By Seth Lusk
Why a conversation about escapism from reality is crucial.
Escapism from reality is something that not too many people are talking about these days. But, it is something that I find crucial for us to be discussing, and finding solutions for.
Hey friend. It’s me, coach Seth; with a rather interesting, and profound topic to talk with you all about today. I want to talk with you all about the idea of “escapism from reality”. It is something that so many people in the modern world are struggling with. They are struggling with escapism from reality in silence. They are struggling with it maybe with shame, guilt, or embarrassment.
But most people, maybe even you, are struggling with it, without even realizing that escapism from reality is a struggle of theirs. And the reason why you might not recognize that it is a struggle, is because you may be deeply, socially programmed to ignore the consequences of it in your life. You may also have been socially cued so frequently to believe that the impact of escapism from reality is just “how life is”, and therefore you do not consider that there is another option of how your life could look for you.
Let’s define “escapism from reality”
Let’s start off with defining what “escapism from reality” actually is. Knowing what it is, is the beginning of you being able to recognize patterns of it in your own life. The first step to taking your power back in life, and making a change, is awareness that an issue even exists.
So, escapism from reality is the tendency to seek out distraction from realities or circumstances, that are perceived as unpleasant, or uncomfortable. Distraction is usually sought in the form of entertainment, pleasure, or engaging in fantasy.
(for more reading on what escapism is, and its history- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Escapism )
I want to be clear here. I am not trying to say, and this does not mean that entertainment, pleasure, or fantasy are inherently bad. This does not mean that entertainment, pleasure, and fantasy are ONLY done to seek distraction or escapism from reality. So, if you are afraid to continue reading this article, because you are thinking that I am about to tell you to cut all entertainment, pleasure, and fantasy out of your life, then take a deep breath.
I am NOT wanting to ask you to cut entertainment, or pleasure, or fantasy out of your life. In fact, I believe that entertainment, pleasure, and fantasy are a WONDERFUL aspect of human life, that we can use to build our most fulfilling lives, WHEN we have a healed, and empowered mindset.
Time to talk details.
Now that you have the definition of escapism from reality, let’s talk about the details of it. I want to discuss in this article with you, how escapism from reality becomes a practice for many people, and why. I also want to talk about what we can begin to do about it (a surprising solution).
Escapism from reality is a behavior pattern that usually begins in the formative years of a person’s life. It is a coping strategy developed to handle feelings of stress or specific emotions in life, as a person is learning how to make sense of the world, and what it means for them.
This is not a bad thing necessarily. At the age where this strategy develops, a person is not yet aware or practiced in using other coping mechanisms that do not involve attempting to escape reality. So, this can actually be a healthy strategy to keep young minds from being in a constant state of distress, or a fight-or-flight state.
It is also not entirely unhealthy that we carry some of this into our adulthood. I want that to be clear here. Escape can have its positive space in a life that is authentic and fulfilling. Being able to accomplish this comes with some responsibility and awareness though.
The actions of escapism from reality
I think that it would be prudent here to define some activities that are escape from reality, so that we can begin to see here when and how these activities can move into territory where they are no longer healthy for us. Some activities would include
(the list can go on and on… Here is some further reading about escapism and behaviors associated with it- https://www.fortbehavioral.com/addiction-recovery-blog/escapism-coping-skill-or-detrimental/#:~:text=Common%20Escapist%20Strategies,net%20for%20life. )
Basically, anything that provides a shift in the story going on in a person’s mind about life around them, in a way that provides a shift in the emotional state of a person to one that is perceived as being more pleasant, or desired; is something that can be listed as a behavior falling in the category of “escapism from reality”.
Now… This does not mean that these activities, or even the motivation of escape are entirely unhealthy. And this has a lot to do with how humans experience reality. So, I want to take some time to clear this up first, before we move forward.
Often times, we get confused when we talk about reality, and what it actually is, versus our experience of it. This is because humans do not consciously experience reality as it IS, necessarily. We experience fragments of it, and then consciously interpret those fragments of it through the lens of a story that we have about life.
The stories that we have about life are based in beliefs we have created about life. These stories are also based in experiences we remember about life that we interpreted through a lens of beliefs that we had at the time of the experience.
