Sunny With A Chance of Escapism (Loving Decisions vs. Escapism)

Making loving decisions are at the heart of true self-improvement. We experience contrast, negative circumstances and what is unwanted to give rise to our understanding of what we do want. Letting ourselves go in the direction of that is called self-love.

We hear and see that teachers will express profound, but albeit contradictory truths. These are relative to where someone is in life. Although both true in many cases, the factor of 'benefit' will depend on how that truth relates to the individual.

On one level, allowing ourselves to move in the direction of momentary relief could be self-loving. On another level, some of these 'instant gratification' decisions come with unwanted drawbacks and there are options that are of greater love.

How can we know if we are manifesting temporary relief, or making solid, life-changing, self-loving decisions? How can we distinguish a self-loving decision or one that employs emotional escapism?

First lets talk about escapism.

Escapism is to escape a reality or thing within you or your life that you don't like. It means that you are escaping from the unwanted situation or emotion, but not really changing it.

Why is this a problem? Escapism causes you to deny your negative emotions and suppress them, never really dealing with or confronting them. When these emotions aren’t dealt with, it’s like a pot that’s boiling over, which allows a plethora of other unhealthy ways of managing your emotions.

Many people make decisions that come with drawbacks to meet their needs. For example, say a person feels apathy toward life because they have adopted the belief:

Nothing I feel is valid or real.

From that space of emotional lack, they have a deep sense of emptiness and hopelessness. To escape this feeling, they do absolutely anything that will distract themselves and so they stay alone, do not take care of their body, and use mind-altering substances.

Or, perhaps the reason we are driven to involve escapist strategies has more to do with treating the symptom emotions of our lower emotional states. For instance, someone holds the core belief: I am not enough. To feel a sense of worth, they use productivity to feel value. This productivity isn't inspired action, but instead the obsession to "do" something so they feel like enough. Then, the symptom emotion of stress appears because nothing they do makes them feel the true self-worth that they need. As a result, they treat that "symptom emotion" by smoking cigarettes.

How can we help ourselves if we have the tendency to escape our reality?

We cannot stop ourselves from wanting relief, nor can we force ourselves to make changes we are not yet ready for. Some people will argue that the stress to change is a good thing, or even the only thing that will make someone change. I disagree. Pushing someone into a behavior or attitude is detrimental. Would you want to do something because someone told you to ‘for your own good,’ or do something because you are inspired to do it? Pushing someone may get the desired action, but because it doesn’t feel good to be forced into something, the emotional space from which they were previously driven toward the escapist mechanism remains the same. The motivation to change has to be intrinsic.

I remember reading a blog by a girl who binge-ate. This girl experienced incredible shame after doing so, but then to feel better she would eat more, and so the cycle repeated. Truth of it is, when we are already feeling terrible about ourselves, the last thing we need to do is add shame to the list. In this sense, accepting our decisions even if they are not yet the highest of self-loving choices, reliefs of us the added stress to change. "We cannot punish ourselves into behavior that will benefit us (Teal Swan)."

One anxious question that comes up in all of this is: "But what if we become too comfortable in our acceptance of 'where we are'?" Children are not born wanting to "cope" with life. It is human nature to expand, create, and explore, not to be sedentary. It is only through the helpless life experiences we had, that made coping or escapist mechanisms look and feel safe. And if you are an escapist, that helplessness is still very much alive within you. The human mind's primary drive is one to avoid pain and find pleasure. It may have felt unsafe for you mentally, emotionally, physically to move toward betterment, or you may still feel like that powerless child that couldn't change it.

People make the mistake of thinking that if someone hasn’t moved ahead in life, that they are content without any further expansion, but this is not the case. They are stuck because they are too afraid to continue their growth. They are stuck because even if some of these individuals give the façade that they are ok and happy, deep down they feel powerless to themselves and their lives. A disposition of acceptance and pride in fact covers up for a deep lack.

1. The first step for us... is to understand and accept where we are. 

I've found that many people, by learning to accept where they are and what feels like relief in that moment, do not become comfortable with living that way. They just reduce the stress and tension to change so that they may instead feel inspired to change. When they allow themselves relief, they will eventually find interest in what will feel like greater relief. Many times, this involves making decisions to change.

