Maladaptive Daydreaming: where wild minds come to rest
I have a 12-year-old who is extremely bright and creative, but I am feeling helpless and like I am losing him to the realms of maladaptive daydreaming.
He seems to engage in this activity now more than ever and it takes up hours of his day. He has done this since he has been a small child to some extent but never more than now.
He has some anxiety issues (extreme fear of embarrassment and other specific triggers) but not overwhelmingly so. He is an introvert and many of his daydreams feature himself in a powerful role.
He has had some issues in the past with addiction to video games (which we have completely eliminated) and reading books and now Maladaptive daydreaming. Now I think the books give him material for the daydreams. He gallops from one end of the apartment to the other. It seems to be spreading and taking over his life like a cancer to the point that he is really resistant to doing anything else and can hardly wait to come home from school so he can engage in this (for hours by himself).
At school, he read a lot (unrelated to class assignments) which kept him quite isolated and he was not participating in class and interacting with other kids. He just started junior high this year so new school, different set up, etc. So, I e-mailed all of his teachers to be on board with no outside reading assuming that he would by default start engaging more. But teachers reported the same thing.
So I asked him if he has started daydreaming in school and he admitted that he was. Instead of pacing or galloping like he does at home, at school he is able to sit in a chair and swing his legs back and forth and this is enough repetitive motion to propel him into his maladaptive daydreaming.
He told me “You see one thing just replaces the other. You took away video games and I replaced it with reading. You took away reading and I replaced it with daydreaming. Now there is no way you can take this away unless they invent mind control, which they haven’t”. His words seared me and truly showed how powerless I am in this.
I’ve had him see the social worker at school to work for help in being able to connect more, but he did not mention anything to him about his daydreaming because he is actually afraid they would give him a medication to make it “go away” and he does NOT want that.
He refuses to see any negative consequences in this either short term or long term. He is highly resistant to letting this go even a little. It is negatively impacting his life (he has only one friend and is loath to engage in most activities) and he does not view this shrinkage of his life as a problem. He is “happy” in his growing isolation and I can’t convince him otherwise.
I am reaching out for any guidance in this, root causes to address, and any help or advice at all would be greatly appreciated. What has helped?
I recommend you contact a very good psychotherapist.
I was a maladaptive daydreamer since I was 12, and learned the consequences in my 20's. I actually did a self-therapy journey for my daydreams. Now I no longer live in other worlds. My head is clear and I'm mentally in the present
I have been daydreaming since I was 8- on and off through the years. MD can be a coping mechanism to escape the problems of real life. I would recommend the following:
1) giving him a journal. His own private journal where he can write down his daydreams, reflect on them, what are his triggers-what makes him want to daydream, how long he day dreams, what is he getting from his daydream experiences that he is not getting in his real life.
2) have him go to a therapist who knows about diathethical behavioral therapy(DBT). Maybe there are DBT group therapies for pre-teens or teens in your area.
3) schedule family time with him-play board games,go to museums,
He may also be “gifted”. See www.sengifted.org This is an organization that has a lot of good materials on the social and emotional needs of the gifted.
Your sons' symptoms sound like a carbon copy of my own at that age.
I was very introverted, and engaged in MD from a very young age, around 4 years old or so.
Books provided material for it, and following that when it became more available PC games.
I would spend hours on end, and I do not exaggerate the time, riding my bicycle back and forth in our driveway daydreaming. Simply a repetitive motion, although it did aid in balance and physical development. Had the same issues at school. Daydreaming instead of paying attention. Teachers would give reports like "very bright, but appears lost in his own world. Does not pay attention at all. Does not realize he is being spoken to even when the entire class looks at him in expectation of a response."
Limiting PC game and television time simply drove me to more time in MD.
This is not a history of me, it is simply to demonstrate that we share symptoms and thus possibly could share solutions.
The main reason I flatly refused to give up daydreaming was because reality was boring. Because I had isolated myself and simultaneously developed no alternative activities, my choices were to sit doing nothing, or slip into daydreams. The choice was obvious.
What got me out were activities that allowed me to role-play my fantasies. In my fantasies I was either a great swordsman and swashbuckler, or a fighter pilot, or a knight, or Robin Hood... you get the idea..
So I was introduced to fencing. You want to be a noble knight? why not learn to sword-fight then.
Archery was another activity that helped. You dream of being Robin Hood? Learn archery.
I dreamed about being a Rambo-esque commando. Get a pellet gun and take up sport shooting.
These helped me develop the physical aptitude I had largely missed, and forced social interaction with people that shared a common interest.
In the end it was martial arts that got me out. Only when I was old enough to take it seriously though. and fencing had to prime the pump with some forced social interaction and learning to put aside daydreaming for a little while to accept instruction, so that my future daydreams could be more real.
In retrospect there were a lot of prerequisites for these. Traditional martial arts like Karate didn't quite cut it, because development was too slow. It had to be something that provided results in short order or I would lose interest. Similarly it had to be something I could improve on my own, and that was flashy. Tae-kwon-do worked, because learning to do flashy kicks without any form of actual fighting ability (which takes time to develop) let me act out fantasies and feel like I'm really doing them.
Being a skilled martial artist gained me some social standing, and I made friends there. And suddenly, like a sledgehammer, a girl winked at me in class and I discovered that reality could be a lot better than fantasy.