This turns the human experience of reality into something very subjective when placed into context with the definition of what ACTUAL reality IS. So, what this all boils down to is being able to see that humans do not experience reality as it ACTUALLY IS. We experience it how it is through the lens of beliefs, stories, evidence collected, and through limited sensory abilities.
You might be wondering what this has to do with escapism from reality. So, let me clear this up, and get back to the topic at hand here. What this means is that technically speaking, we are all living in a story of reality at all points in time. This means that technically, we are all escaping reality at all points in time. We are escaping reality as it IS, into a story that we have about life, and what we believe it means for us.
This is not a bad thing. This is actually what makes humans so amazing, complex, and capable of creating some really incredible stuff in life. It is due to our ability to have these internal stories of life through which we experience life, that allows us to imagine possibility for the future, in which life COULD be different for us.
Walking the line of escapism from reality
So, escapism from reality is not entirely bad. That is the point that I really want to drive home here. But, this can have some very harmful effects in a person’s life. I think that it is very important for us as humans to recognize this, and the responsibility we have in having this power to experience and live in reality as we do. So, how do we walk the line of having our human power of escape, and living in subjective stories of reality, without crossing into the “danger zone”?
I think that the key here is intention. Obviously, the intention is always escaping reality. But, what is the intention for the intention of wanting to escape reality?
Here is what I mean… When we make a story about life that supports what we want to create in life, and supports what we want to believe about life, this is escaping reality. Because the reality is that life is just life, and we can interpret it to mean so many different things to support building the life we want to build. All of these interpretations are an escape from reality.
Also, in the process of building the life we want to have, we will encounter circumstances that will challenge us to figure out how we want to show up in life for those circumstances without derailing us from creating the life that we want. In doing this we put ourselves in challenges way. We choose discomfort, we choose stress, we choose difficulty. As we work through all of this the stress actually creates more strength, and more skill on the other side.
Where this becomes dangerous is when we move into distress. This is where the rate at which we are challenged is no longer enough stress to stimulate learning, and growth, but actually causes more damage than can be repaired, learned from, and rebuilt stronger on the other side before more damage is caused. This means that we never actually recover from the stress and grow from it, we just keep pushing ourselves further and further into damage.
This can happen due to many factors. One of those factors being when we get in a hurry to change because we are hating ourselves so much and want to change something quickly so we can feel like we are allowed to love ourselves. And this can lead us into over stressing ourselves into the point of distress, and our challenges become sources of trauma, not growth.
How this applies to escapism from reality is that sometimes, we will want to escape, by disconnecting from constant challenge into something that is restful, rejuvenating, and nourishing for our emotional state. This could mean something like watching a television show at the end of a day of productive, fulfilling work that challenged us, and moved us closer to the life we want.
It could also be meditation at the end of the same kind of work day. The chosen activity can be debated as to which is more beneficial, but the intention here is the same. It is to disconnect from the challenges, and recharge a bit before we choose to re-approach challenge/stress at an authentic pace for ourselves.
So, when we are using escapism from reality in the sense that we are building a life that we want, and every now and then we just want to switch off from the stressor part of building, and into the relax, and rejuvenate part of building, then escapism can be a very useful tool. This is because, in this scenario, it is not about someone being dissatisfied with their life, and therefore attempting to escape.
The tipping point
This is what I was referring to earlier when I said intention behind the intention. We want to ask ourselves; is the behavior about escaping a life you feel helpless, and powerless in, and therefore you hate that life so much that you want to escape? Or is the escape about creating an authentic rate of challenge, stress and therefore growth for you, that includes disconnecting from the stress at a pace that allows for recovery, and rejuvenation without it impacting your ability to show up for your true goals in life.
This is the tipping point of escapism from reality becoming something unhealthy for people. Unfortunately, as ways to escape become more and more prevalent, more and more people are using it in the unhealthy way. A lot of this use is coming from a lack of awareness, and lack of being taught proper tools to account for the brain’s primitive biological drives toward comfort.
Along with this, as more and more people use escapism from reality in an unhealthy way, it is being normalized societally as being “just how life is”. So, fewer and fewer people question if these behavior patterns are something to change in their life.
