When Does Maladaptive Daydreaming End?Last Updated:
One of the most frequent questions I get asked is whether one can expect their maladaptive daydreams to subside over time naturally. In other words, is it worth putting in the effort to stop them, even if they're disruptive to one's life today, if it's likely they'll end naturally dissipating over time.
There's no right or wrong answer to this, of course. As a general principle, if you've taken the maladaptive daydreaming test and agree that maladaptive daydreams are disruptive to your day-to-day life, then it's worth thinking seriously about being proactive and stopping them.
But it is true that maladaptive daydreams can end on their own (without any intervention on your part). In this post we're going to cover a few of the things that tend to be correlated with maladaptive daydreaming naturally going away.
Maladaptive Daydreaming and Age
Well over a thousand people have now taken the MDD test on this site and the average age of those having taken it is 27 (with the vast majority being under the age of 25).
In other studies done on what the age disruption is of those who engage in maladaptive daydreaming, similar results have been found (generally the median age is somewhere in the early-twenties).
Now, as with all statistical analysis, there could be an issue of selection bias at play. And it's certainly true that there are those who engage in maladaptive daydreams well into their thirties, forties, and beyond.
However, one theory that some have put forward is that those who are relatively young - say, below the age of thirty - tend to have lots of options in life. In fact, those who grow up in reasonably comfortably households often have too many options -- leading to a sense of overwhelm and anxiety over all the paths that are open to them.
Some theorists suggest that many engage in maladaptive daydreaming arises as a form of escapism precisely because of all these options. These maladaptive daydreamers don't know what path to take in life, feel overwhelmed by the options in front of them, and so opt to carve out a more stable and idealized world in their own mind.
However, as one gets older (trust me!) the pathways you can go down in life begin to narrow. Once you're into your late-twenties, the allure of daydreaming about being a famous actor or sports star loses its luster because you're well past the age in which that could even conceivably be a possibility.
So, some believe that maladaptive daydreaming naturally being to slowly curtail as many get older simply because the options in their life naturally willow down and a certain life path is carved out for them whether they like it or not.
Of course, this is all theoretical and rather deterministic. No one can ever say for certain why maladaptive daydreaming truly occurs for all people. But it's certainly plausible that as one gets older, they feel less overwhelmed by all the ways life could unfold (partly because so much of life has already unfolded for them!).
Maladaptive Daydreaming and Business
Another reason why maladaptive daydreaming naturally ends for some is just that they get busier living life. This is closely tied to growing older, of course.
As you begin to get more responsibilities in life - including those you'd rather not have to assume, but do nevertheless - your free time begins to vanish and the space you used to carve out of your day for daydreams gets compressed down.
For those with most serious maladaptive daydreaming, however, business alone may not end it. For example, there are a non-trivial number of lawyers who engage in maladaptive daydreaming precisely because they're so busy (and overwhelmed) by work that they don't find fulfilling, but feel they must continue.
As I've frequently said, when daydreaming flips into maladaptive daydreaming is when it begins to negatively impact your life. Those who are incredibly busy, but yet still engage in maladaptive daydreaming, often find themselves on a path towards deleterious outcomes.
Maladaptive Daydreaming and Purpose
If you currently have maladaptive daydreams, you may want to think about two different questions:
- Do I have a purpose in my real life?
- Does the main character in my dreams have a purpose?
Most often those that engage in maladaptive daydreams will say no to the first question, but yes to the second one.
A running theme through many areas of philosophy - like the work of Ernest Becker - is that all humans care, above all else, about finding some purpose that can infuse their life with meaning.
However, modern life - from schooling to white-collar work - has a way of detaching us all from finding, never mind fulfilling, anything that we would call purposeful or meaningful.
Often when people think deeply about what their daydreams are, they realize that the main character in their daydreams (whether it's a different version of the real you, or an entirely different person) has much more of a purpose to their life.
Regrettably, there's no easy way to find and pursue purpose. But often just realizing that you lack any central purpose in your real life can be a galvanizing force towards trying to find one.
When you do find one, you'll find you have little desire to maladaptive daydream as you're focused on trying to fulfil something substantial in your real life.
Maladaptive Daydreaming and Connection
Finally, many who currently engage in maladaptive daydreaming have limited - or insufficient - connections in their real life. This could mean a lack of connection to family, a lack of friends, or the lack of a love interest.
Instead, many maladaptive daydreamers concoct daydreams in which they have deep connections to replace their lack of them in the real world. This is a particularly dangerous thing to do. As relationships of all kinds, in the real world, tend to be a bit messy from time to time. Whereas relationships in your daydreams can be painted however you wish, and they almost always end up being heavily idealized.
Those who naturally stop daydreaming often do so after they've begun forming more meaningful real-world connections of some kind. Thus when they begin daydreaming, their thoughts turn to scenarios that are a bit more real-world, involving those they know, as opposed to getting into the more abstract world of maladaptive daydreams.
The vast majority of those who engage in maladaptive daydreaming are relatively young (normally ranging between 15 and 30 years old). For many, their maladaptive daydreams will end naturally over time, but it's not a given.
Further, just because maladaptive daydreams may end as one gets older that doesn't mean they can't painfully interfere with one's life before that occurs.
The three main reasons why maladaptive daydreams naturally subside over time are closely tied to what happens as one ages; one gets busier, one finds a more meaningful purpose in life, and/or one builds more real-world connections.
The most important thing to know - if you're currently a maladaptive daydreamer - is that you don't need to wait to solve your maladaptive daydreams (as I discuss in other posts on this site, and in my book). However, if you find yourself wondering whether or not you'll be stuck with maladaptive daydreams for the rest of your life rest assured that most people do grow out of them overtime (usually as a result of life just getting busier as you enter further into adulthood!).
As always, I wish you the very best of luck in your journey.