Excessive daydreaming , popularly known as daydreaming, and also called by professionals maladjusted or compulsive fantasy dream psychology, is a condition in which the individual has a high amount of fantasies. They can spend hours daydreaming, it’s like an addiction. Their fantasies are very structured and can be compared to the plot of a book or movie.
It’s true that we all daydream from time to time. Who has not been absorbed in imagining an ideal situation during daily work? According to “Psychology Today”, almost everyone seems to fantasize regularly, with some studies indicating that 96% of adults daydream at least once a day.
Previously, fantasizing was thought to be lazy people and poor discipline. While the father of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud, considered dreamers to be “childish”, as this was his way of resolving conflicts.
However, today it is thought that daydreaming is a creative activity, which can serve to exercise our mind. Having several simultaneous thoughts increases the ability to participate in more than one task effectively, that is, it improves working memory . This type of memory is defined as the ability to store and retrieve information that resists distractions.
When does daydreaming become a problem?
Apparently, there are people who dedicate a lot of time a day to their daydreams. These end up replacing human interaction and even interfere with normal academic, interpersonal and professional training.
In this case, we are talking about excessive daydreaming. It is a psychological concept, which can be framed in psychoanalysis. The term is relatively recent, coined by psychologist Eli Somer in 2002.
It is an under-researched disorder and is just beginning to be known among professionals and evaluated in patients.
Causes of Excessive Daydreaming
Some authors have found links between excessive daydreaming and emotional abandonment during childhood, the experience of negative experiences such as abuse, bullying or intimidation. That is, any type of abuse that makes victims want to get away from a world they consider dangerous and threatening.
However, the exact causes are still unknown as there are people with this problem who have not suffered from traumatic situations in the past.
What is clear is that pathological daydreaming reflects an important dissatisfaction with real life, as it is a way of escaping from it.
These fantasies serve to alleviate the pain, tension, and misfortune they encounter in real situations. They intend to replace these feelings with relaxing and pleasant ones, security, intimacy and company.
Features and symptoms
There are certain characteristics of people with excessive daydreaming:
With these cases you will have an idea of what this phenomenon is like, although there are more features that distinguish it:
In automatic tasks
Daydreaming is more common when passive and automatic tasks are not resource intensive or highly automated. For example, daily rituals such as showering, bathing, dressing, eating, driving a car, etc.
They often have triggers that facilitate their daydreaming, such as books, music, movies, video games, driving, etc.
consciousness of fantasizing
The person with excessive daydreaming knows perfectly well that what he imagines are fantasies. Therefore, there is no problem in differentiating reality from imagination.
This is what fantasy-prone personality difference (FPP) is, a different disorder in which those affected live in a fantasy world and have difficulty identifying the real from the fictional. They may have hallucinations that match their fantasies, psychosomatic symptoms, out-of-body experiences, identity issues, etc.
Problems sleeping or getting up
It is not uncommon for these people to have trouble falling asleep or getting out of bed, as they may stay awake fantasizing. They also neglect basic tasks such as meals and personal hygiene.
Emotions while daydreaming
While absorbed in daydreaming, these patients may express emotions through slight grimaces, smiles, frowns, whispers, etc. There are also very common repetitive movements that are difficult to control and unconscious, such as touching an object, biting your nails, moving your legs, rocking, etc.
– The individual can develop an emotional bond with the characters and situations of the fantasies.
– Short attention span, usually at school or work. Usually these fantasies begin in childhood.
How is it diagnosed?
In 2016, Somer, Lehrfeld, Bigelsen, Jopp came up with a specialized test to detect excessive daydreaming. It is called “Madaptive Dreaming Scale (MDS)” (Maladaptive Dreaming Scale) and has good validity and reliability.
It is a 14-section self-report designed to distinguish between people with pathological daydreaming and healthy people. They measure three criteria for this: the frequency, the degree of control of the fantasies, the discomfort it produces, the benefits that daydreaming brings and the operating level.
Some of the questions are: “Many people like to daydream. When you are daydreaming, to what extent are you at ease and having fun? Or: “ When a real-life event interrupts one of your daydreams, how intense is your desire or need to go back to sleep? ”
However, there are some difficulties for the diagnosis. First, this scale is not adapted to Spanish. Another problem is that most psychologists have never heard of this condition, nor has it been officially recognized as a pathology that should be treated. Although the media is giving him some fame for the curiosity he arouses in the public.
