Daydreaming is nice; it gives you wings you can just take off and fly with, anywhere you want. All these happy tails we tell ourselves: one day I will cross the Atlantic in my own yacht, one day I will sit on the top of the pyramid of Giza, one day I may even go to the Moon.
I'm not talking about the kind of day dreaming that is consisted of ordinary everyday thoughts, like realistic future planning, thinking about upcoming tasks, or reviews of past memories. I refer to daydreaming as a state of vivid mental imagery, often consisting of themes that are far from current reality.
This is what we often do as children, but as we grow up life takes over, and at least most of us stop creating these vivid pictures in our heads as much. However, some may become completely obsessed with this activity. This kind of daydreaming may become a serious interference with their everyday lives, to the point that people loose their jobs over the fact that most of the time they live in their own created reality.
When we daydream once in a while, it can be beneficial as opposed to negative thinking. Yet is it completely positive? A lot of those daydreamers are making up their own worlds with an inflated self-image. What does this tell us? Nothing wrong with dreaming about becoming a superhero, but what does it tell us about what we are actually thinking about ourselves in real life? We think we are lacking. In real life, we are not enough. Is that such a positive thing?
Of course, if you don't like who you are here and now, daydreaming is the only escape that makes you feel good. And the more we're engaged in it, the less desirable the real world becomes.
A lot of maladaptive (obsessive) daydreamers grow up in abusive surroundings. If this is the case, it makes a lot of sense: it's the best form of escapism from their reality, and later on - from their traumatic past memories. Yet there are plenty of people who grow up in a perfectly normal environment and still are so possessed by their daydreaming that no matter how hard they try they just cannot put it under control.
This kind of daydreaming can become an exceedingly addictive. When for some unbeknownst reason I decided last night that my next article should be about daydreaming, I also decided, that I should do some daydreaming before I write it. And so I did. Once I wrote a few sentences, I let my wild imagination go. I was sitting like this for about an hour.
This morning, when I woke up, I decided to continue that nice daydream I had last night. Off I went. When I got up, I realized I spent 4 hours in bed, just daydreaming. And my mind still wanted to continue!
"Come on, it was so nice," the voice in my head went on "how can there be any downsides to something that feels so damn good!?" I am grateful I was immediately able to recognize how completely and utterly destructive this exercise can become. My mind was doing its best to convince me to go back and continue. I was shocked by its persistence.
There was a very clear moment when I could feel a complete disassociation from that part of my mind. I could feel this was most definitely not part of me. I snapped out of it so quickly that for a second it felt as if I was jumping off the cliff - back into my real miserable existence. Yet I don't consider my existence miserable. I'm actually quite enjoying my life at this time, to the point that I going on holiday seems like a hassle, because it detracts from what I'm doing now. Of course, the daydreaming part of my mind would love for my real life to be miserable, as I would continue to stay in a dreamworld. While we continue to feel like we have this enormous power in a dreamworld, we are gradually losing control of reality.
I rememberer my teenage years when at one point I was spending so much time daydreaming about living in 1960ties and being part of The Beatles, that during school holidays I spent entire days in my bedroom, doing just that. After a while, I decided that as fascinating as it is, I had to put it under some control as I gradually realized how much time I was flushing down the toilet. I was lucky to be able to get out of this habit. Yes, I was still daydreaming occasionally, but I would be satisfied with just an idea of doing something or being somewhere. I stopped creating stories and imaginary dialogues that used to make me go on and on, deeper into a never ending fantasy. I clearly remember, how addictive it was.
Edit: What's worse, I noticed long strands of daydreaming activity "polluting" my mind for several weeks after I wrote this article. I became increasingly distracted, and when I wasn't daydreaming, I found myself in a realm of quite extreme negative thinking - which I was well surprised about, as I thought I dismissed negative thinking as useless quite a while ago, and never gave it much energy since. It's fascinating how it re-surfaced with incredible intensity right after I decided to "give myself permission" to daydream. What on Earth happened? I fantasized a bit, realized how addictive it could be, pushed it away, and all this peculiar negativity starts haunting me like never before! It seems that while it's mainly negative thoughts that push us to daydream, daydreaming produces more negative thoughts when we try to push "it" away from our lives - at least in my case. It seems like I have lost several weeks of progress from just having to deal with this constant negativity. Taking action becomes more and more difficult. More meditation is helping to get back to my normal state :)
I decided to look up on some research associated with excessive daydreaming. There are some studies on ordinary daydreaming. Some fMRI studies show, that when we daydream, the problem-solving parts of our brain light up. Some show that more avid daydreamers have more empathy than the ones who daydream less. But this is not what I was wondering about. I was wondering about excessive daydreaming.
