Maladaptive Daydreaming: where wild minds come to rest
Sorry it took me so long!! I've been extremely busy, we just found out that we have to move out, so we've been moving all of our stuff out of our house. It's not a bad thing though, I've never liked this house anyway! So, finally, 7 days late, here it is, enjoy!:
What is Maladaptive Daydreaming? A known 4% of the world has it.(10) Most people have never heard of it before, due to the fact that it is still an emerging condition. Maladaptive daydreaming (MD) is extensive fantasy activity that replaces human interaction and/or interferes with academic, interpersonal, or vocational functioning.(11) Sheryl C. Wilson and Theodore X. Barber first acknowledged this as a “Fantasy-Prone Personality” in 1981. Others have done studies on this condition following their lead, such as Steven Lynn, Judith W. Rhue, D. L. Barret, Robert Horselenburg, Sharon Rauschenberger, and many others. But the most well-known of all of the people who have researched this strange phenomenon would be Professor Eli Somer, a Senior Clinical Psychologist from Haifa, Israel. The term “Maladaptive Daydreaming” was first used by Somer, in his recent book, “Journal of Contemporary Psychotherapy” in the section titled “Maladaptive Daydreaming: A Qualitative Inquiry”. In 1975, Somer earned his BA in Psychology, Sociology, and Anthropology, along with his MA in Clinical Psychology in 1979 at the University of Haifa.(7) He then moved on to the University of Florida, where he earned his Ph.D in Counseling Psychology in 1984.(7)
Somer stumbled upon Maladaptive Daydreaming when he studied six patients who were so-called, “fantasy-prone”. In these patients he discovered many similar categories of personalities and themes in their daydreaming episodes that are still relevant to daydreamers today. He also made the claim that excessive daydreaming was caused by a traumatic childhood experience, but this has proven to be false for many maladaptive daydreamers.
Most of the conclusions that Somer came to were accurate, however. Excessive daydreamers are not all the same of course, but the general “symptoms” of Maladaptive Daydreaming are apparent in most Maladaptive Daydreamers. They include excessive daydreaming, some form of kinesthetic movement while daydreaming, neglecting every-day activities for the sake of daydreaming, preferring one’s daydream world to the real world, a lack in socializing abilities, setting aside time for daydreaming, and feeling the constant need to daydream, so much that it is often compared to an addiction.
There are many different ways that one can excessively daydream. The general ways to daydream include laying down and daydreaming, pacing and daydreaming, jumping and daydreaming, twirling and daydreaming, tapping and daydreaming, etc. Notice that there is movement in almost all of these examples. Somer reported that 5 out of 6 of his patients with MD included some sort of kinesthetic movement, the reason being either physical enactment of the daydream or hypnotic induction.(11) My personal account is this: I’ll retreat from the world into my bedroom, close the door, close the blinds (this makes it easier for me to concentrate on my daydream) and I turn on my iPod. Then I will pace, sometimes run or jump around the room in accordance with what is happening in my daydream. With the minimal light in the room, my auditory senses controlled with a specific emotion of a chosen song, and the kinesthetic movement of pacing and jumping, I am actually hypnotizing myself. Although I am aware of my surroundings (the walls of my room) I can clearly see, hear, and feel the world of my own creation in my mind.
Story-lines of daydreaming are usually extremely complex, for they have been expanded upon for many years. Cordellia Amethyste Rose, creator of the Maladaptive Daydreaming social website “Wild Minds Network”, explained the surface-base of her story lines, “Most of them are about highly emotional and intellectual relationships. It's the same persistent fantasy world. The characters who stick around the most are the most emotionally and intellectually stimulating characters for my main character.”(4) So her daydreams can be considered to be focused around herself and her completely original relationships. Anonymous #1 explained his daydream as well, “I'm a super version of me. I'm a super successful music producer/business/actor/philanthropist/sports star with a beautiful wife and kids. The thing is, a lot of my daydreams revolve around me giving interviews about my past, my success, [and] my family. Like I would be telling a story about a tragic event that happened to me prior to becoming successful and how it shaped my life.”(1) His daydreams seem to focused around himself and his social status, as well as original familial relationships. Anonymous #2 explained, “A character is in a hospital and there's a serial killer in said hospital. The many people around, and she's trying to pinpoint the man she's looking for. Any odd movements, any psychological ticks that make him stand out. Once, she sees him it's all seems over, with a kid in his hands and a gun with a badge. (Sorry that's all can eloquently explain. It's complex.)”(2) She explained to me after that she wasn’t necessarily the character in the hospital, sometimes it felt like she was just the point of view, not really herself. So this particular type of daydream is focused around more of an action-adventure stimulation for her brain.
