[NOTE: please read the second and third paragraphs from this post before continuing. Important–don’t skip reading them!]
Everybody daydreams to some extent, and daydreaming, incidentally, is a mild form of dissociation. Some otherwise normal people take their dissociating a little further, though, and daydream, on occasion, at inappropriate times.
Then you have people like me.
We daydream constantly, addictively. We enjoy living in the world we dissociate into, and want to stay in that state, on and off, for hours on end. We may pace back and forth in our bedrooms, or in the halls, or anywhere alone, where we’ll have peace and quiet, away from human distractions.
I don’t do it anywhere near as much as I did when I was a child; but then again, I don’t have that pathetic excuse for a family around (<<<read the links to know why I judge them so harshly) to make me want to escape from them into a world of fantasy. That goes double for those who bullied me at school.
Many different kinds of people engage in maladaptive daydreaming: people with obsessive-compulsive disorder, ADHD, autism (!), and others. What they seem to have in common, however, is a wish to escape the horrors, or boredom, of regular, everyday life.
Maladaptive daydreamers also have considerable creative gifts, which come naturally as a result of regularly exercising their imaginations. Certainly Dr. Eli Somer, the Israeli psychologist who discovered this peculiar form of dissociation in several trauma victims he was treating, thought of them as gifted.
Still, this daydreaming is maladaptive because those who engage in it do so to the extent that it interferes with their ability to study, hold down a job, or pursue relationships with other people.
Mine wasn’t so bad that I couldn’t work or study, but when I was young, I found the fantasy conversations I had with people in my head better company than the real people who surrounded me. Childhood emotional abuse in the forms of family bullying and gaslighting, as well as school bullying, tends to make a person rather antisocial by the time he reaches adolescence.
The other extreme of this form of dissociation, as opposed to the one I mentioned at the beginning of this post, is dissociative identity disorder, DID, formerly known as split personality or multiple personality.
Dr. Somer discovered and wrote about maladaptive (or excessive) daydreaming in about 2002; his ideas were ignored by his fellow psychologists at first, but his research gradually made an impact and even went viral. Something that I find ironic is how, at roughly the same time as that of Somer’s first published research on maladaptive daydreaming, my mother was first telling me about Asperger Syndrome (AS), insisting that I have it. If her intentions (“to help” me, she said) were anywhere near as noble as she’d claimed, and information on maladaptive daydreaming was already available, why didn’t she even try to find out about it, instead of perpetuating her autism lies by trying to force me to accept the AS label? Looking into Somer’s research is what would have truly helped me!
Her gaslighting me into believing I have an autism spectrum disorder, perpetuating it with her BS about ‘my AS’, was not only cruel, it was stupid. What on earth made her think that saying I have AS would go over well? What did she expect me to do? Thank her? Her sad death without any comfort from me, in that hospital in May of 2016, with my brother R. at her bedside, means that insofar as I ever meant anything to her at all, pushing AS on me was the worst mistake she’d ever made in her entire life.
Learning about maladaptive daydreaming could have helped the family not only understand me better, but also find better ways than shaming me to help me stop the bad habit. They’d have also understood my imaginative gifts better, and been motivated to redirect my creativity into more productive outlets (writing, music, art, etc., instead of my wasting day after day in fantasy).
I gave the family many opportunities to be exposed to my creative side, but their acknowledgement of it was minimal, at best. I composed music (under my original name), wrote poetry and prose, and got little, if any encouragement. There was no dearth of ‘constructive’ criticism, though.
Mom claimed that this piece I wrote for the late husband of my sister, J., was “plodding”. Instead of turning a deaf ear to the, admittedly, mechanical nature of the computer MIDI sounds, Mom focused on it, as she did to all the other pieces I’d composed with the Finale software.
The string sounds in my Piano Quintet (a piece she superficially complimented as being “very impressive!”) were “tinny”, and she insisted she was being “constructive” in her criticisms; but how could I improve on the sounds without real musicians available to record the music for me?
