Is it safe to just stop daydreaming?

If maladaptive daydreaming is stopping you from living your real life, you might be thinking that the solution is to stop daydreaming. But it’s very rarely that simple. For a start, you can’t change the way your brain’s wired just by wishing it to be different. If you have maladaptive daydreaming disorder, you were born an immersive daydreamer. Quitting daydreaming won’t change that. You’ll still be a daydreamer; you’ll just be a daydreamer who doesn’t daydream. If your daydreaming really is out of control, that may be your only option. You may need to stop completely, either permanently or while you recover. But before you try, please think about whether it’s safe for you to stop daydreaming, especially if…

You haven’t addressed an underlying trauma

Many maladaptive daydreamers use daydreaming to escape from a real-life situation that’s too overwhelming to face. If that’s the case for you, you won’t be able to safely stop daydreaming until you deal with the thing you’re running away from. And if that thing is traumatic enough to have pushed you into maladaptive daydreaming, there’s a good chance it’s not something you can deal with on your own. You need to find a therapist to help you process the trauma before you can stop daydreaming. Until then, your daydreaming is a necessary coping mechanism – an unhealthy one, perhaps, but still necessary. If you try to quit daydreaming without addressing the underlying trauma, you will likely just swap one unhealthy coping mechanism for another. And as bad as maladaptive daydreaming can be, there are worse coping mechanisms. Daydreaming can steal years of our lives, but it doesn’t leave us with long-term physical health problems, it doesn’t drive us into debt and it doesn’t risk leaving us with a criminal record. I’m sure you can think of many addictive coping mechanisms where that’s not the case.

You have nothing positive in real life

But what if you haven’t experienced trauma? What if real life just seems empty and pointless, and you daydream to escape from feelings of boredom or loneliness? Well, if you daydream to escape boredom, and you quit daydreaming without having something to replace it with, you’re going to be bored for however many hours a day you’re currently daydreaming. And if you can’t tolerate that boredom, the urge to go back to daydreaming is going to be massive. If you’re daydreaming to escape from boredom or loneliness, you need to bring some positive activities and connections into real life before you try to stop daydreaming. You won’t be able to stop daydreaming until real life is worth coming back to.

Your daydreaming is meeting a need

Daydreaming is rarely unequivocally good or unequivocally bad. Usually, it helps us in some ways and harms us in others. If you give up daydreaming, you will be giving up the good as well as the bad. So ask yourself what benefits you’re getting from your daydreaming and then figure out how you’re going to get those benefits another way. If you’re lonely, and your daydream world is the only place you experience feelings of love and connection, then giving up daydreaming is going to leave you with an essential human need that’s not being met. That’s not going to make your life better.

You’re making an impulsive decision

We’ve all had days when we suddenly realise just how much time our daydreaming has stolen from us, and we tell ourselves enough is enough and this has to stop, right now! But trying to stop daydreaming without thinking through why you daydream in the first place, what you’re going to do with the time you save, and how you’re going to replace the benefits of daydreaming, just means you’re that much less likely to succeed. Getting your daydreaming back under control isn’t ever going to be easy, and by leaping into it impulsively you make it that much harder for yourself, so it’s more likely you’ll relapse. And each time you try to quit daydreaming and relapse, you’re reinforcing the idea that you don’t have what it takes to quit, which just makes you feel bad about yourself. The truth is that it’s entirely possible to retake control of your daydreaming but it takes careful planning and thoughtful self-reflection. It’s not something you can just decide to do and expect to succeed straightaway.

Personally, I’m not trying to completely quit daydreaming, because the benefits I get from it are too important to me. Not all fantastical daydreaming is maladaptive. For me, overcoming maladaptive daydreaming means getting control over my daydreaming and becoming an immersive daydreamer. But part of being an immersive daydreamer is knowing where your personal boundary is between immersive daydreaming and maladaptive daydreaming, what is a safe level of daydreaming for you. And maybe for some daydreamers that safe level is zero. If that’s you, and you believe the only way you can stay mentally healthy is to stop daydreaming completely, then I wish you all the best. I hope you’ll take the time you need and get the support you deserve to overcome maladaptive daydreaming in a way that’s safe and sustainable.  

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