Escapism: Why You Run Away From Your Problems

Learn how to manage the devious habit of escapism, and why you do it in the first place

Escapism has been a common theme in my life. Come to think of it, I was always wearing an emotional Band-Aid because there was something hidden in the dark waters of my subconscious that I wasn’t ready to confront.

My desire to escape reality started as a coping mechanism. During my youth, I had a lot of mental issues, which led to a lot of emotional issues. I was miserable, and later discovered that alcohol and drugs temporarily relieved those painful feelings.

So I took pretty much whatever I could get my hands on. Coffee, alcohol, weed, nicotine, amphetamines, psychedelics, cough syrup, designer drugs, you name it. I did anything I could to induce an altered state of consciousness because that was the only time I felt like I was solving my problems.

Every time I came back down to Earth, it was just a matter of time until the feelings of emptiness returned. Again I would look for a fix. Life went on like this for quite a while until I had some revelations.

Then started the nomadic phase of my life. Don’t get me wrong, traveling has been one of the best things I’ve ever done, but no matter where I went or what I did, that feeling of emptiness would come back to haunt me.

I became so good at escapism, that I crafted an entire life around it. There was always a new adventure to embark on, another girl to date, something to drink or a drug to take. I never just sat with my experience of consciousness undisrupted for long enough.

So what was I really escaping from?

Understanding the desire to escape reality

Drinking beers on My Khe Beach, Da Nang, Vietnam

Escapism is a conscious or unconscious avoidance of reality. It’s when you distract yourself from experiencing undesirable feelings, thoughts, or situations.

Escapism isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The occasional detachment from reality by being engrossed in a movie or having some drinks with friends can give you some much-needed space from your problems, where you can revisit them with a clear head.

When you excessively escape as a means of avoiding something that needs to be resolved in your life, that’s when escapism becomes an unhealthy habit. People tend to excessively escape as a coping mechanism, but they’re not fixing the problem.

While some coping mechanisms like meditation, deep breathing, or venting to someone help you address the underlying problem, escapism is an avoidance of the symptoms, so you never get to the bottom of it. As a result, those problems, feelings, or situations just get worse, because they’re been neglected.

Excessive escapism is a poor management of your emotional health. As a result, it leads to more stress and less productivity, and it makes you feel worse because you’re not moving the needle in your life.

Behavioral manifestations of escapism

Below are some common ways that people escape their problems.

Types of escapism

Below are different different forms of escapism

Artistic:

Artistic escapism refers to activities such as painting, writing, playing music, or creating poetry. Artistic escapism is good for you as it gives you an emotional outlet through self-expression, and can also be therapeutic.

Entertaining:

Things like reading books and watching movies fall into the category of entertainment-based escapism.  This form of escapism has its benefits as it offers a mental refuge for a while, but it can also be a problem when the activity becomes excessive, as you end up neglecting the issue at hand.

Imaginative:

Imaginative escapism is when you do things like daydream and fantasize. This form of escapism can offer quick relief (after all, you can just think about your happy place), but doing it too often won’t help as it can lead to avoidance.

Impulsive:

Impulsive escapism is when you aim to get a dopamine fix. This is the most dangerous form of escapism as it can quickly spiral into addiction. Impulsive escapism includes activities such as drinking, taking drugs, eating junk food, and seeking excessive sexual activity. 

Impact on mental health

Escapism

Your desire to avoid feeling unwanted emotions results in compulsively doing something. This unhealthy indulgence acts as a Band-Aid fix as it’s just covering up the issue, not creating a solution.

Often, people turn to escapism when they don’t have the emotional intelligence to deal with their trauma, stress, or mental health issues such as depression or anxiety. The more severe the issue, the more of an incentive there is to avoid working on it, which can cause a relentless cycle.

Put it this way; Nobody wants to do the dishes, but if you let them pile up, you’re just going to have more dishes to clean.

In this sense, if you avoid your mental health issues, whether it be depression, PTSD, or anxiety, they’re just rotting under the surface of awareness. They’re not going anywhere just because you’re not looking at them.

That’s why it’s important to acknowledge your tendency to escape undesirable experiences and learn how to deal with them more healthily.

You need to make a practice of properly managing, processing, and healing your wounds instead of pushing them deeper into your subconscious to rot.

How escapism exacerbates mental health issues

When you are confronted with a difficult situation, it’s easy to bury yourself in social media, watch porn, and drink your life away. By giving in to the desire to avoid looking at why you feel the need to do these things, you become reliant on things to distract yourself.

So you end up seeking constant pleasure to mask your pain, while your problems keep piling up because they’re being ignored.

Imagine you start feeling ill. Instead of going to a medical professional, finding out why you’re ill, and treating the cause, you neglect it. Because you’re neglecting the problem, the symptoms just get worse, because the underlying problem hasn’t been treated.

This is how escapism works. If you’re feeling a certain way and decide to watch TV instead of exploring those emotions, you’re ignoring the issue.

When does escapism become a problem?

Excessive escapism hinders your personal growth. As someone striving to grow into your best, healed self, you need to face your issues head-on and get to the bottom of them. You need to do the shadow work to uncover why you feel a certain way (and why you’re avoiding those feelings).

