Keeping the separation

One of the things that distinguishes maladaptive daydreaming from other mental health conditions such as schizophrenia and fantasy-prone personality disorder is that we daydreamers can always tell the difference between reality and daydreaming. We know that our daydreams exist only in our minds, that they aren’t real.

But many of us bring people that we know in real life into our daydreams, at least sometimes. It might be someone we know – a friend or work colleague – or it could be someone we know of, such as a celebrity. And when we do that, although we know that the events in our daydreams aren’t real, we sometimes forget that the characters in our head aren’t real either – even those who are based on real people. And that can be problematic if we then start expecting the real person to live up to the expectations we have of their daydream character.

The minute you bring a real person into your daydreams, a couple of things happen. Firstly, no matter how well you know the real person, you can’t predict how they would react in every situation that your daydreaming mind puts them in. You have to guess, or extrapolate from situations they’ve experienced in real life. You fill in the gaps in what you know about the real person with assumptions or wishes about how you’d like them to be.

Secondly, as you play out your daydream, you give your character experiences that the real person hasn’t had. You might put them in exciting, challenging or traumatic situations. And those experiences will change them. Your character will grow and develop, in the same way that people in real life grow and develop in response to the things that happen to them. So, even if your character starts off closely resembling the person you based them on, as soon as they come into your daydreams, you set them on a different trajectory. They evolve one way, while the real person is evolving another way, and as time goes on the differences between them will only get greater.

So, regardless of your original intention, when you bring someone from real life into your daydreams, what you end up with is a character made up partially of aspects of the real person and partially of aspects of your imagination. The longer that character stays in your daydreams, the greater the part of them that originates in your imagination will become. This can cause problems if you are expecting the real-life person to act in the same way as the character in your head.

In a previous post, I listed some habits that can help you keep the amount of time you spend daydreaming within a healthy range. If I had to add one habit to help you keep the content of your daydreaming healthy, it would be: think of the character in your head and the real-life person you based them on as two different people. Don’t let how you feel about one influence the way you interact with the other.

I don’t think there is anything wrong with daydreaming about real people; we have complete freedom to dream about whatever we like without feeling guilty or having to ask permission. But just as we know that the events we daydream about aren’t real, it’s important to remember that our characters aren’t real either, no matter what their origins. That doesn’t mean that we can’t have an emotional connection to them. It doesn’t mean they can’t support us or give us a shoulder to cry on when we need it. It just means that their real-life roots live in a different world and have their own lives to lead.

The real-life person will never be exactly the person you’d like them to be; but your character can be anyone you want.

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