The first signs of Maladaptive Daydreaming are hardly ever recognized, if recognized at all. Most Maladaptive Daydreamers claim that their daydreaming began when they were small children, (as most children do daydream) but then it severely escalated from there. For some, it was because of a traumatic experience that caused them to want to hide away from the world by retreating to a safer realm of their own minds. For others, it was merely an over-active imagination that was accented by introverted qualities that caused these excessive fantasies. For others, it wasn’t necessarily a traumatic experience, but rather a lack of control in their environment that made them want to create something that they could control. But Maladaptive Daydreaming doesn’t always manifest in the early years of childhood, there are Maladaptive Daydreamers who say they began daydreaming in the middle of their adult lives. Reasons for this range from all of the above to simple boredom with their real lives.
Most people’s reactions to explanations of this emerging disorder include arrogant scoffing, disbelief, a wave of a pompous hand, etc. But the people who live with this condition every day know that it should be worthy of medical and psychological attention. I have interviewed myself and four other subjects with this condition, with varying results of severity of the disorder. However, each interviewee was quite aware of how MD was affecting their lives.
When asked if she believed that MD’s produced unwanted side-effects, Anonymous #2 replied “Yes, I really do. I have bouts of depression and numbness. I've always had a little trouble socializing with others, because I'm in my head a lot of the time.”(2) Cordellia Amesthye Rose acknowledged that not only did daydreaming cause depression, disassociation, trouble with socializing, and lack of focus, but also other side-effects. “It's made the outer world intolerable. Also extreme sensory sensitivity and insomnia. Misophonia… Extreme hatred of certain sounds......to the point where I'll cry and pound on my ears.”(5) As a Maladaptive Daydreamer myself, I can’t say that I have experienced all of these severe side-effects, but I can say that I experience bouts of depression, I am not adequate in the art of socialization, I have trouble focusing, and I put off many academic and personal responsibilities for the sake of daydreaming.(8)
Severity of this condition varies immensely. A Maladaptive Daydreamer can daydream from 2 hours once a week to every single minute of every single day. Anonymous #2 states that she daydreams, “On average I would say 3-4 hours a day. But it varies with highs and lows.”(2) while Anonymous #1 simply states, “Far too many to count.”(1) Cordellia Amethyste Rose says that she is in a constant state of daydreaming: “It's one persistent fantasy world that exists and proceeds in real time.”(5)
The real “discovery” of excessive daydreaming is undocumented; normal daydreaming is a common thing for humans to do when bored or tired, therefore excessive daydreaming was probably labeled as unimportant. However, the recent studies and research on Maladaptive Daydreaming have been accomplished mostly by Dr. Cynthia Schupak and Dr. Eli Somer. There is no cure yet to this condition, because it is still new to the medical and psychological field, however some medicines have been administered to Maladaptive Daydreamers when they have consulted their doctors about their condition.