I found that excessive daydreaming was termed maladaptive daydreaming by Eli Somer, professor of the University of Haifa, Israel. He was the first professional in the field who documented this concept in 2002. He noticed that 6 out of 24 child abuse survivors under his treatment, "occasionally alluded to this secretive, internal fantasy life that they lived."
While Somer wasn't worried about their daydreaming activity or repetitive actions these kids engaged in while daydreaming, he was worried about the fact that they reported being unable to stop their fantasies.
He observed these kids and wrote a short article about his findings. Research community completely ignored it, and s Somer stopped pursuing the subject. However, very quickly his article was found by excessive daydreamers all over the world.
You can find more about Somers research here.
Daydreaming is a very common activity. This is how we create - this is how millions of pages of now published books are written. Would J.K. Rowling have been able to write Harry Potter without daydreaming about what she writes? Would J. R. R. Tolken have created The Lord of The Rings. or Andrzej Sapkowski his Witcher books? What about Star Wars? No way! I don't believe for a second there was no daydreaming involved in this process.
Kids daydream all the time. They make-up games play cowboys and Indians - just like all obsessive daydreamers, they know it's not real.
While professor Eli Somer is trying to raise awareness of maladaptive daydreaming, and hoping some day it will be recognized as a disorder, many of his colleagues disagree. They're not comfortable with categorizing a normal, everyday activity such as daydreaming, as a disorder. There are too many parents who are constantly trying to find something wrong with their kids. However, the truth is people, suffering from this condition struggle to find help from professionals, who mostly don't know anything about it. The only help they get is online, connecting with others like them through websites like Wild Minds Network.
I found an interesting article by Jayne Bigelsen, who herself was an avid daydreamer from a very early childhood until she was lucky enough to find medication that helped her. Years later she was introduced to a professor at Columbia University, who was curious to scan her brain activity with an fMRI (functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging) scanner while she daydreamed. Bigelsen had to stop her medication for a while and eventually she found herself inside fMRI machine. You might have already guessed where this is going right now. If someone can't stop a habit, even if they want to stop it - we call it addiction.
"And when I was daydreaming," says Bigelsen, "the reward center of my brain just lit up, like when someone on heroin is shown drugs." In her article, Bigelsen also quotes Cordellia Amethyste Rose, who founded The Wild Minds Network, helping people with excessive daydreaming. She says “I felt the daydreaming was my main reality, and I’d only peek out into the main world now and then. It’s like I’m an alcoholic with an unlimited supply of booze. I can’t turn it off.”
I don't know if you have any addiction problems, or whether you may now someone who has, but for a second, try to imagine yourself being addicted to something. This addiction affects your relationships, career, your whole life. And every single day, it's in your head. I found this so scary that I immediately felt grateful for my ability to put this under control when I was a teenager.
While I have no idea whether it should or should not be recognized as a disorder, it most certainly very closely resembles booze or drug addiction. While there is no medication from alcohol and drug addictions, maladaptive daydreamers can sometimes find relief with certain anti-depressants. It seems like there is no one pill from this condition, and while some pills work for some, they don't do the same for others. However, when they stop the pills, as Bigelsen did for her fMRI scan, it all comes back.
So when does it become destructive? It becomes destructive when we lose our curiosity in real life. This is what our imagination and creativity help us with - remaining curious, playful, always asking questions. I can only theorize, that only the most creative people make their fantasies into their drug of choice.
Dr. Garbour Mate, renowned addiction expert, theorizes that all addiction is derived from a childhood trauma. I wonder, if this maladaptive daydreaming is "the high" which hides underlying depression, just like any other addiction. While creativity in itself is not a sign of past trauma, creative children will use their creativity to escape those traumas. To treat addiction, we need to address the trauma that caused it. If it were as easy as it sounds, addiction would not be a common phenomenon in this world.
