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Is Escapism Harmful?

Trying to escape from your mental/physical reality is so, so easy to do, but just because something is easy doesn’t mean it is right. That’s why we are exploring escapism this month.

Repeatedly putting yourself in an alternative reality – one where you don’t have to deal with what’s going on – is harmful. Why is it harmful? For the simple reason that it prevents you from doing what you need to do in order to deal with the situation in a healthy way and move on in a positive manner. When this becomes a common pattern in an individual’s life, it can lead them to dissociate from life and what comes next can only be described as a slow destruction of our sense of self. A destruction of that which makes us who we are.

Have you ever watched the movie Inception? The principle behind the movie is simple; the main character feels he is responsible for his wife’s death and that guilt defines his reality. He escapes his true reality and chooses to live in a world where he does not have to deal with the guilt and grief of losing his loved ones. This is a brilliant example of escapism (although in a much more dramatic and cinematic way).

In much the same way, when we immerse ourselves in social media, music and other addictive behaviours in a way that is unhealthy, we are succumbing to that nagging thought in our mind that is trying to tell us that it’s okay to escape for a short while.

Before you know it, that short while becomes weeks, months, years.
Before you know it, that vibrant, emotional and multi-faceted person has become zombie-like.

Sometimes, individuals can choose to escape from their reality by ending it all. According to this theory, suicide is an extreme form of escapism, where individuals may be trying to escape their consistently painful and emotionally overwhelming reality. The truth is that our emotions define who we are! Sure, they can be difficult to feel and express, and of course we need to learn how to control them – but just because they are hard to deal with doesn’t make them bad or unhealthy. Take social media for example: Twitter, Facebook and instagram are not bad social platforms. The way we use them determines how bad/good they can be. It’s the same with our emotions; how we react to them, control them and deal with them determines whether they can make us or break us.

By escaping our reality, we are also escaping those hard-to-deal-with emotions. But here’s a secret…

You can never escape an emotion for long because it is part of your reality, and reality ALWAYS catches up with you.

So, how can we try to escape escapism? Well, it’s pretty simple:

  1. What are you escaping from? Stop and ask yourself this repeatedly until you can find the true answer. Is it a situation or a person? A phrase or a feeling? Sometimes it can be something as small as feeling embarrassed that causes us to move away from reality, become defensive and block ourselves from what is really happening. Sometimes, we could be escaping in a way that is not necessarily bad for us, like accessing another world to bring you back and improve your true reality is definitely good.

    It can be an arduous task trying to identify exactly why you need to escape, so don’t be afraid to seek help. Professional help in the form of a certified counsellor or psychologist is a good way of correctly establishing what you are going through and how to come back to reality.

  1. Try to come back to reality. Easier said than done, we know. However, once you figure out the details of your escapism patterns, then it becomes fairly clear what you are avoiding and what you need to do. Don’t worry though, you don’t need to set things in motion immediately. Give yourself time to deal with coming back to reality and the onslaught of emotions associated with this.

    Usually coming back to reality can be associated with feelings of shame and guilt because we feel that we have failed. It’s okay to feel this way, and know that you are only human. Humans are NOT perfect, and we DON’T need to be perfect, too.

  1. Build your support network. Being surrounded by the people we love and care about makes a huge difference to our mental wellbeing, whether we feel it or not. Social interaction and spending time just being yourself in a social setting is perfect for coming back to reality and overcoming loneliness and isolation. Again, you don’t have to do this all in one go – take baby-steps and see how comfortable you are with building a supportive environment for yourself.

    A lot of the times people feel that this support network has to be one group of people, when actually it can be multiple groups of people of even individuals from different settings and backgrounds. For example, a support network can comprise of certain family members, friends, co-workers and a few key confidantes whom you can share anything with.

  1. Accept yourself and be willing to create change. Self-acceptance is as important as being grateful to yourself and those around you. The third vital ingredient is change – which can come in any form, like giving yourself a break from social media or channelling your energy into another activity like sports, mindful meditation, gardening or being creative. Putting effort into the small ingredients of life can help you flourish, but it all starts with YOU.

Have you had any experiences of escaping escapism that you would like to share?

Sarah Gulamhusein

Sarah is a Master’s graduate in Psychology, having completed an undergraduate degree in Medical Biochemistry. She is passionate about mental health and has attained a good knowledge of mental illnesses from both a scientific and psychological perspective. From her early years, she has been a keen writer and has consistently used her words to raise awareness and battle the stigma of mental health in society, highlight the challenges faced by Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic communities within the UK – especially for an organisation called 1000women. She hopes to use her skills and motivation to inspire others, promote co-existence and help others.


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