There are some people who daydream excessively who do not want to stop daydreaming. They think of it as more of an ability to create and expand the mind, rather than a condition inhibiting social and academic activity. Mostly however, people with MD tend to think of it as more of a negative addiction than a positive attribute. Most of these people want to rid themselves of it. Anonymous #3 was asked about the effects MD had on her life and she replied, “I definitely had a lack of focus throughout all of my school years before the grades really mattered. I'd totally zone out in class, most notably math class.”(3)
Along with the academic problems it causes, the personal well-being is affected as well. Anonymous #2 says that after she has engaged in a daydream, she feels two different feelings: “Mentally: sometimes refreshed, satisfied, sometimes drained. Physically: dizzy.”(2) Cordellia Amethyste Rose states, “Mentally I feel stimulated. Physically...well if it's really stimulating I can produce physical reactions like mouth-watering, goose bumps, etc. If I daydream too much I get really sick. I get dizzy and feel weird in my head. If I've been daydreaming really heavily........more in than out......I get really sick.”(5)
Aside from the physical aspect of these negative effects, the anti-social aspect is also prominent as a negative side-effect of MD. Anonymous #3 said, “I'm less socially experienced than most people my age because I've daydreamed for so long. For example, if someone brings up a famous person or social situation I haven't encountered, I get awkward because I don't know enough about the topic to carry a conversation about it. Today, my work trainer asked everyone to copy down all the young people in their cell phones, but I only have about 5. I just tried to make it un-awkward.”(3) Anonymous #2 described herself socially as, “Somewhat inept. Especially with people I don't know that well. I have to really understand their personality, to open up.”(2) Many daydreamers are less socially able than people without MD. The severity of this side-effect varies greatly, and some daydreamers are perfectly sociable, however this lack of socialization seems to be a reoccurring theme for most people with MD.
Depression is yet another prominent effect that MD has on a person. Whether it is caused by MD or it causes MD is uncertain; all that is known for sure is that a significant number of people with Maladaptive Daydreaming report having some form of Depression. For example, Anonymous #3 states, “I was a bit depressed in high school because I thought something was "wrong" with me and that I wasn't "normal" because I was less social than the other kids.”(3) Personally, when I was younger and unaware that this condition affected more people than just me, I looked at my MD as something that made me an oddity. I thought that it was the reason for my severe social inability, and this caused me to be very depressed for most of my childhood, encouraging my already introverted personality.(8)
There could be many causes of Maladaptive Daydreaming. One factor that could be considered is genetics. It could be possible, since personality characteristics are handed down through genetics, that the potential for MD could be handed down as well. I say potential for MD, not MD itself, because I do not believe MD has a direct link with genes or defective cells of any kind. It is more like a decision of the brain; just like any other addiction, one decides to start it, and then cannot stop. Personality characteristics such as quietness, moodiness, creativeness, and the enjoyment of solitude could be handed down from genetics and these characteristics could encourage MD, but I don’t believe that Maladaptive Daydreaming can be shared in our genes.
Because there is so little known about Maladaptive Daydreaming, it is truly unknown how it connects to the brain. However, I believe that the creativity center of the brain has a lot to do with it. One theory about creativity and the brain is the theory that the more gray matter one has, the more creative one is. Gray matter makes up a good portion of the brain, for example, the thalamus, or the inner chamber of the brain, is an oval structure above the midbrain that measures about 1 inch in length and establishes about four-fifths of the diencephalon.(12) It consists of two oval masses, made up largely of gray matter, organized into nuclei that actually forms the lateral walls of the third ventricle.(12) These masses are joined by a bridge, (again, made of gray matter) called the intermediate mass. Each mass is deeply embedded in a cerebral hemisphere and is bounded laterally by the internal capsule.(12) Dr. Rex Jung and his colleagues looked at the correlation between creativity and regional cortical thickness in a group of 61 young adult men and women.(9) They measured their creativity using an instrument called the Creative Achievement Questionnaire, which assesses creativity in ten different domains; in addition, divergent thinking was tested using a variety of design tasks, with the results consensually assessed by raters into a "composite creativity index."(9) Magnetic resonance images of the subjects' brains were compared to one another, and an automated program was used to look at the correlation between the various creative measures and the cortical thickness (the surface gray matter) of the subjects' brains. The study concluded that those who had more gray matter in their brains were considerably more creative than those who did not have as much gray matter. In a study by Hikaru Takeuchi and his colleagues, regional brain volume was interconnected with performance on a test of creativity and divergent thinking.(9) They found strong links between performance on this test and larger gray matter volume in dopamine-rich subcortical regions such as the substantia nigra and other fronto-striatal regions; in addition, a portion of the right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex was also correlated with higher creative test performance.(9) Takeuchi and colleagues concur that their results support the important role of dopamine in creative thinking.(9) Therefore, it is logical to think that Maladaptive Daydreamers could possibly have a surplus of dopamine in their brains that allow them to create so easily a world of in own minds.
