Anyone can daydream. Daydreaming usually begins as small fantasies that make people feel good, but when this process becomes addictive over time, it becomes a disorder known as ‘Maladaptive daydreaming’. Don’t get it twisted however, there is a difference between just daydreaming and maladaptive daydreaming, which we will discuss in this article.
How do you know you are a maladaptive daydreamer? There are tests known as maladaptive daydreaming tests that can be conducted to help you identify what type of daydreamer you are. What causes maladaptive daydreaming, and how can it be managed? All of these have been discussed in this article to help your understanding of maladaptive daydreaming.
WHAT IS MALADAPTIVE DAYDREAMING
Maladaptive daydreaming is a phenomenon in which a person has frequent and intense daydreams or fantasies that they spend long hours engaging in. Just as it is with behavioral addiction, such a person can be easily distracted by these dreams or fantasies, and this in the long run may affect their studies, social life, or even the task before them.
A maladaptive daydreamer would dissociate themselves from the real world to get fully immersed in the world they create. It is reported that they spend almost 60% of the hours they are awake daydreaming.
A 2016 report by CNN described a Californian maladaptive daydreamer who repeatedly got fired from jobs because she was often distracted and late to work because she was always caught up in her fantasies. Maladaptive daydreaming is also known as a daydreaming disorder. It could be triggered by real-life events such as a movie, or a topic of conversation, or it could be triggered by stimuli such as smell or noise.
It was in 2002 that the disorder was first identified by Eli Somer, an Israeli professor of Clinical Psychology at the University of Haifa. Prof. Eli also gave it its name.
CAUSES OF MALADAPTIVE DAYDREAMING
Experts believe that maladaptive daydreaming develops first as a coping mechanism for those who want to escape trauma, abuse, or loneliness. In their attempt to do so, they conjure up a world for themselves, where they feel safe, and gradually they become less able to control their urge to daydream and the clarity of these dreams intensifies strongly that they begin to think they are real.
During Prof. Eli’s study on dissociative behaviors in 2002, he identified survivors of sexual assault who would regularly escape into their imaginary world where they fantasied about their existence in compensatory empowering storylines that their real lives were lacking.
MALADAPTIVE DAYDREAMING TEST
The fifth Diagnostic and Statistical Manual DSM-5 has not recognized maladaptive daydreaming, so the condition cannot be diagnosed professionally. However, Prof. Eli Somer developed the Somer’s Maladaptive Daydreaming Scale (MDS) to help determine if an individual is experiencing maladaptive daydreaming.
MDS consists of 16 unique questions (MDS-16) that point to and rate 5 primary characteristics of the condition:
- Content and quality of the individual’s dreams
- The ability of the individual to control their dreams
- Amount of distress caused by daydreaming
- The individuals perceived benefits from daydreaming
- The extent of interference of daydreaming with the individual’s ability to carry out and focus on their daily activities
Maladaptive daydreaming on the other hand is an online questionaries’ based on the scaling system of the MDS. It is a brief personal assessment that can help you determine if you are, or not, a maladaptive daydreamer. However, it is not meant to be a replacement for a psychological evaluation. Most maladaptive daydreaming tests focus on the symptoms of maladaptive daydreaming and the extent to which an individual is affected by them.
The maladaptive daydreaming test contains a series of questions that enquires about your daydreaming habits, how often you daydream, what you daydream about, and how much control you have over your daydreams. If after taking the maladaptive daydreaming test and you have a high score, then you know you need help. some maladaptive daydreaming tests will provide you with how to go about getting help and also resources for coping with the condition.
Whereas you have a low score on the test, then you are most likely not a maladaptive daydreamer, but you could still benefit from reading about the condition if you wish. Without taking the maladaptive daydreaming test, you could also know if you are a maladaptive daydreamer by looking out for symptoms of maladaptive daydreaming.
