Mental Health: Maladaptive (Meta) Daydreams and Theology

There is a section of Psychology that deals with daydreaming, attention to the environment and how the neurons fire as we progress in thinking. This term “Maladaptive Daydreaming” comes from the diagnosis of someone who begins altering their thoughts and reality through daydreams but in excessive ways, sometimes even leading to them believing it is true. Along with severe (off scales) depression and anxiety clinical diagnosis, I was told that I have a form of Maladaptive Daydreaming (or Metadreaming). This caused alot of issues growing up, that now in hindsight I am able to distinguish were issues or causes from Metadreaming. Understanding this term as I went through Psychology courses, papers, writing and studying helped me better understand myself but also helped me reconcile so much of my life that I felt was lost in pieces due to not understanding why something happened.

NOTE: Metadayreaming and Maladaptive are the same.

What is Meta or Maladapative Dreaming?

Maladaptive daydreaming is a psychiatric condition. It was identified by Professor Eliezer Somer of the University of Haifa in Israel.

This disorder is not part of the new edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V). It doesn’t have any official treatment. But some experts say it is a real disorder that can have real effects on a person’s daily life and I’m a fair example of this. This is closely related to OCD in fact. Often treated the same.

This condition causes intense daydreaming that distracts a person from their real life. Many times, real-life events trigger daydreams. These events can include:

  • extremely vivid daydreams with their own characters, settings, plots, and other detailed, story-like features (escaping into books but without reading, getting too into movies, etc)

  • daydreams triggered by real-life events (music triggers MD extremely easily)

  • difficulty completing everyday tasks

  • difficulty sleeping at night

  • an overwhelming desire to continue daydreaming

  • performing repetitive movements while daydreaming

  • Sensory blocks to help focus on environments (i.e, wearing headphones all the time)

  • daydreaming for lengthy periods (many minutes to hours)

Some practical examples of this are when I’m reading a book like Lord of the Rings or even some theological books, I often find myself in a deep daydream after reading a simple sentence that triggers either memory or something I wish was happening in life. If I go awhile without finding new information or being “immersed” in something, I begin to “crave” it. I’m up every single night daydreaming about various things I could do the next day, past events that I would do differently, or even something more fantastic which I’ll get to in a few.

Meta-daydreamers have to fuel their daydreams or we become agitated, begin to tap our feet, need stimulation to feed into that. The emotions we daydream about, the feelings are extremely real to us. If you’re a meta-daydreamer thinking about falling in love - you’re going to feel it. That is why certain memories trigger certain responses, feelings and so forth.

You cannot be interrupted, if you are, you become increasingly irritable. Just ask my wife. If you’re in deep thought, watching a movie, listening to music. You getting interrupted may seem like the worst thing that happened that day.

If you have MD you often need a good book or movie to help itch your “immersion” side of the brain. Meta-dreamers are highly immersive in character. We often seek immersion through book, movie, video game or simply daydreaming.

Meta-dreamers often try to escape their current reality by letting time pass through immersive activities. This could be music, movies, video games or even something like a sport that eliminates day to day thoughts.

This meta-dreaming can be something that sounds harmless until you don’t know that you have it and you’re letting it seep into your reality. Think Stranger Things and the Upside Down right? You see the upside-down slowly creep into their reality and become more real every moment. This can be super dangerous in terms of how someone views their past, present or even their future. I’m going to confess some stuff in this article that is extremely difficult and flat out embarrassing for myself.

Shortcut version: Metadreaming can lead to chronic lying and manipulation.

Stories about Metadreaming

There was this girl I was dating back in High School, I was young, stupid and ultimately not a believer at this time. However, looking back in grace and the knowledge God has given me today, I know that I can confess these things in a good light. One huge thing that Meta-D’s do is find ways to escape realities that are often triggered by harmful situations. One day this kid, who liked the girl I was dating, came to the house to fight me. I wasn’t a fighter (at that time…yikes did that ever change). In fact, I told her that I wanted her to have him leave because I could see darkness in his eyes, I could see red in mine. That sounds like something from a movie because it probably was - I was maladapting to my surrounding situation through something that I remembered elsewhere that I enjoyed. I felt like I wanted to know I was stronger, I was more capable of my situation, so I created a false “aura” and told her I could see things. Ironically, I wasn’t high.