– Differential diagnosis
Excessive daydreaming should not be confused with…
Excessive daydreaming is often confused with schizophrenia, as these people seem to live in a world created by their mind, isolated and having significant difficulties in their social life.
This condition is framed in psychotic disorders and therefore symptoms such as hallucinations and severe delusions appear. They are unaware of their hallucinations and believe they don’t have a disorder.
However, people with excessive daydreaming know very well that everything is a fantasy. They do not have delusions, hallucinations, disorganized thinking or language (unlike schizophrenia).
Fantasy-Prone Personality (FPP)
In this case, hallucinations or self-suggested symptoms may occur, so it is not the same as excessive daydreaming. These individuals develop this personality type by being exposed to a lot of fantasy during childhood that their parents nurtured and rewarded.
They may appear in conjunction with excessive daydreaming, but they are not the same. These people may have mental or behavioral rituals that take a lot of time and cause them to miss their daily work. The purpose of compulsions is to relieve existing anxiety.
It is a personality disorder that includes unusual perceptual experiences, body illusions, strange thinking and language, paranoid ideas, little or no signs of affection, eccentric behavior and appearance, etc.
Excessive daydreaming treatment
Being a condition subject to investigation and very little extended in professionals, little is known about its treatment.
In a case of excessive daydreaming described by Schupak and Rosenthal in 2009, they explained that the patient had significantly improved her symptoms by taking 50 mg a day of a drug called fluvoxamine. It is an antidepressant that increases the amount of serotonin in the nervous system and is widely used in the treatment of obsessive-compulsive disorder.
The patient claimed that she could control the frequency of her daydreaming much better when taking the medication. Interestingly, he also noticed that his fantasies diminished when he was engaged in creative and enjoyable activities, such as participating in plays. When she was too busy with her studies or her work, she also achieved the same effect. All this can give us some hints about the possible treatment:
First, resolve personal conflicts that may have caused the need to escape the real world. For this, self-esteem, security, social skills, etc. will be worked through psychological therapy.
For the person to be able to face real life. Psychotherapy can be helpful in resolving issues related to the past, such as trauma or abuse situations that continue to plague the patient.
Once the possible causes or conditions that facilitate excessive daydreaming have been dealt with, it is advisable to control the time periods. The patient can reduce the time dedicated to daydreaming, making an effort and establishing schedules and routines that must be fulfilled daily. You can set alarms to limit the amount of time you can “dream” each day.
If the patient is tired, it is normal to “disconnect” from his work and isolate himself for a long time in less productive fantasies. To do this, you must maintain adequate sleep schedules and sleep enough hours (between 6 and 9 hours a day).
Keep busy with enjoyable activities
Best if they are incompatible with fantasies, such as those that require social interaction or are very motivating and interesting to the person.
Identify the triggers
Most daydreams arise when listening to music, watching movies, being in a certain place, etc. What can be done is to avoid these stimuli or develop other techniques, such as associating them with new functions, listening to other styles of music that do not generate these fantasies, other literary genres, etc.
Nor is it necessary to completely eliminate fantasies, the objective would be to reduce them, learn to control them and not interfere negatively in other areas of life.
How is excessive daydreaming different from normal mental fantasies?
Bigelsen, Lehrfeld, Jopp, and Somer (2016) compared 340 people who reported spending a lot of time daydreaming with 107 individuals without this problem. The participants were between 13 and 78 years old and came from 45 different countries.
The researchers found differences in the amount of daydreaming, content, experience, ability to control them, the distress generated and the interference with a satisfying life. Also, people with excessive daydreaming tend to have attention deficit disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and more dissociative symptoms than “healthy” people.
Specifically, individuals with this condition may spend 56% of their waking hours fantasizing and, in doing so, would often perform repetitive stimulating or balancing movements (kinesthetic activity). By spending so much time dreaming, many have not fulfilled their daily obligations or lost work and study performance.
In terms of content, the main themes of the fantasies were being famous or being in a relationship with a celebrity, idealizing yourself or being involved in a romantic relationship.
In addition, many declared to imagine stories with fictional characters, imaginary friends, fantasy worlds, etc. While unaffected people focus more on dreaming about real life or specific desires like winning the lottery or successfully solving a problem.
Another difference found was that those who had excessive daydreaming could barely control their fantasies and had difficulty stopping them. They feared it would affect their lives, their work, and their relationships. They also feared that people around them would find out about their dreams and continually try to hide them.