6 Myths About Maladaptive Daydreaming

Discovering the concept of maladaptive daydreaming can often be a relief. Finally, there’s a word to describe what I’ve been going through all these years, you think to yourself. As you search for online resources and connect with other like-minded people, you find joy in knowing that you’re not alone.

By the same token, you also discover that not everyone feels the same way that you do. As MD grows in awareness, so too will misconceptions people have about the condition.

To make matters worse, the people looking for help are the ones who are hurt by these ideas. When it comes time to share their struggles with other people, no one will take them seriously, and that’s just not an option.

For this reason, it is important that we know the facts about MD. Below are six common myths people believe about maladaptive daydreaming.

1. Maladaptive daydreaming pathologizes normal human behavior.

Many critics believe that the medical community is too eager to put a negative label on healthy behaviors. The concept of maladaptive daydreaming, they claim, is just another step in that direction. And since nearly everyone daydreams, doctors might diagnose otherwise healthy individuals with a mental disorder.

Of course we should acknowledge that daydreaming is a perfectly normal activity. Research has demonstrated that it can even be beneficial to our mental and emotional well-being. To that end, we should be careful not to present daydreaming as a problem that needs to be overcome.

However, for people with MD, it is not so much the daydreaming that is the problem, but the inability to keep it in check with the rest of their lives.

Individuals who struggle with the condition are distressed that they can’t seem to turn off their fantasizing when they need to focus on school or work, or to nurture relationships with others.

Instead of it being an occasional activity, daydreaming becomes an obsession that eats away at any chance of having a normal life.

But is it true that professionals will always confuse maladaptive daydreaming with its harmless cousin?

Not according to one study. This paper on MD suggests that telling the difference may not be as hard as we think. Examining over 400 people around the world, researchers developed a 14-item rating scale designed specifically to weed out typical daydreaming from MD.

Throughout the study, the instrument consistently distinguished between normal and abnormal fantasizing.1 

2. People who complain about MD are just looking for attention.

Maladaptive daydreaming, according to some skeptics, is nothing more than the trendy disorder of the month. Anyone who adopts the label is only looking to feel special or unique.

The truth is, most of us maladaptive daydreamers aren’t exactly in a rush to share our problems with the people we know. And why would we? There’s no warm welcome waiting for people who admit they have a problem with daydreaming. We don’t want to have to endure the bewildered expressions, the annoyed eye rolls, the accusations that we want an excuse to be childish, lazy, or unproductive.

That’s why so many of us share our stories on forums and blogs online, where we can find others with similar issues.

3. “It’s just daydreaming. It can’t be that bad.”

While not every person with MD experiences the worst effects of the condition, those who do face difficult challenges every day.

It isn’t easy to get things done when a new daydream idea pops into your mind every other minute. That may not sound like much, but it is much more challenging when you’re in the middle of your final exam, or your supervisor is walking past your desk. Forget about the glowing college recommendations or that promotion you needed to pay the bills.

But that isn’t all. Daydreaming and relationships are almost mutually exclusive. Family time doesn’t count when you spend it with fictional relatives. There is little point in dating if all you can think about is the imaginary love interest you’d rather be with.

And yet, the more you isolate yourself, the more depressed you feel, and the worse the daydreaming becomes.

Add to the mix the lack of available support in the health care system to address all of these problems, and you have a recipe for disaster.

4. Maladaptive daydreaming is the same as schizophrenia or fantasy-prone disorder.

Sometimes MD is compared to schizophrenia or fantasy-prone disorder, treating all three as if they’re exactly the same as one another. Naturally, hearing this could alarm anyone who suspects they might have issues with daydreaming.

It’s true that all three do share something in common – a preoccupation around inner fantasies.

But there is a notable difference that sets MD apart from the two mental disorders. People with MD can easily tell the difference between fantasy and reality, whereas those with schizophrenia or fantasy-prone disorder cannot.2

5. “If daydreaming is bothering you that much, then just stop.”

Many people believe that MD is simply a choice that a person can resist easily enough if he or she applys enough willpower. Although daydreaming is a choice, it is not so easy to stop once it has become a habit. After years of the same behavior, what was once normal fantasizing becomes an addiction.

Take, for example, the person who likes to enjoy a cookie after dinner. Over time one cookie may turn into two, then two into three. He knows what he’s doing is not good for him, but it makes him feel good, so he continues on anyway. After acting this way for months and even years, before he knows it, he will have developed an eating addiction that’s difficult to break.

In the same manner, daydreaming makes our brains feel good. In order to maintain these positive feelings, people with MD fantasize for hours on end. If they continue this daily, the daydreaming becomes an addiction.

Stress or even childhood trauma can make this problem worse, which is all too common among maladaptive daydreamers.3 What this means is, if people never heal from their trauma, they can stay trapped in dysfunctional thought patterns and behaviors. And once this happens, they might never overcome their daydreaming addiction.

6. It will never get better.

This myth is one that maladaptive daydreamers in particular tend to believe. It’s so easy to be disheartened when our fantasizing seems out of control, despite our attempts to change. We try our hardest to take a break from the daydreams and before we know it, we’re drifting off into space again.

Because our MD has been our primary mode of being for so long (for many of us, since childhood), we wonder if it’s even possible to get better.

Although MD is difficult to overcome, there’s no reason to give up! The cure for your maladaptive daydreaming might be found in doing deep introspection, finding a support system, or making other life changes.

Bottom line: maladaptive daydreaming is nothing to scoff at. The consequences of the condition can be destructive to the person suffering from it.

But it isn’t the end of the world. With the proper knowledge and support, individuals can learn to manage their MD, and channel their creative energies into more constructive activities.

What things do you wish people knew about maladaptive daydreaming?

References

[1] Somer, Eli, Jonathan Lehrfeld, Jayne Bigelsen, and Daniela S. Jopp. “Development and Validation of the Maladaptive Daydreaming Scale (MDS).” Consciousness and Cognition 39 (2016): 77-91. Web. 25 June 2016.

[2] Bachai, Sabrina. “Maladaptive Daydreaming – What Is It?” Medical Daily. N.p., 12 July 2013. Web. 21 June 2016.

[3] Somer, Eli. “Maladaptive Daydreaming: A Qualitative Inquiry“. Journal of Contemporary Psychotherapy. Journal of Contemporary Psychotherapy.

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