How to Stop Maladaptive Daydreaming

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Category: Reflections

Reflections on my own journey through maladaptive daydreaming.

How Does Maladaptive Daydreaming End?

One of the most common questions I get is about how it feels for maladaptive daydreaming to end. Does it go out with a bang? A whimper? Something in between?

As I discuss in the maladaptive daydreaming program, there are a series of tricks that work for most people almost immediately (or at least cause a severe reduction in the amount of maladaptive daydreaming).

So for most people – when they have the right know-how – maladaptive daydreaming does end with a bang. The frequency and intensity of the dreams go away in just a few days or weeks.

In fact, over 50% of those who have taken my survey after doing the program have reported a 90% reduction in their maladaptive daydreams after just two weeks.

However, here’s the thing…

Maladaptive Daydreaming Ending Feels Like Nothing

Seriously.

When I was maladaptive daydreaming at my height I would often engage in daydreaming (I don’t know if it was really maladaptive!) about what it would be like for the maladaptive daydreams to go away.

It was a bit like Inception, but for maladaptive daydreams (which I think would actually be a good movie).

So when I began my seven-step method for ending maladaptive daydreams – along with a few tricks I created – I expected to really notice when the maladaptive daydreams left me.

Instead, they just kind of disappeared into the ether. Because I wasn’t engaging in maladaptive daydreams, I wasn’t even thinking about them.

Occasionally I would notice this and think about how odd it was that a few weeks prior I was consumed by my daydreams and now I wasn’t at all.

The Common Pathway

My pathway of going from non-stop maladaptive daydreaming to barely even thinking about maladaptive daydreaming is actually the norm.

My theory is that this is almost necessary because when a maladaptive daydream really gets going – after you engage in it for five or ten minutes – it’s almost impossible to stop it from extending out even further.

In other words, once the train gets rolling it takes a long time and a lot of effort to hit the brakes.

So my approach was to:

  1. Make the maladaptive daydreams less appealing (by using tricks like “poisoning the well”)
  2. Notice as soon as I was drifting into a maladaptive daydream and immediately move by attention elsewhere (through the seven-step method)

While I don’t pretend like I have all the answers, I’ve talked to hundreds of maladaptive daydreamers.

I don’t know of anyone who has made a recovery who every day decreased their maladaptive daydreaming by 5%. That just strikes me as almost being an agonizingly slow process that almost surely won’t work.

Instead you need to break maladaptive daydreaming. Not with willpower, but with a real strategy.

This was maladaptive daydreaming ends with a bang, but feels like a whimper. Maladaptive daydreaming ending feels like nothing because you don’t recognize it even happening.

…On occasion you’ll just notice – out of the blue – that those daydreams that so occupied your life are gone. You’ll then, hopefully, shrug your shoulders and move on. Perhaps even to engage in an adaptive daydream about your real life and your real future.

Take care as always,

Alex

What is Maladaptive Daydreaming?

One of the issues surrounding discussions of maladaptive daydreaming is coming to an agreement as to a definition.

This is particularly true because the vast majority of psychologists and psychiatrists are reluctant to believe that daydreaming can ever be maladaptive.

Or perhaps put another way, they are reluctant to believe that maladaptive daydreaming is not just a symptom of something deeper and “more clinical” like depression.

When I first began to think seriously and deliberately about my own maladaptive daydreaming, I was confronted with trying to put a definition to it.

I figured if I couldn’t even define what maladaptive daydreaming was, then how could I be sure I even had it?

Defining Maladaptive Daydreaming

After a few iterations, this is the definition of maladaptive daydreaming I came up with that I believe has stood the test of time:

Maladaptive daydreams are any daydreams that not only serve no useful purpose to furthering your life, but actively harm your ‘real’ life by consuming increasing quantities of your time and energy.

This is a short definition that doesn’t necessarily capture all the attributes of maladaptive daydreaming that many experience, so let’s unpack this definition a little bit.

Maladaptive daydreams are often characterized as having increasingly abstract worlds that are entirely present in one’s own mind.

These worlds are locked away, told to no one, and accessible only to the maladaptive daydreamers him or herself.