There are ways that creativity of the brain can be enhanced and depleted. It is possible that this could be the reason for mid-adulthood onset of MD. Drug use can enhance or deplete creativity by increasing or diminishing the dopamine levels of the brain. The evidence for the involvement in dopamine in creativity comes primarily from drug studies: dopamine agonists (such as cocaine and levodopa) heighten arousal and goal-seeking behaviors while dopamine antagonists (such as antipsychotics) can shut down the free associations that may be necessary for creativity.(9)
For the people who do not wish to live with MD for the rest of their lives, any kind of treatment would be ideal. Unfortunately there is no real treatment for Maladaptive Daydreaming. Now, because this condition is not well known, most doctors have attested this phenomenon to other disorders, such as ADD, ADHD, Depression, OCD, and others. So the medicine administered is for only these conditions, when in actuality, those conditions are merely the side-effects of the actual root of the problem. However, there have been reports of the self-curing of MD, during Somer’s study of six subjects with MD; One of his subjects actually ceased to daydream before the psychotherapy was over. It was reported that the subject stopped daydreaming because the subject had finally gained a better understanding of herself and her condition, and it had allowed her to stop feeling the need to daydream. But other than personal remedies or solutions produced by people with MD, there has yet to be a true solution to ridding people of this condition.
There are, however, ways that people with MD have tried to lessen their time spent daydreaming. Anonymous #1 reported that being in a social situation helped. “Just being around people and being engaged in the conversation or event, otherwise, it just happens.”(1) Reasons for this could be many things; a social situation could take up most of one’s concentration so that one does not have the focus to daydream, or maybe one would be just too embarrassed to daydream in front of people because of their kinesthetic movements or facial expressions during daydreaming. With others however, there seems to be no reason for a temporary decrease in their daydreaming. Anonymous #2 said, “Sometimes I hit a low point. When I hit a road block in my fantasy world and everything becomes like clockwork. Like a personal hell. Also when I don't feel the need to daydream as much is another time when my daydreaming decreases. Both of those times are very erratic and don’t seem to have an underlying cause.”(2) Other people find that having external responsibilities allow them to effectively decrease their daydreaming. Anonymous #3 said, “I find that having outside obligations decreases my daydreaming, and so does internet use, as it causes an outside source of entertainment. Also, I don't daydream when other people are around. And rarely outside my room.” And while most people succumb to their daydreams when inspired, Cordellia Amethyste Rose stated that she used inspiration to emerge temporarily from her constant daydream, “Yes, when my outer world is particularly inspiring, then I daydream less. When I just start a new project, for example.”(4)
No matter what psychologists, neurologist and doctors with Ph.D.’s after their names believe about Maladaptive Daydreaming, one thing is for sure: people with Maladaptive Daydreaming realize that this excessive daydreaming is harmful to their every-day lives. When asked if they believed MD had a more positive or negative effect on their lives, all anonymous interviewees came to the same conclusion: That Maladaptive Daydreaming has a negative effect on their lives. Anonymous #3 said, “I'd say there has been a more negative than positive effect as according to other peoples standards (less social etc) but it was definitely beneficial in childhood. Also I can accept that it has made me who I am and that I'm no "worse" than people who don't daydream. Just because they are/have been more engaged with the real world and/or people doesn't make they or their lives superior.”