What is excessive daydreaming?
In 2002, the Israeli psychologist and researcher Eliezer Somer introduced the term maladaptative daydreaming – excessive daydreaming in Spanish – to describe this problem:
“A symptomatic picture characterized by excess immersion in fantasy as a way of escaping from problems.”
Excessive daydreaming – also sometimes called dreaming disorder or maladaptive daydreaming – has not been picked up by diagnostic books as a psychological disorder in itself, since until now it has been considered as one more symptom of different psychological disorders.
When does daydreaming become a problem?
According to the RAE, the ability to fantasize involves mentally reproducing images of past stories in an idealized way or of non-existent events. While it is true that getting drunk assuming a different life is something that almost everyone does, excessive daydreaming involves taking refuge in fantasy as a strategy to escape from problems that generate disappointment, frustration, fear or boredom.
“Excessive daydreaming is, therefore, an unconscious and automated psychological strategy that helps the person cope with the unacceptable without facing it.”
The compulsive nature of daydreaming.
Thus, daydreaming acquires a compulsive character in which certain triggers (such as situations, places or sounds) can activate the reverie, the frequency and duration of which tends to increase over time as it is fed by the affected person.
In the most severe cases, the frequency can become daily and occupy around 60% of the day (six hours per session).
The impact on work or academic activity and personal relationships is obvious, since the person needs to be idle or doing automatic, sedentary or not intellectually demanding activities.
Thus, what began as a simple entertainment or as one more way to manage the end actually becoming a compulsion in invested several hours to the day and that not only distracts from the reality, but away from it to the become more and more recurrent, complex and exacerbated.
In fact, such can become the inability to accept the dissatisfaction or discomfort experienced that contact with this abstraction can acquire an addictive pattern .
“In this case, the person needs the daily reverie to escape and compensate for that pain that he is unable to manage, feeling anxiety and restlessness by not coming into contact with his fantasy, by not being able to replace his discomfort with those pleasant and safe sensations that his imagination”.
Symptoms of excessive daydreaming.
- Have different types of vivid and very elaborate dreams that contrast with the reality of the person. For example discover a mystery, give concerts, overcome all kinds of misfortunes and captivity. Or, advise the president, be interviewed on television or win the ideal person.
- Often the dream appears associated with a tic. For example, biting your nails, moving your leg, or swinging. The person often uses music to incite his daydreams.
- In fantasies you have idealized versions of yourself in which you are recognized and validated by your own abilities and values. You tend to establish emotional ties with imaginary, historical figures or celebrities.
- There is talk or whispering and emotions are expressed during the reverie (eg laughing, crying, anger).
- Difficulty controlling the desire to participate in fantasy, which is performed while performing automatic tasks such as showering, dressing, eating, or driving.
- The fantasies alter the attention span and generate obsessive-compulsive attitudes that harm other activities of daily life (eg, it is preferred to be daydreaming rather than meeting a friendship).
- The person with excessive daydreaming may stop attending to their daily routines (eg going to bed at a reasonable time or skipping meals) and their responsibilities (eg getting up early or studying).
- The person is ashamed of these fantasies and tries to keep this behavior a secret.
What are the elements that make up the misfit reverie?
It should be noted that these are not fantasies that appear by mere inspiration, but are stories whose characters and plots are very elaborate, presenting coherence and cohesion as they develop around the same fantasy nucleus. For this reason, it is common for daydreams to tend to repeat the same patterns , presenting certain variations or dividing the content of the fantasy into a series of episodes whose main content is unchangeable. In fact, contrary to what it might seem, there are few cases in which new content is generated during each reverie .
“Regarding the content of the reverie, the plot tends to have a compensatory character, that is, it tends to be used to fill those perceived voids and expectations not reached in reality.”
Thus, these fantasies dye the person’s day-to-day romanticism. The subject, for a few hours, exchanges a routine or anodyne life -from his point of view- for another in which notoriety and recognition are constant.
Such reverie can be accompanied by repetitive and stereotyped movements. These movements are similar to those in autism spectrum disorder and can facilitate self-absorption (eg, rocking or swaying). Likewise, the internal story itself can be accompanied by murmurs, facial expressions or movements that accompany the plot.
Why do you daydream?
There are several theories that try to explain this excessive reverie. From a psychoanalytic perspective, Freud suggested that daydreaming is a way of trying to solve an underlying conflict. Thus, the fantasy would represent the tension between moral limits and an unsatisfied desire.
Following this same line, more recent authors have considered that the origin of excessive daydreaming is related to traumatic experiences. The person would develop such a fantasy as a way to dissociate , so that excessive daydreaming would function as a subtype of dissociative disorder.
In the 1980s, Wilson and Barber described a “fantasy prone” personality type . For this author, their own idiosyncrasy would lead them to live in a parallel world much of the time.
Later, Somer found that these people had great imaginations from childhood. These people were capable of generating elaborate scenarios, characters, and plots. Obviously, this trait would not suppose a pathology in itself, but the exacerbated habit would make it harmful.
In summary, excessive daydreaming would develop due to some traumatic event (eg abuse or bullying) or as a form of escape from reality as a form of temporary solution to internal conflict that has not been managed adequately.