I slaved for a year composing my Symphony In One Movement. When I said to her, during a visit to Canada (I live in east Asia), that I wanted to listen to the 35-minute composition with her, Mom scowled and said, “No, I don’t (i.e., ‘want to have to listen to it again’)!” She’d criticized, by email after hearing a CD I’d burned of it as a gift I mailed to her and my father, that the symphony was structurally all over the place, with no sense of unity among the many featured orchestral instruments.
Actually, I structured the piece very carefully: a close listening will make it evident that my symphony is rondos within rondos, with sonata-allegro form (towards the beginning, after a brief intro), binary form (the following slow section), a scherzo and trio in the middle, a theme-and-variations section after that, then a kind of experimental ‘mirror’ section. The overall ‘rondo-within-rondo’ effect is like Russian dolls (i.e., the rondos get smaller and smaller, or shorter and shorter). The link is above, Dear Reader, so you can hear it and decide for yourself whether or not my symphony is well-structured or ‘all over the place’.
Now, none of this is about debating the worth of my musical abilities. The point is that a truly loving mother would have the tact and grace to emphasize the positive of anything her sons or daughters created, regardless of whether her children were actually talented or not; any comments critical of her children’s creative output would be given as carefully and gently as possible. For no matter what level of talent her kids have, she wants to give them a maximum of encouragement…because she loves them.
My mother made it obvious that she had no intentions of encouraging me whatsoever. She’d pay a bit of lip service to my accomplishments, but little more than that. In contrast, she showered my sister, J., with praise for writing an expository essay (when she was in university) on our maternal grandmother’s descent into the horrors of Alzheimer’s disease, what seems to me to have been one of J.’s attempts to win Mom’s favour (i.e., by adding the grandeur of the family, an extension of Mom’s ego). Only if Mom’s children’s creative efforts gave her narcissistic supply (directly or indirectly), would she praise us…and J. was always the golden child of the family.
I suspect that Mom, as another manifestation of the narcissism I suspect she had, envied my musical creativity. Again, I’m not trying to say I’m some kind of unsung genius (geniuses are tireless workaholics, of which I am none). The point is that she couldn’t even do the limited number of musical things I can do (I’m the worst keyboardist in the world, I have no formal musical training, and I composed all that music by clicking a mouse to put notes on the staff. To get a more accurate idea of what I can do musically by actually playing instruments and singing, check out these pop songs I wrote and recorded [poorly], if you’re interested.) What is the first thing that people who are envious of you do when faced with your abilities, be they great or small (<<as mine undoubtedly are)? They tear you down, either subtly or blatantly.
But going back to my childhood maladaptive daydreaming, for which the family constantly tore me down, one of the main ways that they shamed me for it was by adopting a stupid-sounding, pejorative expression my sister J. coined to describe it: she called it “tooka-tooka.” (And J. wonders why I don’t believe her when she says the family loves me.) There’s nothing like making up childish names for your habits to continue a campaign to make you feel worthless.
Those ignoramuses that I grew up with had an up-to-fifteen-year opportunity to learn the correct, and non-insulting, name of what I was doing; but they, mindlessly parroting our mother, would rather continue to link my odd habit with ‘my autism’, and use it as a basis for humiliating me. They had no motivation to learn of a term that’s gone viral worldwide, a concept they could have found with relative ease had they bothered to look, and a term that would have truly helped me!
And they scratch their heads, wondering why I no longer want anything to do with them. They blame me entirely for my estrangement from them, and never blame themselves for causing even a significant part of the problem.
While it is true that many on the autism spectrum engage in maladaptive daydreaming, many non-autistics do, too (people with OCD, ADHD, PTSD, C-PTSD, victims of bullying and abuse [!], etc.); if the family wants to prove that I have AS, they’ll have to look elsewhere than maladaptive daydreaming for proof.
The rationalization behind shaming me about my dissociating was, of course, to discourage me from continuing with the habit. It shouldn’t have been too hard a concept to understand, though, that shaming an already sensitive, emotionally vulnerable 7-year-old child who’d been devastated after moving from Toronto to Hamilton in 1977, and leaving his best friend forever (read this, Part 1–Childhood, for the whole story) would only make him feel more socially isolated, thus making him engage in maladaptive daydreaming all the more.