If you are an escapist, ask yourself: 

Do I pile shame upon my already pre-existing negative emotion?

If I allowed myself to fully allow myself relief, even if the habits are not my end goal, what bad thing would happen?

If this is the most self-loving decision to where I am and what I feel in this moment, what can I do to allow myself to accept that action?

Does making this less than beneficial decision really detract from my worth as a person or the meaning of my life?

2. Then, consider that you will never truly get rid of the escapist or coping behavior unless you address it's underlying cause. When you are inspired to make more solid changes from a state of inspiration and not force, ask yourself the following questions:

What are the underlying reasons that this decision (which comes with drawbacks) feels like the most self-loving decision I can make?

How can I give myself love and compassion for the underlying cause?

In what ways can I embrace a higher empowerment?

What are some small steps I can take?

What are some things that feel authentically good to me, that are not escaping what I'm feeling or doing?

What need am I trying to meet within me with this escapist behavior that I could meet in a more direct, balanced, and self-loving way?

4. It's important to not fall into the trap of the "never again." While for some this may work as a form of empowerment, and this is fine... for many of us it leads us into even greater shame if it does happen again. Instead, start again from the beginning. Choose to fully understand and accept where you are emotionally, and that you will take the steps that feel right for where you are. The "never again" trap is one reason people relapse so dramatically and so frequently. They begin to shame themselves for taking poor action and then keep taking that action as the pressure to "change" comes back.

Remember: Nothing and no one can make the call on what's right for you, and there is nothing you do here that could add or detract from your infinite worth.

Actions and decisions are only the symptoms or byproduct of our current emotional state. Accept that whatever the behavior is, it may occur again and this is ok. Change always takes time. The sun is always there, it is never lost no matter what cover it up. A storm must roll over until the sun may again shine.

How to Stop Creating Thunderstorms (How to Ease Your Suffering)

Perhaps our biggest thing keeping us from happiness is our holding onto pain, and not allowing ourselves to move in the direction of pleasure. We are afraid of letting go our past hurts because of what we make them mean. We keep our pains rather than let them serve the purpose they exist: move us toward pleasures. If this is so, then the question, is why? Because we do not know how to move through, release and express our painful emotions. We do not see them as emotions; we see them instead as judgments, beliefs, and understandings of reality. “I feel grief” becomes… “I AM grieving”. “I feel angry” becomes… “I AM angry”. If happiness were as easy as choosing, many times we would have done it already. So in the end… it is not the action that truly hurt us. It is what we make it mean, and our unmet need to move through, let go, and learn. We can only do this by allowing our human nature to shine through the fabric of our being, to fully endow and express our emotions without fear.

Maybe to move through these things, we must have the courage to be fully honest with how we are feeling, and be open and receptive to how others are honestly feeling. Assuming they are being fully present and honest, this should illicit feelings of love and understanding, not defense and fear. At the root of all detrimental emotion is fear, but how we come to understand the other's fear is by learning to understand their pain. Through this, we can also let go of the painful meanings we assign to experiences as the understanding of true intention comes to a reveal.

Thinking late at night about such things has made me aware of my own pain. I was unable to indulge in happiness on many occasions growing up, as I was instead asked to self-sacrifice, clean the house, and give service. We look at our childhood events like this, and other's with a sense of "that was rough". And indeed, it was. Recognizing our feelings is the is the first step. We should not deny how we are feeling, no matter how painful... doing so is a complete lack of empathy. Even if we feel resistant, or numb, or even if we cannot define it! We accept exactly where we are. This is so important for self-compassion and healing.

But beyond, how do we learn to move on? We have the opportunity to step into dis-identification to see our emotions as the byproducts of interaction. This is what I mean by "holding onto pain"... we make our pain ours to keep, we let it define the experience of what we've been through. The only thing left when we have freed ourselves from the chains of the past is gratitude.

1. So by all means, first:

"It is perfectly reasonable I feel this way and I allow myself to feel what I am feeling."