So, the question this brings up for me is, why are more and more people using escapism from reality in an unhealthy way? What has pushed society to turning to escapism in a way that tips over from intentional rejuvenation, and rest, and into the territory of avoiding life all together, or avoiding goals and dreams all together?
I think that one of the biggest sources of this shift is the focus that our society has on comfort as being the “goal” for life. The belief that the point of life is to reach that point where we are happy, and comfortable with life. It has caused so many people to create a very dysfunctional story of life, in which discomfort and challenge are just aspects of life we have to deal with and try and find ways to avoid it or eliminate it entirely. We have created an idea that the dream of life, is to not be in life at all.
Discomfort and challenge are just a reality of life, and escape can be used as a way to seek avoidance of this reality of life. Life feels uncomfortable and challenging, and always will, because there will always be more to learn and understand. To the primitive brain, uncertainty, unpredictability, and the challenge of this are seen as threats to its main objective, which is to keep us safe and alive.
When we allow escapism to become the practiced habit of the primitive brain to drive us to seek out when we feel something is uncomfortable or challenging, then what we do is end up avoiding life in general. We end up avoiding our own power in showing up in life to create a life that we want with intention.
To create a life that we want with intention, we will face challenge and uncertainty, as we learn new aspects of reality, and how to make our vision for our life work with those aspects of reality. If our objective in life becomes to avoid those aspects of reality altogether (uncertainty, challenge, etc…), then we end up creating a cycle of habits that disempower us from showing up in life the way that we would truly want to, based in our truest desires for life (not the ones based in avoidance to it).
This is where we have a choice to make when it comes to escapism from reality. We can make the choice to use escape to avoid what feels uncomfortable and uncertain for ourselves. In the process of doing so, we trap ourselves in a disempowered life, where we convince ourselves that there is no way to create the life we want. And this means that we just have to survive the life handed to us, and in order to do so, we use the coping strategy of escape.
We can make that choice, or we can make the choice to use escapism from reality in a way that is healthy for our growth. In order to do this, we want to be clear on what it is that we truly want out of life and why. This means being clear on core values, and sensitivities, and what those mean for you. It means being clear on how you want to express those values and sensitivities in this life, based on your mission statement of what you are here to create.
When a person has all of this in laser focus, and creates a plan based in a powerful “WHY” that stems from those core values and sensitivities, then a person is able to make conscious decisions about when it is beneficial for them to disconnect, recharge, and rejuvenate. These conscious decisions of using escapism from reality, are more about creating a life that you want. The other form is about escaping a life you feel stuck in having to deal with.
(for more about escapism and its relationship to addictive behavior- https://www.addictionhope.com/blog/escapism-and-addiction/ )
Identifying escapism from reality in your own life
Now, you might be wondering at this point if you are using escapism from reality in a healthy way. You already know how to look for the intention behind the escapism, but this is not always so simple for a person to observe for themselves without the help of a coach, or therapist. The reason why is because a person’ brain can be very practiced in creating stories about your reason for escaping that sound very reasonable and logical to a person. This is because the brain thinks that the escape is protecting you.
So, if you are not very practiced in observing this through an aware lens (by working with a coach or therapist to learn this skill), then often times the brain will convince you that YOUR version of escape is just a harmless, helpful practice. So, another way that you can look at this and get a bit clearer on whether you are using a form of escape that is harming you or helping you is to look at another area of life.
That area of life would be your results. What I mean by this is looking at the overall results of your life. Look at your health, look at your finances, look at you relationships. Do you see any patterns of feeling out of control in one or more areas? One big area for people that feels out of control that involves escape is food/weight.
Our bodies are biologically wired to receive pleasure from eating food. It is an outdated reward system that the body developed to drive us toward eating when food was scares and difficult to come by. So the body had to motivate us to want food, or we would have just sat and starved to death to avoid the dangers, uncertainties, and discomforts involved in seeking out food, preparing it, and eating it.
This same signal within our body exists today, but food scarcity no longer exists, and many people do not know the tools and strategies necessary to accommodate for this. Most people are not even aware of why they have the drive to eat. And this signal gets VERY confused also, because we have hyper-processed, highly palatable, unnatural foods that hit the reward receptors in our brains HARD. In a way that the brain does not know how to interpret the signal in a healthy, productive way. The brain begins to believe that these foods are THE MOST important thing in the world. This means that the brain rewards us with pleasure hormones when we eat them… And many times the dump of these pleasure hormones is MASSIVE.
