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.