Maladaptive Daydreaming: When Fantasy Overpowers Reality

This article was written by Lily Kangas.

Daydreaming is a completely normal and healthy activity, allowing people to slip into a world of their own from time to time. However, some people find themselves so immersed in their daydreams that they would rather spend their time with their heads in the clouds than be present in the real world. When people begin to neglect their real-life responsibilities, this daydreaming shifts from self-care to self-harm. This excessive immersion in fantasy, known as maladaptive daydreaming, is becoming a frequently cited concern in the world of mental health.

Maladaptive daydreaming (MD) is a form of dissociative absorption, which occurs when someone becomes completely absorbed within an external stimulus, such as a book or movie. People with MD create highly detailed fantasy worlds in their minds that act as an impetus for their distraction from reality. Most mental health professionals argue that MD isn’t a mental health problem itself but rather a coping mechanism for other psychological issues since it can provide relief by temporarily diverting one’s attention from the problems of the real world.

Due to this repose, many MD patients find that they would rather not seek treatment or a diagnosis. Unfortunately, many individuals become so attached to their daydreaming that they no longer wish to fix their underlying issues. As time goes on, MD tends to increase with daydreams getting longer and more frequent. The longer that they resist professional help, the likelier it is for these individuals to become entrenched in their addiction.

Even for the few that do get help, most doctors and mental health professionals either have never heard of MD or are not well-versed enough to treat it. This lack of adequate support often leaves maladaptive daydreamers only to sink further into a cycle of addictive daydreams that slowly, yet steadily overtake their reality. Although not superabundant, there are a few treatment options available for sufferers of MD.

A well-known option is cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), which is a type of psycho-social intervention that is usually used in cases of anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorders. In the case of MD, CBT is used to rewire a daydreamer’s thought processes to sort out the psychological trauma that is causing the daydreaming in the first place. Once identifying the origin of the MD, these individuals can begin to tackle the real issues at hand and slowly decrease their dissociations from reality.

Likewise, mindfulness and other grounding techniques are also used to treat MD as they can draw the patient’s attention to the present moment. When patients are incrementally less inclined to dissociate away from the present, they begin to experience fewer and less intense daydreams.

Maladaptive daydreaming is an often debilitating condition that leaves its sufferers completely detached from reality for hours at a time, allowing them to dissociate and avoid confronting their real psychological pain. However, there are treatment options out there that individuals should try in order to allow themselves back into the real world and find the genuine relief that maladaptive daydreaming simply cannot provide.

Further Reading

Pietkiewicz, I. J., Nęcki, S., Bańbura, A., & Tomalski, R. (2018). Maladaptive daydreaming as a new form of behavioral addiction. Journal of behavioral addictions, 7(3), 838–843. https://doi.org/10.1556/2006.7.2018.95

Schupak, Cynthia. “Excessive Daydreaming: A Case History and Discussion of Mind Wandering and High Fantasy Proneness.” PubMed, www.pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19062309 Accessed 15 Jan. 2021

Somer, E., Lehrfeld, J., Bigelsen, J., & Jopp, D. S. (2015, December 17). Development and validation of the Maladaptive Daydreaming Scale (MDS). Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1053810015300611

Young, E. (2020, November 03). People with “Maladaptive Daydreaming” spend an average of four hours a day lost in their imagination. Retrieved from https://digest.bps.org.uk/2018/06/25/people-with-maladaptive-daydreaming-spend-an-average-of-four-hours-a-day-lost-in-their-imagination

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