As I’ve explained elsewhere, my father growled at my brother R. (at my older brother F., too, to an extent) for getting poor grades at school. His shaming of my brothers didn’t improve their academic performance one jot. Why would R., F., and J. have thought shaming me would have resulted in any success in stopping my dissociations?
To be fair to my siblings, they were young, and therefore not mature enough to understand how dysfunctional their methods were in deterring me from my odd habit. But my father and mother (apart from her apparent narcissism) didn’t lack maturity: why didn’t they explain to R., F., and J. that they were going about the whole thing the wrong way? Oh, wait, I forgot: Dad still thought shaming was the right way, for he was a slave to his own conservatism; and Mom, well…just read these to get the whole story.
What’s more, the shaming I got from R., F., and J. continued well into their young adulthood, so the immaturity excuse won’t carry them very far. And as I explained here (in Part 3–The Dawn of Realization), if they really believed I’m autistic, then making grumpy, impatient demands that I stop with my idiosyncrasies and ‘just act like normal people’, would make them a special kind of stupid.
My siblings aren’t stupid, though; nor were my parents. If there’s one positive I’ll acknowledge about all of them, it’s that they were and are, at least reasonably, intelligent. So neither stupidity nor enduring immaturity is enough to explain why they thought shaming me was the way to deter my excessive daydreaming.
Cruelty for its own sake, buried under a pile of dubious and hypocritical rationalizations about ‘wanting to help’ me, is a far better explanation for all their shaming. Emotional abusers’ whole agenda is about having power and control over their victims, as well as having a convenient human punching bag they can take all their frustrations out on.
This is why the family doesn’t deserve my forgiveness.
I mentioned in previous posts how I find it the safest of assumptions that my mother was bad-mouthing me to R., F., and J., my whole life, this being a far better explanation, as to why they bullied me, than that I was ‘so frustrating’ to live with. My wife gets irritated with my quirks and idiosyncrasies all the time, yet she feels no tremendous urge to yell and scream at me, or to use abusive, four-letter language on me.
Mom’s bad-mouthing of me wasn’t limited to her squirting poison in the ears of R., F., and J.: she was smearing me to anyone who’d listen, including the staff at our restaurant back in the 80s, when I was a teen. I know of this because she did the bad-mouthing in front of me, on at least a few occasions!
Once she used J.’s “tooka-tooka” word to make me and my maladaptive daydreaming seem foolish in front of a new cook, who laughed and said, “What’s that?”
She said, “Oh, it’s his game,” with a dismissive air of contempt. She went on describing my bad habits like that, right in front of me and not caring at all how she was embarrassing me; for amusing the new cook, by making me–a kid, her son–look like an idiot, gave her a much-coveted ego trip. And ego trips were more typically important to her than her son’s feelings, I assure you, Dear Reader (her lack of empathy for me, or for anyone else, was most consistent).
On another occasion, not far from the time she’d embarrassed me in front of the new cook, she asked about my excessive daydreaming; if I remember correctly, this was also in front of the restaurant staff (asking me in our house, where Dad and my siblings knew as much as they needed to know…for their purposes…seems less likely). Mom, in an uppity, irritable tone, clearly shaming me and showing me no empathy, sneered and snapped, “What do you do (i.e, ‘when you do that’)? What are you doing (i.e., ‘when you tooka-tooka’)?”
Naturally, I had no answer to give her from such a shaming. Again, if she’d asked me nicely, encouraging me to open up and give a full explanation, she could have gotten some real insights about my creative imagination, and the family could have been motivated to get me to channel my creativity into productive outlets, examples of which I shared above.
Such encouragement, however, was never the family’s plan. As the identified patient, the family scapegoat, I was only to be shamed all the more for my maladaptive daydreaming. I was never meant to be ‘helped’, to get better. I was meant only to be controlled by Mom and the rest of the family.
Again, I must ask: my mother ‘loved’ me?