SYMPTOMS OF MALADAPTIVE DAYDREAMING
Symptoms of maladaptive daydreaming may include:
- Unconscious facial expressions, repetitive body movements, or talking or whispering that accompanies daydreaming
- Daydreaming for abnormally long hours
- Trouble concentrating or finishing daily tasks due to daydreaming
- Daydreams that are triggered by real-life events or stimuli
- A strong desire, like an addiction, to continue daydreaming
- Trouble sleeping
- Highly vivid daydreams that appear as a story, with characters, settings and a plot
A maladaptive daydreamer may also exhibit some symptoms that are common in attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) such as short attention span.
CAN MALADAPTIVE DAYDREAMING BE TREATED
Maladaptive daydreaming is still an evolving area of research and is yet to be formally recognized as a disorder by the American Psychiatric Association (APA), so there is no specific treatment for it. However, several types of research suggest different methods of treating the disorder. For instance, a 2008 published study found that fluvoxamine (Luvox) was effective in helping maladaptive daydreamer manage their disorder, even though this drug is usually prescribed to patients with OCD.
A recent study from 2018 proved that a person who had 6 months of counseling therapy, including cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and mindfulness meditation, experienced a reduced daydreaming time by over 50%. Meanwhile, some researchers have proposed a technique called Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP). The technique is supposed to aim at reducing or stopping maladaptive daydreaming by changing the ends of the story plots the maladaptive daydreamer makes up.
So instead of having a pleasant end of the story plot, the story ends unpleasantly for the person. As more research is carried out about maladaptive daydreaming, hopefully, a more effective and specific treatment will be discovered. Meanwhile, here are some ways that can help manage the condition:
1. Adopt a Better Sleeping Habit: Improving your sleep quality can potentially have an impact on your maladaptive daydreaming. You could map out a sleeping plan to help you with this. Set out at least 7 hours to have quality sleep. Exercising and eating a healthy meals could help improve your sleep quality also.
2. Reduce Stress: Expose yourself more to natural sunlight, and keep yourself engaged with other people, but avoid doing any stressful activity during the day, so you can get good sleep at night.
3. Consider Therapy: A therapist can help you process any underlying traumas and identify whatever reason that may be triggering your maladaptive daydreaming. If you feel you have become addicted to daydreaming, or it interferes with your daily activities, then you should consider therapy. Therapy can help recommend specific strategies that could help you manage the symptoms of maladaptive daydreaming, and also recommend ways to help you control your tendency to daydream and provide tips for better focus and better sleep.
ARE THERE ANY COMPLICATIONS WITH MALADAPTIVE DAYDREAMING
People have reported other conditions alongside maladaptive daydreaming such as:
- Anxiety disorders
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Bipolar disorder
- Borderline personality disorder
- Dissociative disorder
Although it is not yet clear how these conditions relate to maladaptive daydreaming, there is no evidence that maladaptive daydreaming can lead to another condition.
Maladaptive daydreaming however can impact the overall quality of your:
- Attention to real-life relationships
- Mental well-being due to anxiety about managing daydreams
DAYDREAMING VS MALADAPTIVE DAYDREAMING
Daydreaming is a part of normal life activity, while it may sometimes distract us from the task at hand, they also are beneficial as we can make plans for the future, relieve ourselves from boredom, find meaning in our lives story, and also boost our creative ability. Daydreaming is a mind activity.
Whereas, maladaptive daydreaming is an immersive experience that is often accompanied by repetitive movements, facial expressions, or verbalizations. They are more likely to involve themes of violence, power, control, sex, captivity, rescue, and escape scenarios. It is more than a mental activity as it involves the individual entering the realm of their fantasy for several hours and even muttering out words, and sometimes doing some physical demonstrations.
Maladaptive daydreaming involves a person spending long hours engaging in their structured dreams and fantasies. In their dreams, there are different characters, there is a theme and the plot of the story. Often maladaptive daydreamers are victims of traumas, abuse, or loneliness, who seek to escape these real-life situations, by immersing themselves in the world they create.
Since maladaptive daydreaming cannot be diagnosed professionally yet, due to limited research with positive results on the subject, the maladaptive daydreaming test was coined by experts, using Somer’s MDS to help people evaluate if they are maladaptive daydreamers or not. However, this test shouldn’t take the place of psychological evaluation.