On Escapism


Article by Nathan Michels, Section Editor

Reading Time: 3 minutes

In some other dimension, the grass must be greener than here. How tempting it would be to escape to such a place, leaving behind the stresses and anxieties of our current reality? In fact, we actually do this all the time in contemporary society, through escapism. So what is it exactly?

Escapism can be explored along the lines of language, philosophy, and psychology. In the dictionary, escapism is a “mental diversion from unpleasant or boring aspects of daily life, typically through activities involving imagination or entertainment.” In philosophy, it is “the attempt to avoid awareness of aversive beliefs” contradictory to your own. And in psychology, “the tendency to escape from the real world to the safety and comfort of a fantasy world.” 

Taking these definitions together, we can say that escapism is an activity that allows us to avoid discomfort. 

Books, video games, or other mundane activities can all allow us to detach from reality and push us away from disruptive beliefs. Distractions help escapists avoid other people, a common source of life’s troubles. Through various escape routes, escapists can temporarily forget people around them, setting aside feelings of guilt, anxiety, and helplessness. In short, avoiding triggers of negative emotion is at the core of escapism.

Unsurprisingly, everybody engages in some sort of self-deception and escapism. It’s natural to avoid certain emotions and ideas. But escapism becomes much more dangerous when the act of escaping becomes our reality. When it becomes too uncomfortable for us to face reality, that becomes a problem. No matter how painful the real world can be, we belong in it, with real people, where there are real consequences. Hiding from reality never solves problems. Still, people will continue to use a number of methods to escape their problems. 

Perhaps the most common escapism is actively distracting oneself from a problem. Other ways include denying a problem verbally, putting oneself in positions to only hear the desirable side of an issue, joining groups that speak against a conflicting idea, or even rejecting the act of argument itself.

Let’s look at an example: A person has a boring love life, so they read romance novels to forget reality. This person may also say that they don’t need love, denying the issue. They may surround themselves with others who hold similar views, or they may look up to a charismatic leader who supports their opinion. Through all of this, they still want to have a more interesting love life but need a way to keep their mind away from the negative thoughts that surround their situation. 

What’s the problem here? It’s certainly not that the person doesn’t want to face the negative emotions of an uninteresting love life, but rather the ways in which they tackle these emotions. Reading a book, or surrounding yourself with supportive people is totally fine. But at a certain point, we should recognize that confronting, rather than escaping, the root of negativity is the best choice. While difficult, this is the only way to get around such a roadblock in life. 

But calculating whether or not confrontation is necessary can be a challenge because many of us can’t read others so well. We would like to think we have an understanding of the people around us and ourselves, but this often turns out to be untrue. Reading a romance novel might be harmless for one person, but might lead another into delusion. The nuances of each person’s life can make it extremely difficult to decide the best solution to a negative circumstance. So if we can’t make this calculation accurately, what should we do?

We should start questioning whether we are actually partaking in escapism and identify the root emotion behind our decision. It isn’t reasonable to expect ourselves to live in reality 24/7—it’s nice to have a temporary release from stress sometimes. But when we find ourselves wanting to escape, we must ask ourselves, “Am I deliberately avoiding this problem?” and “Why am I avoiding this problem?” In actively searching for a form of escapism, we can be mindful and intentional. With some introspection, we can immerse ourselves into reality, while having the liberty to take a break every once and a while. 

In the end, life is meant to be lived fully. We should experience a range of emotions, not because it’s the easiest and most comfortable thing to do, but because it is deeply fulfilling and ultimately joyful.

I wish you the best on your journey to embrace reality and live consciously through it.