When escapism becomes a problem, there is a root cause to it. This root cause could be stress, trauma, or dissatisfaction with your life. In my case, my desire to escape was mostly because of trauma.

Can you identify why you feel the need to escape?

Identifying your tendency to escape

Man running from his problems

It was a matter of time until I was in a situation that I couldn’t escape from. I couldn’t drink away my problems, I couldn’t go out and date. I was alone, helpless, and I knew that it was time to go inwards.

So I dried myself out and spent a lot of time hiking in nature and meditating. It was uncomfortable at first, but I gained some important insights by giving my true, undisrupted emotions and audience.

I realized that I still had some pretty severe childhood wounds that were never actually healed. I thought I had overcome them by building an exciting lifestyle, but it was just a distraction to avoid regressing into childhood feelings.

And it wasn’t until I was forced back into those feelings that the healing actually began. There was no escaping it.

Identify what you're avoiding

There’s a fine line between using escapism to relax and using it to avoid a painful feeling. You need to identify why you’re escaping, and if you’re doing it for the right reasons.

If you’re simply putting on a movie to relax after work, it’s probably not a big deal. But if you feel you need to do something to get away from a particular experience, then it’s coming from a place of avoidance.

Ask yourself whether the reason why you’re escaping is due to a problem, or emotion.

Is it an emotion that you’re struggling to deal with? If this is the case, you might be using escapism as a way to avoid facing your trauma. If so, you need to take a problem-oriented approach by sitting with those emotions and processing them.

On the other hand, you might be using escapism to avoid dealing with a problem in your life. If this is the case, you need to take a solution-oriented approach and work out a resolution to the problem.

What's the root cause?

Escapism is the effect, not the cause. By identifying the cause and healing that wound, you’re going to make the effect obsolete.

Dig around for your sore spots to identify the root cause for your tendency to escape. Is it something related to your social life, or sexual life? Is it stress related to a job, or perhaps not having a job? Do you feel insecure about something?

Look into your problems and try to get to the bottom of it. Follow the emotions back and identify negative recurring patterns in your life that indicate a problem

Accept your problems without judgment and realize that pain is very human. There is nothing wrong with you for struggling at times. Remember that during those difficult times, and try to catch yourself every time a painful feeling surfaces.

Finding balance with escapism

Woman opening her mind with books

The aim of the game is not to completely stop escapism. It’s a natural part of our lives, and it can be useful. But there’s a balance you need to strike.

I suggest sticking to creative escapism as the act of creating things can actually benefit your mental and emotional health. It’s essentially impossible to go overboard when you’re doing something productive and therapeutic.

Avoid impulsive escapism, and be strict with yourself when you’re indulging. Make sure you’re also not indulging to avoid a certain feeling.

Otherwise, keep other forms of escapism to a minimum. It’s okay to watch movies, just be careful not to do it all the time. Recognize when you’re escaping just to relax and enjoy, and when you are doing it excessively.

Use escapism as a signal

Try to view excessive escapism as a signal to reevaluate yourself, and to look at what could use improving in your life.

These uncomfortable feelings are a corridor to growth, as long as you decide to look into your pain. If you try to escape your pain, you also avoid learning what you need to learn to grow as a person.

That’s why it’s so important to stop resisting what you’re feeling and give your true feelings an audience.

Start reflecting

Overcome your desire to escape by cultivating self-awareness. If you find yourself escaping, reflect. Think about why you’re doing it and what you’re running away from. To cultivate an awareness about hidden feelings that you’re unconsciously escaping, think about the following points.

  • What activities do you engage in the most, and how often do you do them?
  • Are there any stressors in your life that have been around for a long time?
  • What are you insecure about? Are you taking steps to solve these insecurities?
  • Is there any pressing problem in your life that you have consciously been avoiding?
  • Are you aware of any triggers that you have that could be pointing to hidden trauma?
  • Do you notice any reoccurring patterns in your life, and wonder why it keeps happening?

Become more proactive with your issues

Start taking action with your problems and look for solutions. Shift your energy from escaping a situation to fixing it. If there’s an outstanding issue in your life, get it out of the way before relaxing.

People tend to spend so much energy on escaping a situation when those resources should be used to problem solve. Before you turn away from your problems, realize that you have all the power over the situation, and only you can fix it.

Be productive instead

Next time you feel the need to drink a beer or sink into the TV series you’re watching, change it up. Try exploring new hobbies that actually help you relieve stress and go into your emotions, while simultaneously being enjoyable.

Meditation is a great practice to start. Try going for walks in nature, or doing some yoga or breathwork. There are many things you can do that will benefit you. And once you practice them enough, you’ll find them to be so much more fulfilling than doing something.

Sit with your emotions to heal the root trauma

Healing comes from being completely present with your emotions. Try not to distract yourself when you feel crap. If you do that every time you feel miserable, your desire to escape will lose power.

It seems counterintuitive, but going into those feelings of contempt is what moves the needle with your healing. By being present with those emotions, you’ll find that it dredges everything up and out.

1 comment

brenda 13 September 2023 - 6:45 am

really important…yes..make pain your friend…opposite of
knee jerk reaction..like touching a hot object…natural reaction is
to pull back…who wants to sit in a pot of boiling water…but maybe if more of us did..
we realize what we `ve done to our home…this planet

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