This is the kind of messy situation that can occur. There are plenty more but I’ll save those for the potential book I’ll write one day. That story sounds absolutely ridiculous, I am sure of it, because looking back, I feel the weight of embarrassment. Since then, I have found ways that really help me, one of them is writing. Another is listening to “score” music which music used in movies, it helps me daydream while I accomplish actual goals. One of the main issues with Meta-D’s are that they simply want to get thoughts out but the only way, for some, is to think them through to completion and then carry on.

The other main story thread I have, which I’ll give you a glimpse into, started back in the 5th grade. I created a universe in my mind, that eventually became a reality in my own mind, and would be an escape for me. It was actually highly biblical in design, think middle-earth meets Chronicles of Riddick. Do you think I didn’t base it off things I’ve experienced? Of course, I did.

This reality is a place where I would check out whenever I needed to. I would fight dragons, I would fight wars, I would have conversations with people in the world and so forth. Some years worse than others in terms of how much time I spent daydreaming over this. However, there were several points growing up I felt it was too real. I even indulged a friend in the 8th grade by telling him he could see it too if he wanted to, he just needed to believe it. This is Narnia level stuff, except, unlike Lucy, I was believing a lie and a fantasy that wasn’t real.

What changed? Do you believe in this nonsense now?

No. Thankfully, through help and study I’ve been able to overcome most of the meta-dreaming issues. This doesn’t mean I don’t deal with everyday though. I simply have it under control in terms of how it effects my present reality. The OCD factors are still prevalent, in fact, if I were not listening to Epic Score on Spotify right now, this article would never get finished. If I didn’t have this candlelit next to me giving me a smell I enjoyed, I’d probably let my mind wander on current events which are distressing. The practical issues of Meta-D still exist in my life, but the super-fantasy versions have died away as I’ve been able to reconcile why they existed in the first place.

Metadreaming played a negative roll in my life as it fed into my attention-seeking habits as a youth. It made me daydream about being with other women when I was dating in my low-twenties and it left a hole in my being that couldn’t be filled by anything less than significant fantasy. Something Jesus would fix later on and I will ever be thankful for.

What is the Theology portion here?

The text found in 2 Kings is something that helped me heal and process through my issues with metadreaming. It reads:

15 “When the servant of the man of God got up and went out early the next morning, an army with horses and chariots had surrounded the city. “Oh no, my lord! What shall we do?” the servant asked.

16 “Don’t be afraid,” the prophet answered. “Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.”

17 And Elisha prayed, “Open his eyes, Lord, so that he may see.” Then the Lord opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.

18 As the enemy came down toward him, Elisha prayed to the Lord, “Strike this army with blindness.” So he struck them with blindness, as Elisha had asked.

I thought, even at a younger age, “LORD, let me have these eyes. Just let me see. It’ll solve everything. Can you imagine how strong i’ll be in faith?” Yet, that isn’t how scripture works nor is it how the LORD works today.

Elisha somehow had eyes of another realm. Elish somehow had the ability to see into the realm where God existed and was protecting over him. Elisha knew the numbers of God’s army were great than that of the one seeking his life. Elisha saw angels, horses, and chariots made of fire. That seems just as fantastic as the fake world I created in my own mind. I thought about how great Elisha must have felt knowing that God was near but also being able to visibly see it.

As you can tell, at first, I was upset with God for not letting me have the eyes of Elisha but soon after, and with the help of proper theology, I was able to recognize that I didn’t need to see it. I read that it exists in the undeniable scripture, I can trust that it exists. There is a realm in which we cannot see, cannot touch or fathom - where God exists and his angels reside. Our reality is not the only reality.

Comfort stuck in and my time in my own world started to fade as my time in the LORDS Word began to grow. There was no need to escape my reality when I knew that God’s reality was so near and close, though not visible to my human eye.

God understands the in this fallen world, mental nuances will happen and they can be lighthearted at times but they can also become issues if left unattended. Thankfully, God doesn’t leave us to our regard, He has given us His holy spirit, His church, and His words.