It was a long and rocky road from there. But the single ingredient required for any form of recovery happened there - A desire to recover.
I know this is a long post, but I truly hope I can be of some help to your son. Because at that age my symptoms were the same: worried parents, hours lost in daydreaming, loneliness mitigated by DM, creating social isolation and thus more loneliness.
The big thing in my world was that I absolutely in no shape way or form would give up DM. The only way I would partake in an activity was if it mirrored my daydreams and I could thus act them out. Letting this happen in a social atmosphere and simultaneously developing physical aptitude and some life-skill that generates a positive self image was the key to getting me out.
If your son does not want to take up any of these activities for fear of not measuring up to his daydreams (this was a fear in my world, not that I wouldn't measure up to my peers, but that it would negatively affect my daydreams by placing them well in the "you could never do that because you suck" category, then I would Suggest a local SCA or other medieval re-enactment group. Where competence is not as important as having fun in a communal attempt to recreate something. There you also learn useful skills like metalwork.
I remember this was one of the key points for me. Seeing guys in their shining suits of armor, and having them tell me "we all made ours ourselves, yes, we will be happy to teach you and guide you in making your own."... The fact that I could own a suit of armor was an enormous motivation. It was like a dream come true. This may well work for your son as well if swords and knights are his thing.
And through it I learned metalworking skills along with social interaction, and I was the guy at school who owns, and made himself, a suit of knightly platemail. Suddenly some limited social interaction came my way with people oohing and aahing at it instead of me needing to awkwardly seek it out. I expect something similar might help your son as well.
This was long, my apologies. I hope it helps.
Wow! Thank you so much for sharing your story your very welcomed advice. This is exactly what I was hoping for. I didn't see your reply sooner than tonight.
So you shared what helped you through your youth. I'm curious about how are you doing now? I assume you are an adult now. Is it still an issue for you? Does it still impact your life and relationships at all?
Hi, I'm glad it (hopefully) helped.
Yes, I'm an adult - wife and two kids. It is still an issue yes, it consumes a notable part of my life and day, and has certainly impacted my marriage negatively.
That said, it is not the overriding issue it used to be in my childhood and teens. I have also found that channeling it helps - if I find myself slipping into DM about a specific thing (for instance Skyrim which consumed a large part of my time and attention) then instead of fantasizing about the world and building interesting stories and characters in my head, I decided to learn how to do 3d modeling from tutorials to make these fantasies a reality. Wrote some mods for the game to make it match my daydreams. Not necessarily a healthy way to go about it, but certainly better than the alternative.
Similarly I tried pepakura (computer generated designs for paper-folding that produce whatever the design is, in this case the beautiful helmets that characters wear in the game) and after managing it used steel instead of paper, creating replicas of the helmets, which I sold.
It is still a problem for me, and honestly I don't have a solution as such. I only have advice on what I did to make the DM include social interaction and learning useful skills. And what caused me to recognize it as a problem, instead of simply my lifestyle choice, because up till the point that I saw it as a problem instead of a solution I had little noticeable progress.
If you want me to draw up a list of suggestions or some such don't hesitate to ask. I hope this helps.
I had to quit daydreaming, as so many people were finding out what I was doing, and it wasn't good. I also have a form of asperger syndrome, so I failed to conceal my MDD. Sooner than later, everybody reacted like they thought I was on Mars, because I wouldn't listen to their words. Some of them reacted so over the top, as though I'd be executed by nightfall. I heard many people on this website were able to hide their MD for years, and had no trouble with people. I kind of envy them for it.
Martha Bozic said:
You’re amazingly accurate in what you’ve pieced together :). I can manage to reduce MDing when I’m socializing or meeting someone new, same with family. The urge is always there, I guess, but in some situations and for certain periods of time, I am able to ignore it.
A year ago, I started reflecting on why people MD. I spent my senior year in high school trying to abstain from it but always ended up “relapsing”. Every attempt to let go of my dreamworld has led me back to the realization that the “compulsion” (as you call it) will always come back and there’s basically nothing I can do to stop it, so I finally decided to stop beating myself up over it. During the period, I wasn’t just trying to physically stop MD, I was also trying very hard to let feelings resurface, feelings and sensations that made me want to “escape” to MD in the first place, like feelings of inadequacy and helplessness, and also trying to get used to them. I’ve also been trying to face my fears, like embarrassment, anxiety, speaking up, etc. I haven’t advanced much, but I have to say that doing this has helped the most in bringing me closer to the present. I’ve done a lot of thinking and I guess I can say that I’ve theoretically grasped how to stop MD, but practically doing it is what’s challenging. Frankly, I’m still on square one and don’t daydream much less than before the “war”.
In short, it is very weird and frustrating to be both the person who is lost and the person with the directions.
Lol I managed to get a handle on school, though I catch myself slipping at times and having to burn the midnight oil, which isn’t fun. Since moving to uni, I spend most of my time alone, but I met a few people and have gone out a few times.
Hope these answered your questions :) ,
Martha Bozic said:
Martha Bozic said:
Thank you so much for your thoughtful sharing. I think you were on the right track in letting uncomfortable feelings surface and actually feeling them rather than using the bypass. I hope you have support in your efforts and wish you the best.
Hope these answered your questions :) ,
Martha Bozic said:
Martha Bozic said: