Maladaptive daydreamers often think that life would be better if they could stop daydreaming. I’m not convinced that it’s possible to stop completely, because our brains are wired to think in this way; we don’t have the same thought patterns as normative daydreamers. But there is another reason why many maladaptive daydreamers find it difficult to stop or cut down on their daydreaming. If daydreaming is giving you something you need, or if you’re afraid of something that would happen if you stopped, then you’re setting up an internal conflict with yourself – the part of you that wants to stop will have to fight against the part of you that’s afraid, and that will make it far more difficult to change your daydreaming habits.
So, what are some possible reasons why a part of you might be afraid to stop daydreaming?
Your real life is boring
One of the fun things about being a daydreamer is that you can go anywhere and do anything. You can live as many parallel lives as you can keep track of. You can be someone different every day. You can try things out and then rewind and relive them in a better way. When you’ve been used to having all those possibilities, the idea of being stuck in the routine of real-life, and having to stay grounded in one present moment, can feel dull, even limiting.
You can’t give up your characters
Even though we know the people in our heads aren’t real, they’re real to us, and we feel real emotions towards them. And even if you know that a real-life friendship would be more meaningful or you judge yourself for relying on imaginary friends, if the truth is that, right now, your imaginary friends are the best friends you’ve got, then it’s understandable that you want to hang on to them.
You don’t want to lose touch with who you really are
If you become an idealised version of yourself in your daydreams, you might feel that’s the real you, or at least the potential you. The person you could have been if real life hadn’t got in the way. The person you could be if you were just a bit more confident, or more capable, or more attractive, or whatever trait it is you think you lack in real life. In our daydreams we have complete freedom to be our authentic selves without fear of judgement. If you don’t feel you can be authentically you in real life, your daydreams may be the only place you have that freedom.
Daydreaming is part of your identity
Lots of us started daydreaming when we were very young. It’s something that’s always been with us. Even if you’re convinced you’d have a better life if you weren’t a daydreamer, giving up your daydreams would be a big change. And change is always scary. Would your real-life friends notice the difference? What if they don’t like the new you? What if you don’t like the new you?
You’re worried you’ll swap daydreaming for another addiction
If you’re daydreaming to escape from a painful real-life situation, then if you stop daydreaming you’ll have to either tackle that situation or find another way to escape. And if tackling the situation isn’t realistic right now, you WILL find another escape. And that escape is likely to be another addictive behaviour. Depending on your circumstances, daydreaming might be less harmful to you than alcohol, drugs, gambling or whatever you’d turn to if you didn’t daydream.
If you recognise yourself in any of the above scenarios, you have two choices. You could use that awareness as a starting point. Once you are clear about what it is you’re afraid of, you can focus your attention on overcoming that fear. And in overcoming the fear, you’ll make it that much easier to overcome the maladaptive daydreaming.
Or, it could be that you now understand why this isn’t the right time for you to give up your daydreams. You might need to make peace with the fact that, for now, your daydreams are meeting a need. And if that’s the case, then focussing on the maladaptive part, on getting control of your daydreams and moving from maladaptive to immersive, might be the way to start.
Every daydreamer is different and there are no right or wrong answers here. But if you’re unhappy with the way your daydreaming is affecting the rest of your life, and you haven’t been able to change things, then reflecting on what you’d lose if you didn’t daydream could be a good place to start. It might give you some insights into why you’re finding it so hard to change and what you might need to focus on in order to take control of your daydreaming.