These increasingly abstract worlds often start with the ‘real’ person being the central character, but then begin to arch out. Often the most serious maladaptive daydreamers will be dreaming of a protagonist who is him or herself, but yet looks, talks, and thinks almost entirely different.

These abstract worlds serve no useful purpose to furthering the life of the individual who maladaptive daydreams. The maladaptive daydreams involve people, scenarios, challenges, and triumphs entirely separate from their “real” world.

Maladaptive Daydreams Consume Lots of Time

The serious maladaptive daydreamer will also spend increasing amounts of time in his or her daydreams.

This will begin by consuming the spare time that exists in his or her day, but will quickly branch out into playing like a script in the back of their mind.

Maladaptive daydreamers will often remark that they have trouble focusing, when they really need to, because their maladaptive daydreams are butting in.

This is the start of when maladaptive daydreams go from a somewhat odd crutch or support system to actively interfering with your life; causing your academic, work, and/or social life to suffer

Conclusion

Over the years I’ve talked to many people with maladaptive daydreams. While no maladaptive daydream is ever quite the same, what they all have in common are some central attributes captured in the definition above.

If you have any questions, feel free to reach out as always.

Take care,

Alex

P.S. – If you’d like to learn more about how I overcame my maladaptive daydreams, feel free to check out my course on maladaptive daydreaming here

Does Maladaptive Daydreaming Begin with Trauma?

When I first recognized that these daydreams I had – that consumed so much of my waking hours – were abnormal, I began to Google around (as perhaps you are doing right now).

I quickly realized that these absorbing daydreams I was engaged in were “maladaptive daydreams” and that they were actually reasonably common. In fact, in just North America alone nearly 100,000 individual people have searched for “maladaptive daydreaming” just this past month.

However, when I began reading about maladaptive daydreaming there was a common thread: traumatic experiences.

This troubled me. I did not think that I had suffered from any traumatic experiences in youth or beyond. No household is perfect, but to suggest mine engendered me with any form of trauma would be a stretch of the imagination.

But here’s the thing: since resolving my own maladaptive daydreaming, and having talked to so many with maladaptive daydreaming, I’ve realized that maladaptive daydreaming is invariably somewhat related to trauma.

By that I mean, if we expand the definition of trauma to involving scenarios in which you want to escape, then it is true that maladaptive daydreaming nearly always involves those who have faced a traumatic experience.

For me, this meant escaping expectations.

The expectations of family, friends, and peers. The expectations that having gone to an elite college and having obtained an elite job should have led to happiness. When it invariably, at least in my case, did not.

My maladaptive daydreams allowed me to live out an ulterior life. A life that I didn’t necessarily want, but a life in which there was no discontinuity between what was expected of me and what was achieved.

One can say (perhaps rightly so) that the burden of expectations do not constitute trauma. That’s fine. Perhaps they’re right. However, for me I recognize that this was a form of trauma (however slight relative to what others go through) and this ultimately led me into maladaptive daydreaming.

One of the first steps in overcoming maladaptive daydreaming, as I detail in the course I created, is understanding the root of your maladaptive daydreams. How did they occur, what do they represent, what are they preventing you from confronting?

There is no easy way to answer these questions. It requires a level of introspection. However, at their core will be some level of trauma. Some thing, whatever it may be, that you’re trying to escape from having to confront, ponder, and consider.

So how should we define “trauma” for the purposes of maladaptive daydreaming? Well we should consider trauma anything worthy of pursuing maladaptive daydreams for as maladaptive daydreams are invariably a mechanism for escaping having to deal with the realities of life.

If you want to escape from something, then it might as well be considered traumatic. Whether that’s a job, a relationship, a school experience, or something entirely different.

Escapism is a manner in which trauma is avoided (whatever that trauma may be) and maladaptive daydreaming is the mechanism by which that escapism occurs.

As I’ve said for the past few years, the way to overcome maladaptive daydreaming is by first recognizing what it is. When you recognize it’s purely a form of escapism – a safe fantasy your mind has dreamt up – then the first crack has been made.

Take care as always,

Alex

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