Maladaptive Daydreaming: What Is It and Why Do We Do It?
Some who have struggled with childhood trauma might develop maladaptive daydreaming as a coping mechanism.1 For example, when I was only four, I endured child-on-child sexual assault and emotional abuse that made me feel isolated from the rest of the world. It felt too terrifying and heavy to be in the real, present moment. Any time I was still or not distracted, I felt extreme anxiety, panic, and sadness. This led to my development of maladaptive daydreaming — a habit I am still actively trying to break as an adult today.
What Is Maladaptive Daydreaming?
Maladaptive daydreaming is an excessive form of daydreaming that often interferes with everyday life.2 Some people who have a history of childhood trauma develop maladaptive daydreaming as a way to either "escape" their negative emotions or as a way to rewrite old stories. For example, because I felt emotionally isolated as a child, many of my daydreams revolved around getting the attention and comfort I craved. Although I had support from my family and loved ones, I still felt misunderstood and disconnected from everyone in my life.
In my daydreams, however, I was more in control. I could imagine certain people caring for me in the ways I needed. For some reason, I felt more comforted by made-up scenarios in my mind than I did in real life. That's probably why I became a fiction author.
How I Cope with Maladaptive Daydreaming
I've turned to maladaptive daydreaming for most of my life, but it wasn't until recently that I realized why I was doing it. In fact, I thought it was just something everyone did in their free time. Little did I know that I was wasting hours daydreaming and trapped in my head rather than in my body.
While I've never experienced any sort of danger from maladaptive daydreaming, I have noticed that it can disconnect me from my life. For instance, if I constantly daydream about a specific circumstance or person, that usually means I become emotionally invested in the story I've created rather than the actual reality of the situation. Additionally, this habit can distract me from work, conversations with loved ones, and self-care.
Whenever I catch myself maladaptive daydreaming now, I usually turn inward and ask myself what I'm missing in my life that is driving me to self-soothe in this way. Usually, I will do this when I feel alone, isolated, or misunderstood. In this case, I will reach out to loved ones, write about my thoughts and feelings, and connect with others. Having a sense of community — even if that's on social media — helps to ground me back into my body and reminds me I'm not really as alone as I feel.
I also am careful not to shame myself for this habit. As someone who struggles with trauma and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), I already battle self-doubt and insecurity — the last thing I need is to be hard on myself for the way I cope. Maladaptive daydreaming is just my brain's way of keeping me safe. However, as I heal, I realize there are healthier, more productive ways to comfort myself, such as journaling, moving my body, and channeling that creative energy into a writing or art project.
Have you ever struggled with maladaptive daydreaming? If so, how do you ground yourself back into the present moment? Share in the comments below.
- Professional, C. C. M. (n.d.). Maladaptive Daydreaming. Cleveland Clinic. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/23336-maladaptive-daydreaming
- Somer, E., Abu-Rayya, H. M., & Brenner, R. (2020). Childhood Trauma and Maladaptive Daydreaming: Fantasy Functions and Themes In A Multi-Country Sample. Journal of Trauma & Dissociation, 22(3), 288–303. https://doi.org/10.1080/15299732.2020.1809599
Caramela, S. (2023, July 10). Maladaptive Daydreaming: What Is It and Why Do We Do It?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2023, December 7 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/traumaptsdblog/2023/7/maladaptive-daydreaming-what-is-it-and-why-do-we-do-it