Once we recognize and comfort our emotion, we can explain to it the reality of what was occurring. We recognize our own role first. In my case, this is: I was self-sacrificial to my primary caregiver by cleaning the house extensively, providing service to her, and becoming co-dependent because it was how I learned to receive love and stay "safe" as a child. Remember that lack of approval and acceptance means death as a child. Even biologically, this is true.

2. The next step is to look at the other's role. What was said that hurt me so badly? Why? What is the meaning that I assigned to it?

One example might be: "I don't think I like your selfish behavior." 

What do I make this mean?

I make it mean that I am (in fact) a selfish person.

I make it mean that I don't deserve love.

I make it mean that I am powerless to do things right.

3. You have to be ready for this next step, as you may resort to anger or self-blame which is not at all what it is about. Instead, when you seek to answer the following questions, be endowed with enough self-love and compassion so that you can look on with loving objective awareness rather than trying to force yourself into a new perspective.

What is the actuality of what happened? No ones words can actually "make" you feel anything. Whether you pick up on energy or not, it is you that is still a match to experiencing such. It is what we make what happens to us mean that hurts us so badly. In reality, it was not this person's comment that hurt, but the conclusions that were drawn because of it. So looking at things more objectively, understanding that others hurt people due to their own unmet needs, what could've been the reality? Here are some possible scenarios.

Anger/Shame:

Whether it be on a conscious or subconscious level, this persons feels great shame because they are not measuring up to their own standards. But instead of feel that shame, they blame others to distract themselves. They called you what they themselves felt and believed.

Pain:

This person may've said those things in spite of the other's efforts to please them, because deep down they really wanted to feel like they were a good caring person. But they are unable to fulfill their own needs, and they cannot meet another's. Their own pain is already too much for them to handle, so instead it's they make it the other person's fault.

Having to take care of another being who is in pain, when you have yet to resolve your own is difficult. Even though it's a flawed worldview (relationships don't have to be one vs. another's needs), people often feel like they cannot offer the time, space, energy, that they already do not have for themselves.

In reality, they may've actually been thinking, "I really want your love and approval. I want to feel like I'm not a failure. I cannot take care of your needs right now and it's easier for me to say you're selfish than admit to that." Yet, this person is unable to admit to the reality of what has happened because, guess what? Responsibility is tough! More on responsibility later...

Powerlessness:

In reality, again with their own standard, they may've been thinking instead, "I am so upset with the way my life is going and I feel like I've really screwed up. I have no control over what is happening. I'm desperate and scared and I want someone to save me." This person may've said the other was selfish so that person would feel guilty and cater to their needs so they wouldn't feel so alone and helpless.

And finally... Fear:

"If I'm not a good enough parent I will be scorned. I will not feel love and approval from society. I need love and approval." 

This is where societal norms and socialization is enhanced. In this case, selfishness is condemned and selflessness is glorified. This society also still works greatly in the reward-punishment style of parenting. In parenting, sometimes parents prioritize raising a 'good child' and to therefore be perceived as a 'good parent' and feel a sense of acceptance and love by the world around them. This person may've been thinking, "I am raising an unselfish and caring person by calling them selfish."

It is some backwards logic, but we must remember that the part of the mind geared for survival works in this way. It will do anything it needs to feel a sense of assurance and survival.

Moving On

It is really hard to let go of anger and hurt... we can only do it when we are truly ready. We cannot force ourself into forgiveness. Forgiveness is ultimately something we give to ourself, not the other person. 

Moving on doesn't mean we are minimizing or dismissing what has happened. It acknowledges our own emotion, but equally acknowledges the reality of what truly occurred and why. It doesn't mean the person isn't still responsible for what happened, and it doesn't mean that we should condone anything that was likewise. It is recognizing our own role in the scenario, and becoming understanding to those who've hurt us. It is recognizing how we've hurt others, and moving on from that as well. 

Forgiveness is a level of understanding that really can be achieved and leaves us with a sense of peace for the past. It is a higher understanding and love that we can embrace, but it should not be glorified as a means of dismissing our pains either.

Let your anger and pain out, then, let it go with the wind...