising. Our personalities, interests, and dispositions are shaped at an early age and then develop more gradually over time.
While it always possible to change our habits and routines, our preferred coping mechanisms tend to be quite locked in by the time we reach our mid-twenties.
So, for example, if you were a stress eater (meaning someone who eats food whenever they feel stress or anxiety) then this form of coping mechanism will be your kind of default status until you make a deliberate choice to stop stress eating.
Likewise, when times of turbulence arise when you're young some percent of the population (I would guess around 10-20%) turn to daydreaming. Daydreaming, these people realize, is a way to get outside of your own head, forget about your "real" life, and get absorbed in a distracting fantasy.
Now it's important to note that daydreaming in and of itself is not bad necessarily! Daydreaming is perfectly adaptable and as I make clear in my book you want to return to a space in which you can daydreaming without them becoming maladaptive.
But, for some of us, those daydreams of use become a crutch over time. Instead of coping with difficult scenarios - perhaps outside of our own control - we routinely come back to daydreaming. At some point this daydreaming no longer becomes a retreat we go to every few months or years, but rather one that begins to slowly dominate our lives.
This is when daydreaming turns into maladaptive daydreaming and when it becomes an issue that can have deleterious impacts on your real life moving forward.
So, while daydreaming as a preferred coping mechanism normally begins at a very young age (often by the time you're an early teenager) when the switch from daydreaming to maladaptive daydreaming occurs can be anywhere from your early teens to your mid-twenties.
Getting Rid of Coping Mechanisms
So far we've covered that your maladaptive daydreams don't begin out of nowhere. For the vast majority of people daydreaming begins as a coping mechanism in early youth then slowly transforms into maladaptive daydreaming by the time you're in your mid-twenties.
From there, how long you stay in your maladaptive daydreams will vary and how intense they are will also vary.
For example, I always used daydreaming as a crutch when I was young (probably in part because I'm an only child), but I did not begin to enter into maladaptive daydreams until I was in my early twenties when life became quite stressful.
I've heard many stories from those in their thirties and forties who remember vaguely engaging in what they now know are maladaptive daydreams when they were in their twenties, but then they stopped for decades before picking it up again.
The reality is that maladaptive daydreaming can go away naturally when your life is perfectly aligned. Just like stress eating as a coping mechanism can go away as well.
However, if you're a stress eater you want to get rid of this as a coping mechanism period. You don't want to trust that in a few months or a few years your desire to eat while stressed will go away and not reemerge for years. Likewise, with maladaptive daydreaming due to how disruptive it is you want to try to get rid of it while you still can.
Yet another interesting thing I've observed is that it appears to be actually quite a bit easier to get rid of maladaptive daydreaming while you are most engaged in it. During periods in which your maladaptive daydreams are more periodic - happening maybe just a few times a week - you can actually have the most trouble getting rid of them.
You would think the opposite is true, but my theory is that when your most engaged in maladaptive daydreaming that is when the "real" you understands the severity of the problem the most. You understand that this can't continue on this way indefinitely or you may end up doing irreparable harm to yourself, your schooling or career, or your relationships.
In my book I go over a series of ways in which you can get rid of maladaptive daydreaming quickly and relatively painlessly (including a seven-step process that quickly helps reduce down the frequency and severity of their maladaptive daydreams).
One of the ways, to give you an idea of effective strategies, involves using your maladaptive daydreams against themselves. I always say - so if you take nothing else from what I've written, take this away - that abstinence or perseverance never work for getting rid of maladaptive daydreams.
You can't simply use your willpower to try to get rid of maladaptive daydreaming because you most often are going to maladaptive daydream when you have very limited willpower at your exposure. For example, maladaptive daydreaming as you're about to fall asleep, or when you wake up in the morning, is very common and during those periods of the day you have the least amount of resolve or willpower to not engage in maladaptive daydreams.
Instead, nearly all the tricks I've used to get rid of my maladaptive daydreaming can through leaning into my maladaptive daydreams. By this I mean turning your maladaptive daydreams on their head and trying to get rid of the allure that they hold.
This can be done, for example, by trying to "poison the well" by creating characters in your daydreams that you find repulsive or by turning the heroes of your maladaptive daydreams into villains.
For many their maladaptive daydreams run a short of automatic script whereby they gradually evolve over time without you having an overly large hand in it. This makes them feel more natural -- like some kind of second life that is unfolding without outside intervention.
By having a more heavy hand in your dreams, and making them less appealing to yourself, you begin to break that special spell that those daydreams have over you.
Maladaptive daydreaming is embarrassing. Part of the reason why I created this site was to try to talk about maladaptive daydreams openly so people knew that others were in fact dealing with this malady (even if it's not as recognized by psychologists or psychiatrists).
You should take a few minutes to think about when your maladaptive daydreams really began. Chances are, like the vast majority of the people who have gone through the MD test, you'll recognize that you used daydreaming as a coping mechanism when you were young and that over the next decade or so you began to develop maladaptive daydreams as a result.
Not everyone who engages in daydreaming will become a maladaptive daydreamer, of course. I think it really comes down to how much you used daydreaming as a crutch and how much of a creative personality you have (it takes a lot of creativity to develop some intense alternative worlds!).
As always, I hope this has been helpful. It always means a lot to me when these little posts help people see their maladaptive daydreams in a new light.