BY: Adrian Smith
In 2002, Professor Liora Somer began treating adults who had been sexually abused during childhood, finding that a number of her patients used daydreaming as an escape from the reality of their situation. These patients would immerse themselves in a world of imagination, coming up with liberating storylines and personality traits that fulfilled the life experiences they felt were lacking in their waking lives. Somer called this condition ‘maladaptive daydreaming,’ but discontinued her research on the subject. Fourteen years later Somer, along with a number of other researchers from the University of Haifa in Israel, Fordham University in New York and the University of Lausanne in Switzerland, continued her work on this bizarre phenomenon. Together they’ve found that some people spend an average of 60 percent of their waking life daydreaming, and though they’re conscious of the fact that they are fantasizing, continue anyways—without losing contact with the real world. Their daydreaming typically begins as something of a small fantasy, which makes people feel good seeing as their minds have run off to a place they’ve created themselves—but this can start to get addictive over time. We all daze into wandering thought throughout the day, sometimes creating wish-fulfilling situations, but a feeling of shame and genuine lack of fulfillment can comes with an excessive of daydreaming. When Jayne Bigelsen and Cynthia Schupak picked up Somer’s research they studied 90 individuals who said that they too often daydreamed and noticed the detrimental impact it was having on their lives. Researchers found maladaptive daydreaming was just as common among those who did not face adverse childhood conditions as the ones that did. A number of others began reaching out to these psychologists and professors after they completed and publicized their findings—all of them claiming to be suffering from MD and inquiring about any sort of treatment. The researchers followed up with another two qualitative studies and even interviewed dozens of those individuals suffering from the disorder. They began noticing recurring themes among those they interviewed. Specifically, those dealing with the psychological disorder really found it pleasant at first, claiming it allowed them to relax and made them feel happy, but because of this it quickly turned into something addictive and began to consume their day almost entirely, while also impairing their normal functions seeing as they weren’t ever paying full attention.
One of the studies Somer and Bigelsen published in the journal ‘Consciousness and Cognition’ revealed their successful development of a maladaptive daydreaming scale. They used a rather large sample size (447 individuals) to test the scale’s ability to differentiate between normal, healthy daydreamers and maladaptive daydreaming—providing them with the first diagnostic research instrument to test the pathological aspects of this newly discovered disorder. A second study saw individuals from 45 different countries around the world (ages 13-78) get checked out for MD. The subjects who proved to be affected by the disorder noted that the first thing they wanted to do in the morning, as soon as they woke up, was daydream. The next step Somer addressed is developing a suitable treatment for those who suffer from this strange psychological disorder.