I’ve sat on this post for ages. I’ve no professional clinical background and I’m reluctant to chat about things I’ve limited knowledge of. Here goes…
When I first discovered the label ‘asexuality’, I was stunned: there were thousands of people who thought just like me! When I read a little more and discovered that I could add a further label and still be one of thousands, I was thrilled. ‘Aegosexuality’ – a term that explained so much, and being aegoace was so very ‘normal’. (Ditto being aegoallo.) So, when I read, a year or so back, of ‘extreme dreaming’, I was equally prepared to undergo another enjoyable little voyage of self-discovery. After some further research, though, I wondered if I’d been right to set off.
I first heard of extreme dreaming on the BBC’s online site. There were interviews with people who, like me, enjoy spending time in a fantasy world. Nothing to do with hallucinations or delusions, and nothing to do with fan fics, sci-fi or computer games either. The situations and the characters imagined existed solely in the mind of the participants, and they all knew it. Some of them, like me, wrote their fantasies down. No problem there. Surely all fiction writers are fantasy prone: how else can a story be realised? I even included a comment about extreme dreaming in the bio in my first novel, Badge of Loyalty.
I can see that daydreaming could be a problem for a writer. Foolish to find yourself considering how to extricate protagonists from tricky situations when you’re on the motorway slip road. Real dangers there, not just imaginary ones. Much more sensible to compartmentalise one’s life and regard writing as a hobby or a job with flexible but limited hours. On the whole, that’s what I do–which isn’t to say that I don’t find myself daydreaming at other times. I do. Often. But as I noted in Badge of Loyalty‘s bio, I lead a very full ‘real’ life: daydreaming hasn’t taken over. I can see how it could, though. If someone’s trip to a fantasy world has greater appeal than life in the stay-at-home one, then they might be tempted to spend an excessive amount of time in a land divorced from reality. Apparently, this happens to some folk, and the term for resisting coming home is ‘Maladaptive Daydreaming’.
The term was coined in 2002 by an Israeli professor of clinical psychology, Eli Somer. In a paper for the Journal of Contemporary Psychology*, he defined MD as “extensive fantasy activity that replaces human interaction and/or interferes with academic, interpersonal, or vocational functioning”. Initially, the term described six patients who attended a trauma practice. (That is, they already had clinical diagnoses. In this instance, a ‘dissociative disorder’ or a ‘narcissistic personality disorder’.) All six had richly developed fantasy lives which they found so difficult to put on hold that real-life relationships, and sometimes work and study, suffered. Hence ‘maladaptive’. Fantasy proneness resulted in behaviour that failed to fit them for life.
Ooops…I can see some points of similarity between Somer’s six M. Dreamers and me: aspects of childhood experience, type of education, the reasons for fantasising, the (often violent) themes that are involved–Badge of Loyalty is brutal at the end. What’s more, there’s that word ‘dissociative’. Is it linked to the ‘disconnect’ described by Bogaert that characterises autochorissexuality/ aegosexuality? As I’ve posted before ( Aegosexuality and M/M fiction: strange bedfellows ), I attribute my interest in the M/M genre in part to having that disconnect. (Painting with a narrow brush there: my interest, not everyone’s.) Should I be attributing my interest to some form of malignant fantasising instead? I began to feel really uneasy reading this MD stuff. But, after all, Somer’s was a qualitative not a quantitative investigation and the participants were already in a fragile state of mind and he was only talking about six people and that doesn’t seem enough to build a theory of phobic behaviour on etc, etc… Does it? I enjoy daydreaming. I don’t want to start thinking that, somehow, it’s an unhealthy way to pass the time.
Well, other studies suggest that there is a difference between dreamers with a history of clinical referrals and dreamers who are more ‘psychologically healthy’. Here is Steven R. Gold’s take on the subject:
“…psychologically healthy subjects use their daydreams in a way that enhances their good feelings about themselves while distressed subjects interpret their daydreams as another sign of weakness, inadequacy, etc.” (Gold et al. 1986)
The second half of Gold’s sentence definitely describes Eli Somer’s patients. In fact, they found themselves in a feedback loop. On the one hand, daydreaming offered them a temporary respite from the negative feelings they had about themselves. On the other hand, surfacing from their fantasies resulted in guilt, confusion and self-awareness, which reinforced poor self-image and depression. That’s not how I feel about my daydreams at all. I don’t feel guilty about their contents and I’m sure that they’ve never made me feel depressed. On the contrary, I usually experience a self-satisfying sense of creativity when they’ve led to my adding some words to the page. I channel the daydreams into something pleasurable. And I suppose that, in a way, that gets me back to aegosexuality and the words ‘dissociative’ and ‘disconnect’. Similar words, but I don’t think that they mean identical things. (This world of psychotherapy is so very full of arcana.) Somer’s interviewees were dissociative in the sense that there were two sets of identities co-existing in a single person. (Knowingly. They were under no delusions.) They participated in their fantasies as this other person. Power fantasies. They became the charismatic, strong-willed, successful people that, in real life, they knew they couldn’t be. Small wonder that the reality left them feeling inadequate and depressed. My daydreams simply aren’t like that. They take place in the third person, not in the first. They’re the tales of a gay polyamorous quad. They neither involve me nor any ‘super-power-me’. I’m entirely disconnected from the polyam-related sections of the plots. I’m entirely disconnected from the four gay protagonists. I’m not trying to be like them and I’ve no wish to share all the aspects of their lifestyle. (I would like to live in rural County Durham though! In summer, anyway.) It seems to me that mine is a very different sort of ‘dis’ from Somer’s. OK, maybe working out plots that involve men shagging has its own set of problems, but maladaptive daydreaming isn’t one of them.
I do hope that Somer’s six people managed to get their lives back on track. If anyone feels that daydreaming–maladaptive, extreme or otherwise–might be affecting their life to the point that they find that daydreaming has become unwieldy and/or distressing, there is a long-running blog plus forum on the web which offers advice, links and a place to share thoughts and ideas about triggers and taking back control. It’s at http://wildminds.ning.com. ‘Wild minds’. That conjures up so many images…
Novels: Badge of Loyalty and Polyamory on Trial were both published in 2018 (February and August respectively). Paperbacks and e books from the usual distributors and from Rowanvale Books at http://www.rowanvalebooks.com. A third ‘Gay Quad’ story, Ace in the Picture will be published in late March 2019.
*See Maladaptive Dreaming: A Qualitative Inquiry. Eli Somer, Ph.D. Paper for the Journal of Contemporary Psychotherapy, Vol 32 Nos 2/3 Fall 2002. It’s downloadable and it contains the Steven R. Gold reference (Originally at Gold et al. (1996), ‘Daydreaming and Mental Health’ in Imagination, Cognition and Personality 6 (1) 67-73. ) Unfortunately, unless you are affiliated to e.g. a university, Gold et al.’s paper costs some money.