However, it would be essential that the person had a great imagination and creativity to be able to develop this type of plot and stay absorbed by delighting in these types of thoughts.
How to differentiate excessive daydreaming from different psychological disorders?
First of all, it is important to emphasize that maladaptive daydreaming has not been considered a psychological disorder in itself . This is because normality in psychology does not respond so much to statistical terms, but to the discomfort generated by certain behavior (in this case, perceived stress or lack of control, the amount of time invested, etc.).
On the other hand, the diagnosis is also often difficult because:
“Excessive daydreaming is usually accompanied by other symptoms that correspond to a different diagnostic picture.”
In this sense, a study shows that 76.9% of these people had ADHD, 71.8% anxiety, 53.9% obsessive disorders and 66.7% depression.
Regarding the differential diagnosis, although excessive daydreaming tends to become a compulsion that becomes the center of life of the person, in obsessive-compulsive disorder people see these as intrusive, so they are not experienced as pleasant or voluntary. Excessive daydreaming can also be confused with Asperger syndrome because the person has stereotyped movements and mumbles during periods of daydreaming.
Regarding the confusion of excessive daydreaming with some psychotic disorder , it is important to emphasize that the person with excessive daydreaming is always capable of distinguishing reality from imagination, although the everyday prefers to be relegated to the background. Finally, it should be noted that having excessive daydreaming does not mean that they have ADHD , since the person with ADHD is not capable of having such prolonged fantasies because they have attention problems in general.
What is the difference between being creative and having excessive daydreaming? What are these people like and what is their day to day like?
The substantial difference is that the person with excessive daydreaming does not do it at will, but tends to fantasize compulsively to control his discomfort by not being able to manage the dreaming process, to disconnect from his fantasies, which has a series of repercussions in their day to day.
In fact, people with excessive daydreaming lose the morning or even the entire day absorbed in their fantasies about what their life would be like if they won the lottery, had their dream job or a satisfying love relationship.
All this time spent in daydreams causes work, academic and social life to be seriously affected , because they do not pay attention to the environment, which apparently does not have great importance for them in their new introspective dynamics.
“Continuous daydreams have a serious impact on the work and social life of the person involved.”
Regarding the profile of people with excessive daydreaming , they are usually adolescents or adults who began to have them during adolescence. In addition, they are immature people with low self-esteem, because instead of facing reality, they seek the immediate satisfaction of their needs through a false temporary well-being, which leads them to fall back into this kind of psychological drug , turning his reverie in need, needing to meet his alter ego in what is already the main story of his life.
When should you go to the psychologist?
Excessive daydreaming involves immersing yourself in your own fantasy, merging with it in order to fill your own emotional voids or to avoid facing a reality that causes conflict and anguish. In this way, the person who started looking in fantasy for what he could not have in reality slowly moves away from it, ending up taking refuge in his daydreams and disconnecting from reality .
It is at this time when it is necessary to go to the psychologist, so that he can unmask the true message that underlies said reverie , providing the person with the necessary resources to be able to face his reality, learning to manage his emotions without escaping from the world as way to solve your emotional distress.
What are the first steps to reduce excessive daydreaming?
To overcome the addiction to daydreaming, a series of changes must be implemented. Here are the first steps necessary to solve excessive daydreaming:
Become aware of the consequences of fantasizing excessively.
This false emotional compensation regarding the insecure, frustrating or aversive of everyday life encourages mental blockage, insecurity, frustration and rejection towards life, since people and personal circumstances will not meet the expectations of the daydreams, thus complicating the challenges of daily life and compounding personal problems.
Analyze the function of daydreaming.
It is not the same to use it as an escape route from day-to-day problems than to use it to distract yourself or flee from experienced trauma. This is possibly the most difficult part to do without the help of a professional.
Identify distracting factors.
- Know those situations that activate the fantasy (eg a melody).
- Finding out how much time you spend daydreaming is the first step in controlling your immersion urge.
Learn to manage time and focus attention.
The bad habit of procrastinating is quite common in these people, as they are easily distracted and it is very difficult to meet deadlines.
Do satisfying activities and improve lifestyle habits.
There is nothing wrong with channeling one’s creativity as a way of regulating emotions, as long as it is done in an orderly manner. Also, engaging in fun activities and seeking emotional support helps improve your mood and focus on day-to-day things.
Work on your own difficulties with the help of a professional.
Emotional management is a highly complex task that is not easy to face alone, especially when you have disorders such as social phobia, depression, have suffered a traumatic experience or have low self-esteem. In addition, the psychologist can provide tools that serve to help face personal problems for which one has not been able to find a clear solution.
Alexa Clark specializes in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. She has experience in listening and welcoming in Individual Therapy and Couples Therapy. It meets demands such as generalized anxiety, professional, love and family conflicts, stress, depression, sexual dysfunction, grief, and adolescents from 15 years of age. Over the years, She felt the need to conduct the psychotherapy sessions with subtlety since She understands that the psychologist acts as a facilitator of self-understanding and self-acceptance, valuing each person's respect, uniqueness, and acceptance.