Why Maladaptive Daydreaming is Hard to Stop

Many of us wonder why we can’t stop maladaptive daydreaming and focus on reality. We want to fully enjoy what everyone else does so easily — a career, hobbies, and relationships. But our obsession with the inner world always gets in the way.

We know this and so we try to change. Yet when we fail, we blame ourselves for our lack of willpower.

What we don’t realize is, there are forces working against us that stop us from succeeding. This article will reveal the reasons why you can’t stop your maladaptive daydreaming, and show you how to overcome them.

1. Daydreaming is our default setting.

If your plan was to cut daydreaming out of your life forever, you might want to reconsider. Not only is it normal for our minds to wander, but it’s also our brain’s default state.

When the brain doesn’t have anything to do, like solving a problem or performing a task, certain regions of the brain kick in called the default mode network. I talked a great deal about the default mode network in a previous article about the reasons why humans daydream. While the default mode network serves many functions, it’s the primary cause of our daydreaming.

Not only that, daydreaming takes up to 47 percent of a normal person’s thoughts throughout the day.1 That is half of your life spent in a dream world, more if you include night dreams!

The bottom line is, daydreaming is an unavoidable reality. Unless you find a way to keep your mind on alert at all times (in other words, stop being human) daydreaming will always find its way into your everyday life.

2. We enjoy the creative process.

Many of us can’t stop our maladaptive daydreaming because we love to use our imagination. This is especially true if we happen to be writers, artists, or musicians.

There’s a magical feeling we get from using our creativity. The thought of creating new characters excites us, so we spend hours imagining every little detail about them. We’re over the moon when we invent new storylines that add drama and excitement to our dream worlds. We feel a rush when we picture the perfect setting – whether it be a futuristic, high-tech city or a remote jungle in the middle of nowhere.

Our creativity is also the reason why we’re triggered by books and movies. When we come across a unique character or a surprising plot twist, we’re inspired to incorporate it into our daydreams.

Quite simply, we can’t go for a moment without letting our imagination run free. For many of us, using our creativity is as natural to us as breathing.

3. We’re dealing with stress and unhealed trauma.

We all have difficult moments in our lives. Usually, we develop unique ways of getting through these situations. One of these ways is to dissociate. Dissociation is when we detach ourselves from our sense of reality — our immediate surroundings, thoughts, memories, and identity.

Daydreaming is a mild form of dissociation; normally we use it to take a small break from our daily stress. But in severe situations, it becomes our shield against trauma.

For instance, imagine a small child growing up in an abusive household. To deal with her stress, she dissociates into her fantasy world where she feels safe and secure. Once she knows that daydreaming is an effective remedy for her pain, she’ll use it all the time – even into adulthood.

The sad thing is, stress and trauma are common themes among people with maladaptive daydreaming. Since fantasizing is a reliable way for us to cope with our problems, our mind feels no reason to stop.

4. Our daydreams keep us company.

Some of us turn to daydreaming to fulfill our need for companionship. If there isn’t any love or emotional connection in our outer world, we turn inward.

Within our dream worlds, we can invent the right people who can meet our every need. This might be the perfect loving family where no one ever argues. Or, it could be the understanding friend that we can turn to when we’re in our darkest moments. Sometimes, we might dream of the ideal lover who is charming, witty, and says all the right words.

We’re so attached to our daydream characters because they are larger than life. They are people who can never hurt or betray us. We can always count on them to be around when we need them.

Real life people simply cannot meet these high standards. Unfortunately, this only makes it harder to stop maladaptive daydreaming and build the healthy relationships we so desperately need.

5. We’re dissatisfied with our lives.

Sometimes, life doesn’t go the way we hope. We’ve all suffered our share of disappointment — broken dreams, unhappy relationships, or unfulfilling careers. Some of us don’t like running the rat race or hate the monotony of everyday life. So we imagine life the way we would like it to be – full of excitement and adventure.

To complicate matters, the current state of the world doesn’t help our situation. When we turn on the television, or take one step outside the house, and we’re presented with the unpleasant reality of life – violence, poverty, sickness and death. There seems to be no end to it. And what’s worse, many of us feel powerless to stop it.

While most people can ignore this truth long enough to function during the day, maladaptive daydreamers retreat to their fantasies – to a universe where suffering doesn’t have to exist.

6. We’re unhappy with ourselves.

Some maladaptive daydreamers struggle to accept who they are. They’re unsatisfied with their appearance, personality, the choices they’ve made in life, and so on.

From the time that we’re born, we absorb messages from other people about how we’re “supposed” to be. When we can’t measure up, our self-esteem suffers.

Yet maladaptive daydreaming gives us a way around these feelings. Since we can’t measure up in this world, we’ll do so in another. Within our fantasies, we transform into idealized versions of ourselves — more confident, beautiful, and successful than we could ever be in real life.

Once we’ve become used to this false self-esteem booster, we’re less inclined to face our true selves.

Confronting the Problem

When we examine the above reasons, it’s easy to believe that it’s a hopeless cause to stop maladaptive daydreaming. But that’s simply not true. Look a little closer, and you’ll discover a common theme. In most cases, maladaptive daydreaming is our coping mechanism — a strategy we use to maintain our emotional sanity.

It’s normal to want to push away painful feelings – it is part of being human. But if we want to stop our maladaptive daydreaming, we need to look inside ourselves and face our inner truth. We must bring our feelings to the light so we can heal them, and in turn, heal ourselves.

Connecting With Your Emotions

Sometimes it’s not always obvious what our feelings are. If you’re having trouble getting in touch with your emotions, give this exercise a try.

