Maladaptive Daydreaming: where wild minds come to rest
I throw the term addiction a lot when talking about MD but I figured it might need some explaining because addiction, although it seems like a totally incoherent behavior or just a messed up brain chemistry, is one very logical mechanism.
Put simply, MD is a problem of expression. Psychological addiction is a problem of expression. What is not expressed as raw feelings becomes distorted and expressed as cravings. Addiction is a compensation born out of powerlessness to directly express what one wants or feels. If there is a particular desire in the unconscious layers of the mind that screams to be released but that somehow does not make it to the surface where it can be consciously articulated, it turns into a craving. What we see as insatiable hunger for fantasy on the surface is just trails of smoke of a raging, intelligible fire burning somewhere below. If you want to communicate something important but have no mouth to speak or express it otherwise in a direct, conscious way, this burning need to communicate will refract once its hits the surface of conscious awareness and turn into a craving. The moment you learn to express it consciously, the craving disappears.
It is not normal for human mind to live in an emotional isolation, without being able to receive positive input from real life as if we had a veil over the eyes preventing us to register whatever comes from the outer world. When the brain is caught in isolation, in a state where it cannot communicate with external reality, it will create its own. We know from neuroscience that when brain receives no sensory stimuli from real world, it automatically starts conjuring up internal visual images and hallucinations to compensate for that silence and this is a natural, automatic response everyone experiences when deprived of external sensory input. Brain needs constant input, inner or outer. If you isolate a person in one of those anechoic chambers that block all outside noise and create an absolute silence, the person eventually starts hearing sounds of their own body otherwise not hearable because brain, unless you are doing advanced meditation, cannot stay in perfect silence. When the outer world is silenced, the inner world goes wild.
Isn’t the similar mechanism at work when dealing with lack of emotional stimulation? If you dig deeper in the neuroscience of extreme physical and social isolation, it is not uncommon to find reports of mentally healthy people who sense a comforting imaginary presence, almost like an inner companion when put in extreme isolation. An actual hallucinogenic, soothing presence to compensate for the unbearable silence of the world. This is not a psychosis, this is merely the brain keeping the mind sane. When the outer world is silenced, the inner world goes wild.
Severe MD is triggered when one becomes emotionally isolated and estranged from parts of oneself, automatically leading the person to become estranged from everything normally perceived through that blocked part of the self, including reality. There are things happening in real life but they don’t reach us. Fantasy appears as a response to that emotional isolation, to give one emotional feedback from the inside that outer world fails to provide from the outside. It is the same feedback loop at work: when the outer world is silenced, the inner world goes wild. Have you ever thought how ridiculously cut off and alienated from real world one has to feel to subconsciously start inventing imaginary relationships when real people are all around? There is obviously no sensory deprivation going on here that would explain the prevalence of inner world over external one, which can make us conclude that intense MD can really only be a consequence of an emotional isolation.
I strongly believe that both MD as an addiction and losing responsiveness to reality are merely symptoms of the emotional isolation. But what brought on the isolation in the first place?
Carl Jung wrote: “Loneliness does not come from having no people around you, but from being unable to communicate the things that seem important to you.” And indeed, if one cannot communicate the pivotal values of his inner self necessary for healthy emotional functioning, if one can’t have them flow into the outer world, the inner world turns into a prison from which you are allowed to leave but your emotions are not. The external world in turn appears hollow and hostile. You can visit it, but stripped of emotions you left in the inner world. Then you make a common mistake: you mistake reality for hollow when it is you who is an empty shell with feelings detached and left forgotten in some other place.
If this is indeed the case, recovery should be focused on breaking down that emotional isolation by identifying and then relearning how to directly express those vague feelings you express indirectly through fantasy. It is hunger for these feelings that fuels fantasies and prompts the addictive cravings. It is obsession with these feelings that prevents you to focus on reality. This is why one unconsciously calls forth MD in the first place – to provide a temporary and indirect touch with detached feelings that one is having difficulty expressing consciously.
If it could be said in one sentence why MD happens, it is because you are holding yourself back. For a daydreamer whose automatic response is to repress and keep all ruminations turned inward, trying to express feelings directly, which are often bewildering even to us, can seem like a shock to our entire being, awkward and strange, initially resulting in more confusion than clarity. You force yourself to express something and then feel silly and embarrassed for days to come. It’s a messy and ridiculously baffling process. Even depressing. But it is the necessary price for restoring a healthy emotional expression.
Let go of having to be in control of your feelings, let go of thinking everything over and most importantly, let go of holding back and try to release emotions. Hunt down what your fantasies are allowing you to feel and whatever it is that you are trying to express, try to express it outwardly, even when you can’t pinpoint what exactly you even want to articulate. You probably won’t even succeed immediately but every attempt to redirect energy from inner to outer world is a beginning of something. As long as you feel that you are hiding a part of yourself, or that there is something unsaid, you are feeding MD.
Thanks for reading. I hope it made sense. :)
Very clear ! excellent explanation, as usual Eretaia :-) Thank you !
Thank you, Kim! :))
you write the best of post eretaia i want to personally appericiate you for your selfless effort
I can see that, but for me, it's a desperate attempt to escape from reality, not so much an inability to express myself. I've MD'd (is that a word? lol) off and on since elementary school, and in hindsight, it's almost always the worst in times of extreme stress and depression in my life. I guess I see it as my coping mechanism....but at the same time, I do feel addicted to it sometimes. I spend more time and emotional energy in my alter ego's life than I do taking care of myself and my real life responsibilities. I know I should address my depression and get help, but I'm hesitant because I don't want to give up my inner world, even though I know it's very often unhealthy for me.
Addiction is a coping mechanism in itself. MD, being an addictive coping mechanism, is never an escape from reality but an escape from your own inability to deal with said reality. You fail to react in the right way when faced with real life stress, which is the problem of expression. It's us who are wrong, not the world, not reality.
thank you for this