So, what does this have to do with escapism from reality? Allow me to connect the dots here for you. This is a bit complex.
These pleasure receptors in our brain and the dump of pleasure hormones resulting from eating highly processed, highly palatable, unnatural foods (or even natural foods that are just highly processed), provide a temporary emotional response that alters our experience of life for a brief moment in time. This is the escape.
Remember that escapism is about seeking out distraction from what is felt to be uncomfortable. What could be more distracting from emotions that a person is uncomfortable with, than a massive dump of pleasure hormones into the blood stream?
Now, I want to be clear here that this does not mean that eating is always about escaping reality. I am also not saying that we should not derive pleasure from eating food. Again, this is all about intentions. But, as I said earlier, intention is not easy for a person to recognize. It is especially hard to recognize when they have been in the cycle of allowing their brain for a long time, to convince them to use escapism from reality to avoid creating the life that they want.
It’s in the results
So, we want to look at results in life here to be able to see whether food is being used to escape. And the biggest results to recognize this would be in your weight, and health. Our body gives us so many signals that food is being used in a way that it is not meant to be used. We have more and more metabolic diseases popping up regularly, related to overconsumption of food.
So, if you want to know if you are using food as a method of escape, then look at the results you have in life surrounding food. Another result you might notices is urges to diet, or “purge” your body of overeating (exercise, throwing up, fasting for extended periods of time to make up for overeating). These are also results in life that stem directly from using food to escape life. You may notice patterns of judging yourself, and using shame or guilt to try to motivate yourself to stop eating so much.
Look for results in your life to see if a behavior is being used to escape the reality of life. This applies to any behavior, not just food. There will be a pattern surrounding any behavior that is about escaping your life, to avoid life. The pattern will be that during and immediately after the behavior you feel a feeling or euphoria, relief, pleasure, escape, and then this is almost immediately followed by a consequence that is not desired.
Think about the last time you binge watched tv all day. Was it planned, and then after you went back to the life you have because you want to be in it? Or was it immediately followed by guilt or shame for having neglected something? Was it immediately followed by panic because you spent time that was planned for something else, to instead binge watch tv? Was the binge watching session immediately followed by chaos of trying to figure out how to get everything done in your life? These are all results in your life that point to the behavior being used to escape your life.
This is different from spending the day in front of the tv to recharge, and rejuvenate in a life that you are intentional about. The difference being that the day in front of the tv was planned because everything else is planned for, taken care of, and prioritized as you want it to be. So, spending the day in front of the tv does not put you in a position where you are not having to scramble to get things done. The time in front of the tv was intentional time that was planned to disconnect, and allow the brain and body to rest and rejuvenate from intentional stressors in your life that you chose to help you create the life you want.
So, when it comes to escapism from reality, we have 2 major ways of recognizing if we are using escape as a healthy stress management tool, or if we are using it as a way to escape life, and escape our responsibility in creating a life that we actually want. It is the difference between a life that is intentional and empowered, and a life that is completely disempowered, chaotic, and unintentional.
Look at the patterns of escape in your life. Look at the intention, and the intention behind the intention. Then, look at the results the behavior is producing in your life. This is how you can get really clear on whether you have a healthy coping strategy, or a behavior pattern that you are disempowering yourself with.
Since you now know how to begin identifying patterns of escapism from reality in your own life. You also know a way to differentiate if the pattern is one of intentional disconnect, and recharge vs. avoiding your life. It is time for us to discuss action here.
Awareness only puts you consciously on the field of the game. Whether you play the game or not takes action. And not being on the field is also not an option. You can choose to play the game unconsciously, and get results you feel stuck with. Or you can play with intention. Being consciously on the field of the game is the first step to playing the game with intention.
The next step is action. Belief=action, and action=belief. What this means is that once you become aware of the patterns, and that they are having an impact on your life that you do not want, it is time for action.
