Negative Daydreams: Why We Love Fantasies That Bring Us Pain

When we think of daydreaming, we tend to picture its more pleasant side: scenarios that are full of fame and glory, exciting adventures, or passionate romances. From this perspective, it’s not hard to see why maladaptive daydreaming is so addictive. Yet there’s one particular aspect about MD that’s not often talked about: negative daydreams.

Negative daydreams are exactly what they sound like – fantasies with a darker edge. They might contain violence, abuse, horror, betrayals, and many other misfortunes. They’re also something that a lot of maladaptive daydreamers feel uncomfortable admitting that they experience.

But why do we enjoy these fantasies? What do these daydreams mean, and are they unhealthy for us?

What’s the Story Behind Negative Daydreams?

Among people with MD, negative daydreams are far more common than you would expect. In fact, violence, power, control, and imprisonment are some of the top themes associated with maladaptive daydreaming.1

What’s more interesting is that there’s an actual name for this phenomenon. A 2016 study on maladaptive daydreaming identifies this trait as benign masochism, or hedonic reversal. These concepts refer to the enjoyment of painful experiences, but within the confines of a safe environment.2

But this isn’t limited to just daydreams. We can experience benign masochism in other contexts too. It’s why many people like spicy foods, scary movies, tragic novels, and a whole host of other negative experiences.

Paul Rozin, the psychologist who invented the term, believes that part of the appeal is being able to trick the body. Benign masochism allows us to feel that we have complete mastery and control over our bodies. What’s more, many of us are sensation seekers, or people who actively seek out sensory experiences. The physical stimulation that these negative feelings produce can create an unusual feeling of pleasure. 3

So we know that’s it’s not unusual to find pleasure in pain. But how does this relate to what we know about maladaptive daydreaming? Why do we enjoy negative daydreams in particular? Although there’s no universal answer, here are just a few reasons why maladaptive daydreamers find them fascinating.

They make the daydream more interesting.

While it can be nice once in a while to imagine a perfect universe where nothing goes wrong, it can get boring pretty quickly. After all, what’s a story without conflict? Adding darker themes can give a nice change of pace to our daydream life.

They allow us to have new experiences.

Many maladaptive daydreamers crave the thrill of exciting experiences – yet they can be hesitant to expose themselves to the risks. An easy solution? Enjoy these experiences in a fantasy, from the safety of home.

They help us to express our feelings.

In real life, we don’t always get the chance in to express how we truly feel. Sometimes we’re not even conscious of these inner feelings. To get around this, we project our emotions onto our daydreams and create scenarios that reflect whatever we might be feeling in the real world.

Are Negative Daydreams Unhealthy?

Should we avoid negative daydreams? It depends on how they make you feel. On one hand, they have the potential to be a great learning experience. I’ve found that they’ve helped me to explore unique experiences and get in touch with emotions I didn’t know I had. I’ve learned a great deal about myself by having these kinds of daydreams.

Yet there’s a downside too. Like any other aspect of maladaptive daydreaming, these negative fantasies can become highly addictive. Sometimes they can even affect your mood without you even realizing it. Many times I’ve found myself feeling sad out of the blue – yet when I took the time to root out the source, it was always linked to a sad daydream I had at some point during the day.

For that reason, I think they can be a bit risky if you’re someone who’s prone to depression. Sometimes these fantasies can make your symptoms harder to manage. It’s not always easy to escape a depressive mood under normal circumstances, but when you’re fantasizing about things that can trigger these feelings, it just adds fuel to the fire. I know from experience that all it takes is the wrong kind of daydream to set these feelings off – and they’re not so easy to get rid of once you’ve triggered them.

At the end of the day, negative daydreams are a double-edged sword. If you choose to entertain them, you have to be aware of the risks and ready for the consequences.

How to Control Negative Daydreams

Although dark daydreams aren’t always a bad thing, they can become an unhealthy habit if you don’t learn how to control them. Here are 4 tips I’d recommend you use to keep your daydreams from going sour.

1. Find meaning in your daydreams.

Believe it or not, negative daydreams can help you achieve personal growth.  The best way to accomplish this is by analyzing your daydreams. You can start by writing down the details of your daydream in a journal or diary. Make note of any repeating symbols or themes that are present. These can give you clues to any subconscious feelings that you may not be aware of. In general, dream interpretation can be a powerful tool to help you work through issues and become a much stronger person.

2. Create daydreams with a purpose.

If you want to continue experiencing negative daydreams, consider having a specific intention in mind. For instance, your goal might be to address some feelings that have been bothering you recently, like anger or frustration. Then you can create a scenario that revolves around these feelings. Keep in mind though that the purpose is to try to work through these feelings, not simply to recreate the negative experience.

3. Stay aware of your feelings.

This tip requires a bit of mindfulness. I know that’s not an easy thing for a maladaptive daydreamer, but it’s an important skill to master. Whenever possible, remain conscious of your emotional state. Watch for any unusual shifts in your mood. If you find yourself feeling anxious, angry, or depressed, change your thoughts to something positive, or take a break from daydreaming.

4. End on a positive note.

One major mistake I’ve made in the past is ending a daydream while in the middle of a dark scenario. A lot of times, this has left me trapped in negative feelings without any way to resolve them. A handy trick I’ve learned to prevent this problem is to give my dark daydreams a positive spin.

Perhaps after your characters have gone through some sort of tragedy, find a way for them to experience catharsis. Perhaps you can even give them a way to triumph over their negative circumstances. This will help you keep any negative emotions in check.

Conclusion

Not everyone experiences negative daydreams, but you’re far from alone if you do. It’s normal to find some enjoyment in them, but be mindful of their addictive quality. Like I’ve discussed in the past, make sure you’re in control of your daydreams, rather than your daydreams being in control of you. If you notice that they’re making you feel moody or depressed, then you should limit how often you spend with them. Use good judgment whenever possible.

That being said, we can learn a great deal from these kinds of daydreams. By experiencing them, we give ourselves the opportunity to explore a different side of our personality.

Do you enjoy negative daydreams, and if so, why? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comment section below.

References

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

[2] Somer, Eli, Liora Somer, and Daniela S. Jopp. “Parallel Lives: A Phenomenological Study of the Lived Experience of Maladaptive Daydreaming.” Journal of Trauma & Dissociation (2016): 1-16. Web. 3 July 2016.

[3] Rosin, Paul, Lily Guillot, Katrina Fincher, Alexander Rozin, and Eli Tsukayama. “Glad to Be Sad, and Other Examples of Benign Masochism.” Judgment and Decision Making 8.4 (2013): 439-47. Society for Judgment and Decision Making. Web. 23 Aug. 2016.

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