Today’s life is a stressful adventure, an increasingly accelerated journey to nowhere that often ends up overflowing us. To deal with everyday problems – and those less common – we all put into practice different coping strategies.
You may not be fully aware of your coping strategies, but that does not mean that you do not use them to deal with stressful and conflicting situations in life. These coping strategies have two essential objectives: keep you afloat in the toughest moments and solve the problem.
However, not all coping strategies are effective, mature and psychologically healthy. Some may even create more problems than they solve by making you hit bottom emotionally. Escapism is one of them. And all, to a greater or lesser extent, we are escapists.
What is escapism? The evasion Psychology
Escapism is a coping strategy that implies the tendency to evade the real world looking for the desired security and tranquility in a fantasy world. It usually implies an uprooting from reality to find refuge in a fictional and parallel universe, although it can also involve fantasies related to a better, more powerful, successful or important “ego”.
It is also known as Houdini Syndrome, alluding to the faculties of the legendary Hungarian escapist of the 19th century. However, in Psychology, escapism is an avoidance mechanism that involves escaping conflicts, problems and/or daily responsibilities.
The most common escapist strategies to evade reality
There are different ways to escape from a reality that we don’t like. Some people can spend hours trying to unlock the next level of a video game while others get lost in the black hole of social networks. There are those who immerse themselves in TV series marathons and those who fade between the pages of a book, or engage in activities that have no meaning or relevance, when they would have much more important and peremptory things to do.
It is no accident that a study conducted at the Mannheim University revealed that the amount of hours adults spend watching television is an indicator of their level of escapism. These psychologists discovered that those who experience a minor need for self-reflection and instrospection tend to devote more hours of the day to television.
In today’s world, the preferred form of escapism is the compulsive need to be constantly involved in electronic life, looking for apparently important information, playing or rummaging through social networks. In fact, several studies, including one conducted at Duzce University, have found a connection between the time we spend on social networks and the Internet in a general sense and the tendency to escapism.
Even trips can be an escapist strategy, as indicated by researchers from the University of Surrey, especially when the purpose of these trips is not to discover a new place but only to escape from the place where we are because it is unbearable.
Of course, drugs and alcohol are also an extreme escapist strategy since they alter our cognitive functions, produce a disconnection from our “ego” and facilitate us to ignore reality, also causing great physical and psychological damage.
In reality, everyone chooses their preferred escape method and immerses themselves in the alternative universe that they have created to suit them, to avoid a reality that is overwhelming and that they don’t want to deal with.
From healthy escapism to toxic escapism
We all carry an escapist inside. From time to time we feel the need to change, disconnect, restart… That’s why we take vacations, read novels, watch TV or watch videos of kittens in Youtube.
Sigmund Freud himself believed that the desire to escape is part of the human condition. “People cannot survive with the little satisfaction they can steal from reality”, he wrote.
The desire to escape, in itself, is neither good nor bad. In some cases the function of escapist strategies is to allow us to better deal with a world that is too overwhelming, a world that seems impossible to manage and threatens to shatter an “ego” that is not going through its best moment.
Taking a break, relaxing and disconnecting from certain concerns can be healthy. From time to time you want to travel to a more comfortable world, without responsibilities, without problems, without struggles. These moments can help us assume the necessary psychological distance to solve the problem.
However, when escapism becomes the “SOLUTION”, the non-coping strategy par excellence, it is likely that sooner or later we will have a problem, in capital letters, much greater than the problem we were trying to escape.
Stop escaping to start facing
Since we all, to a greater or lesser extent, implement escapist strategies, it is important that we are aware of them. Virtually any activity can become an escape valve from reality, many of these behaviors may even seem positive. The key is to ask if are only excuses to avoid the necessary self-reflection.
Drinking a glass of wine listening to music after a long day at work can be a pleasant way to relax. But if you enter the door of the house looking for the bottle because you can not deal with the reality, you need to stop and ask yourself what problem you have to solve.
The more time we spend to escape, the less time we will have to reflect on what is happening to us and what we feel. We need to be aware that running constantly will not leave fears behind, it will only exacerbate them because there is no place in the world where you can run away from yourself.
A study conducted at the University of Leiden warns us that people who constantly avoid dealing with their intense emotions experience greater feelings of anxiety and emotional distress over time. The tendency to psychological escapism can become a dangerous snowball that runs down the mountain and becomes an avalanche. The problem will continue to grow as we feel “safe” in another universe.
Therefore, it is important to remember that no matter how comforting it is to escape between the pages of books, social networks, television or any other activity that allows us to disconnect from worries, problems do not usually disappear on their own, as well as not the stressful situations or the conflicts that generated them will disappear.
Although escapism can serve as a technique for dealing with punctual stress when we feel overwhelmed, we need to be mature enough to know when the time has come to return to reality and face the problem.
While we continue to avoid the problem, the stress will remain, and this will lead us to want to avoid a reality that is increasingly threatening, enclosing ourselves in a vicious circle.
The 3 questions to regain control
The first step for breaking the escapist loop is to recognize that we are fleeing. To do this, it is enough to answer ourselves honestly to a question: What are we doing is helping us solve the problem?
The second step is to detect exactly what we are escaping, what problem overwhelms us. To do this, you can ask yourself a simple question: What is bothering/scaring/worrying you?
And the third step is to find solutions that allow us to solve what concerns us or, at least mitigate the tension that generates. It will help us to ask ourselves: What do I want my life to be like? And then we must get to work to make that happen.
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