If you BELIEVE that these behaviors are impacting your life in a way that you do not want, then it is time for action. If you BELIEVE that you are capable of doing something different with your life, take action that says that. If you BELIEVE that finding out what you are capable of when you are intentional with that life, is important for you, take action that says that.
This is where so many people get stuck. One reason being that gaining awareness of your behaviors, and your power provides a sense of pleasure and relief. This can become a source of escape from reality. Spending time just sitting in discovery. Reading books to gain awareness, listening to podcasts, watching videos to gain awareness can also become a form of escapism from reality.
You will know this by intention, and results. And this one can be a bit tricky to see when it comes to intention. The intention here is to keep learning so that you can know everything there is to know before taking action.
This is done in avoidance to the reality of life, which is that you have the power to take action right now. The reality is that you are afraid to take action because you do not know what is on the other side of it. Many people call this state “paralysis by analysis”. You literally paralyze yourself from DOING something different by overwhelming yourself with more and more information so that you can avoid the uncertainty of action. And you justify it away by saying things like…
“I just need a little bit more information”…
“I just need to know HOW first”…
“But what if… I need to know HOW I will handle that first”…
“Once I know about _________ then I will feel comfortable enough to do something”…
(and many more ways you can say this)
The truth is that these statements are being used to avoid the reality that you want to take new action. On the other side of that new action is uncertainty that is not controllable. This is just part of life. Uncertainty is part of life, and it is even more a part of growing by moving into new territory we have not moved into before.
Don’t let education become your escape. Education is a great tool, when we are willing to take what we learn and put it into immediate uncomfortable action to see how we are going to apply it in an authentic way to our own lives. This means being willing to do it messy. It means being willing to do it uncertain. It means being willing to do it and get unintended results, and then learn from those results and do it again.
So, we are at that point now where you have awareness. You know what escapism from reality is. You know how to identify where you can be using it in a harmful disempowering way in life. You know now that action is the next step. You know that learning, and gaining more and more self-awareness is not the action that breaks this cycle.
It’s time for action!
So, what is the action you want to take here? The truth is, that I cannot answer that for you in this article. For every person that action will be unique, and powerful in a way that only makes sense in their life, and experience of it. But this does not mean that I cannot recommend and action that could help ANYONE in being able to decide your steps forward.
I do have a recommendation for your first action. That action is to get help. Hire a coach, hire a therapist. Get someone outside of you and your story of life to help you see more clearly what action you want to take based in what you truly desire once the lens of escapism from reality is removed.
As a life coach myself, I work with people on uncovering where they are using escapism from reality in a way that is harming them. I help them discover why they are doing this, and what exactly they are wanting to escape. After this, I help them find a new lens for life that is authentic for them, to help them look at life and know what they ACTUALLY WANT from life.
It is not about what I think they should want. We explore core values and sensitivities together. I facilitate a safe space for them to explore those values and sensitivities and what they mean for them and their life. I help them to discover how they want to apply those values to a life that expresses them in a deeply authentic and fulfilling way. Then we get to work on creating a plan of action.
I help them remove “should”, “have to”, and “need to” from their plan. I do this by helping them see clearly what they WANT, and therefore what actions they WANT to take to create that in life. We create an unstoppable authentic movement forward that sets them free to fly on their own, with confidence.
End the story of “escapism from reality”.
I want to encourage you today to look honestly at escapism from reality and how it is showing up in your life. I want you to take an honest look at the results in your life, and stop letting your brain tell you some story about how these results are just what you have to deal with in life. I want you to see that you have power in creating results in life that you WANT. It starts with removing the patterns of escape that are about resistance and avoidance to life.
I want to encourage you today to break free from wanting to escape a life you feel lost and trapped in, and step into an empowered life. I want you to see that an intentional empowered life is not just an option for you. It is what you are DESIGNED for. You are not feeling fulfilled in life, because you are surviving against your own design by existing in a story of life that is about avoidance.
It is time to stop surviving and avoiding. It is time to start living a life you are excited to be in. Escapism from reality does not have to be your life story. Belief=action, action=belief. What do you WANT to believe you are capable of in this life if you did not want to escape it? I can show you how NO dream you have is too big for you to BELIEVE it is yours to LIVE.
RISE & THRIVE my friend.