I believe that the one great solution for maladaptive daydreamers would be to express themselves creatively in a real world form. Writing, painting, playing an instrument, singing, composing, dancing, film making.
There are maladaptive daydreamers who created the whole entire worlds for themselves in middle ages or based on other films or novels. Imagine if they actually wrote them down - it would amount to the entire series of books worth! Yet unwritten, a lot of it will be forgotten sooner or later, when the next, more exciting adventure takes over.
Other activities help in an entirely different way - force us to stay in the present moment. I wonder, how daydreamers may be affected if they incorporated regular chess games, or certain card games into their routine. These kinds of activities demand your minds attention, and you simply cannot daydream, if you want to play well at least. This may not be for everyone, but there are so many of those intricate mind-training games, that if it is not unlikely, that someone who tried many of them may find interest in at least one.
While you can not make someone to want to play the game well, when ambition is left untriggered, its impossible to even assess what would the value of such activity be if there was sufficient interest taken in it. One of the very best practices which immediately forces us to stay in a present moment until we complete the task would be bouldering or rock climbing. While creative thinking is required in climbing, you just can't daydream while climbing a rock face, as it can result in many broken bones or worse.
Dancing is also an incredible form of self-expression. It differs from occupying the mind and forcing it to stay present through danger of defeat or injury. It doesn't force us to stay present, yet it helps us to somehow connect with our body in a way that not many other art forms can. You can most certainly daydream while dancing. Yet this is a really neat form of relieving the addiction to daydreaming - as rather than forcing us out of it, it gives us reasons not to. The feeling of freedom through dancing suddenly becomes more pleasurable than anything else in the world, even daydreaming. There is a definite freedom from the egoic form of self, it offers a huge relief from everyday worries and fears.
While every addiction, in some form or another, is driven by fear and ego (this is what helps us carry our traumas into everyday lives) it wouldn't surprise me if continuous regular practice of dancing offered great benefits for not only maladaptive daydreamers but also for people struggling with other forms of addictions.
Walking. Am I crazy to mention this here? Walking gives us all the time in the world for daydreaming. Yet same as dancing, it has an interestingly honest and deceiving at the same time way of working wonders in our brain. Commit to a 500-mile solo thru-hike, and you will find that in your last days of this hike, you daydreamed less than any other period in your life. The one downside for this is that such thru hikes can not only be quite costly but also require a significant chunk of your time. It is also very possible that regular walking continued as an everyday activity may help control daydreaming.
I know, I always just have to mention meditation. Meditation, however, is not an activity. It helps us only in a way that it gives us a lot more control over our mind, and allows us to choose what we do more wisely. It teaches us to stay present. I believe that meditation is for everyone, most just quit before they reach the first two weeks of regular practice. If practiced wisely, benefits will come. If you are looking for some useful advice on how to establish regular meditation routine and on meditation posture, you can find it here on this website.
While I once was an obsessive daydreamer, I am not pretending to be some expert in this field or a doctor of any kind. All I do is wonder. My wondering is based on my experiences which I connect in various ways and come up with conclusions. I overcome this little addiction by learning to take more interest in real world activities. I believe that if you decide to take yourself through a journey of finding the one activity you connect with - it will help. Whatever the preferred real world activity captures enough curiosity to stay here - try them all in all of their forms until you find it. If you're a maladaptive daydreamer looking for help, check out The Wild Minds Network - you're not alone.
Your feedback, questions, and comments are always appreciated! You can reach me through my contact form.
If you enjoy my content you're very welcome to subscribe to my email list - I know that sorting through things in your inbox is not always the most enjoyable thing to do, and so I only send emails when I have something more interesting to share. Click to subscribe here, or scroll to the top of this page to find the subscription form on the right.
Aug 15, 17 01:35 PM
Did you know, that something as innocent as a daydream can completely take over your life? Isn't daydreaming healthy and good for your creativity? Not when it becomes something you can't control.
Aug 06, 17 07:34 PM
New Age is a term we hear more and more often these days. It sticks to a lot of things weird or crazy. But how weird or crazy is it really, compared to "normal" everyday reality?
Jul 29, 17 03:34 PM
With all this meditation and living in a moment craze going on - we should probably ask ourselves - what on earth is wrong with thinking?