(3) Anonymous #1 concurred, “Negative. I wanna be able to enjoy life and I feel like daydreaming inhibits that. I’m so focused on creating the perfect world in my head, I’m neglecting reality.”(1) Anonymous #2 said, “Though it's a source of creativity, I think it has a negative effect on my life. It's time consuming and never ending. It's hard to hold up relationships as it is, and since it's so time consuming, they never seem to stay. You have to try so to balance which is a hard thing to do. With everything in life.”(2)
However, Cordellia Amethyste Rose looks differently at her constant daydream state. “I can't answer that. It's my life. It's had disastrous consequences but also stimulated me and made me smarter.”(4) I can agree that Maladaptive Daydreaming does have some positive qualities that enhance my life. For example, it constantly is working my brain’s creative center, it’s a place I can go where I can explore and analyze the surfacing of my own subconscious, and it allows me to escape from the fear and anxiety of the unfamiliar and often hostile world around me. But when it comes down to it, I would really rather live without it.(8) I feel as though it inhibits me from accomplishing my dreams, it encourages extreme procrastination, it keeps me from experiencing every-day social situations, it pushes me far into the depths of depression, it traps me in the cage of my darkened room on days when it’s gloriously sunny outside…(8) There are many opinions about Maladaptive Daydreaming, as well as the daydreamers themselves, but no opinion can change the true facts of MD that excessive daydreamers face every day. Until a cure is found, the people with MD will continue to try and find ways to emerge from the luring safety of their own minds, so that they may experience the real world for what it is.
1) #1, Anonymous. Personal Interview by Alexandra Krueger. 04/01/2011. 5 Apr 2011
2) #2, Anonymous. Personal Interview by Alexandra Krueger. 04/02/2011. 5 Apr 2011.
3) #3, Anonymous. Personal Interview by Alexandra Krueger. 04/02/2011. 5 Apr 2011.
4) Amethyste Rose, Cordellia. "Maladaptive Daydreaming." Online Posting to Wild Minds Network. Web. 5 Apr 2011.
5) Amethyste Rose, Cordellia. Personal Interview by Alexandra Krueger. 04/02/2011. 5 Apr 2011.
6) Amethyste Rose, Cordellia. "Symptoms." Are You Daydreaming Your Life Away?. Cordellia Amethyste Rose, 1/07/2009. Web. 2 Apr 2011. a href="http://daydreamingdisorder.webs.com/symptoms.htm%3E">http://daydreamingdisorder.webs.com/symptoms.htm>;.
7) "Faculty of Social Welfare and Health Studies."HW.HAIFA.AC.IL. University of Haifa, 27/12/2005. Web. 5 Apr 2011. a href="http://hw.haifa.ac.il/social/cv/eli_somer.html%3E">http://hw.haifa.ac.il/social/cv/eli_somer.html>;.
8) Krueger, Alexandra. Intervew by Alexandra Krueger. 03/29/11. Print. 7 Apr 2011.
9) S. Allen, John. "Creativity, the Brain, and Evolution."Psychology Today 29 April 2010: n. pag. Web. 9 Apr 2011. a href="http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/lives-the-brain/201004/creativity-the-brain-and-evolution%3E">http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/lives-the-brain/201004/creativi...;.
10) Schupak, Cynthia. "Daydreamers Anonymous Prelim Findings." Scribd. Trip Adler, 10/06/2009. Web. 30 Mar 2011. a href="http://www.scribd.com/doc/20700187/Daydreamers-Anonymous-Prelim-Findings%3E">http://www.scribd.com/doc/20700187/Daydreamers-Anonymous-Prelim-Fin...;
11) Somer, Eli. "Maladaptive Daydreaming: A Qualitative Inquiry." Journal of Contemporary Psychotherapy32. (2002): 197-212. Web. 26 Mar 2011. a href="http://somer.co.il/articles/2002Malaptdaydr.contemp.psych.pdf%3E">http://somer.co.il/articles/2002Malaptdaydr.contemp.psych.pdf>;.
12) Tortora, Gerard J.. Principles of Anatomy and Physiology. Ed. Robert Greiner . New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1984. Print.