  1. Take a moment to close your eyes. Straighten your back and take slow, deep breaths. As you let yourself relax, ask yourself the question, “What am I feeling in this moment?”
  2. Become aware of any emotional responses stirring inside you. You may feel sensations in your body, such as heaviness, tension, pressure, and so on.
  3. Some feelings may be more intense than others. Try not to judge what you feel – let all of your emotions present themselves to you as they are.
  4. Spend some time experiencing each emotion. Go slowly, and truly experience the fullness of that emotion. Take as long as you need to. When you’re finished, write down your experiences.

During this exercise, you may have gained a greater awareness of your emotions. If you found it difficult, don’t worry. The more you practice this, the easier it will be to connect with your feelings.

Use this exercise any time you feel the impulse to daydream – it will help you to understand the underlying motivations behind your MD.

How to Address Your Emotions

Now that you know how to connect with your feelings, it’s time to work through them. This process will take some time, but it’s vital if you want to stop your maladaptive daydreaming.

Addressing Creativity

If you’re daydreaming because you like to use your imagination, then you should look into other ways to fulfill that need.

Think about taking up an ambitious art project. Depending on your natural talents, you might consider storytelling, drawing, songwriting, or many other options. The possibilities are endless. Your goal is to engage in an activity that requires enough concentration so that your mind doesn’t wander.

If you need a place to start, use your daydreams as inspiration. Take the characters and stories from your fantasy worlds and put them to paper. Paint a scene or compose a song that best depicts your favorite daydream moment.

Addressing Stress and Trauma

When stress is the problem, you have to make changes in your lifestyle. Sometimes this means you need to take time off to decompress. If that’s not possible, then look for small ways to reduce your stress levels. If it’s something as simple as taking a relaxing bath or indulging in your favorite dessert, do it. Make yourself a priority and attend to your needs.

Trauma is never easy to deal with, but it only creates more problems in our lives when we don’t face it. I suggest that you talk to a professional to help you work through your issues.

You can also ask your therapist about EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing). Recommended by the World Health Organization, EMDR therapy has been shown to be effective for people with symptoms of post tramatic stress disorder.

Addressing Loneliness

Feeling lonely? It’s essential to build relationships with other people. Although they can never be as perfect as our fictional characters, real people can provide something that our daydreams cannot: physical comfort.

Sometimes a hug or a pat on the shoulder is all we need to ease our feelings of loneliness. Not only that, but physical sensations reduce stress, lower our blood pressure, and keep us grounded in reality.

If you don’t have a close friend or family member, join a support group where there are people who you can empathize with. There are times when we just need to express ourselves, and a group can give us the platform to do so safely.

Focus on making healthy connections with people you can turn to when your burdens get too heavy. It will train you to seek emotional support from the real world and not your daydreams.

Another great option is to spend time with other members of the animal kingdom. Animals are our best teachers for learning how to live in the moment. Plus, they have an amazing ability to bring us comfort when we’re lonely. Think about volunteering at an animal shelter, or even adopting a cat or dog into your home.

Addressing Boredom and Discontentment

Life will not always be interesting or satisfying, but sometimes you can reduce your dissatisfaction by changing your focus.

One place to start is by acknowledging the small things about life that you enjoy. Think about spending time outside and interacting with nature. Listen to the birds and feel the grass underneath your feet.

Or, fill your life with things that you’re passionate about – it might be an old hobby you’ve negleted or a new one that you’ve always wanted to try.

Another great way to change your mindset is to start a gratitude journal. Every day, write down something that you are grateful for. It will help you to remember what’s positive in your life, even on the hardest days.

If the troubles of the world are weighing you down, it’s important to remember that there are some things that are just out of your control. You won’t be able to solve the world’s problems, but you can still create a change.

Look for ways that you can make a difference, even if it’s on a smaller scale – whether in your local community, or within your own family. Sometimes we find peace in being part of a cause that’s larger than ourselves. Plus, helping other people will keep you from dwelling on your worries.

Addressing Low Self-Esteem

If you’re daydreaming because you’re not happy with yourself, you need to ask why. Have there been influences in your life that have made you feel that way?

If so, the first step is to dismantle the negative thought patterns you’ve learned, and replace them with uplifting messages. Try standing in front of the mirror and picking out five features that you love about yourself. You can also focus on your postive qualities – think of the times you helped someone, tried something new, or accomplished a goal.

If there are aspects of yourself that you want to improve, then research how to make the right lifestyle changes. Eating healthy, exercising, and quitting bad habits are great self-esteem boosters.

On the other hand, learn to accept the things about yourself that you can’t change. While your flaws may frustrate you, they also make you unique. Recognize their value in pushing you to be your most authentic self.

You Can Stop Maladaptive Daydreaming

Maladaptive daydreaming doesn’t have to be a life sentence, nor does it need to be your ball and chain. Although your MD might feel like a burden, you can turn it into an advantage. Use it to show you the areas that you need to improve.

Some days will feel like a struggle. It’s perfectly OK. Just remember to be patient with yourself. Believe it or not, you learn more about yourself when you fail, because it takes true strength to pick yourself up again.

But once you do get up, keep going. Eventually, maladaptive daydreaming will no longer feel like the giant weight on your back, and you’ll have the strength to move forward.

Question: why do you find it hard to stop your maladaptive daydreaming?


[1] Pincott, Jena. “5 Fascinating Facts About Daydreams.The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 16 Aug. 2013. Web. 25 July 2016.

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