When is escapism pathological and when is it healthy?

For a long time I became a ‘workaholic’; be that with work itself or work on myself i.e. ‘self improvement’. What I found happened in the whole spirit of ‘all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy’ is that without any play I became like an automata. My original rationale was that I should not waste any time on passtimes which will be obsolete once I become self actualized and that the end goal will allow me to enjoy myself all the time even if it doesn’t feel that way in this moment.

Well I’ve found this philosphy to have failed at least in part. The result of this I found was that even the improvements I did make on myself I could not enjoy and indeed it got to a point where I could not enjoy anything. I was like an automata mechanically going through the motions. Even things which were once enjoyable to me were now a chore. My emotions were suppressed, although slowly but surely negative/stress related emotions were rearing their head with more and more force the more I tried to deny them.

So I would propose that a new model might be to accept that escapism is indeed just that and see it as a kind of spiritual medicine, i.e. perhaps not something you should take all the time but something which can heal you whilst still aiming for better health overall. Perhaps escapism is still good throughout life to keep you healthy so long as it doesn’t become pathological. What makes pathological vs. healthy? I’d attempt an explanation in saying that the pathological sense is where reality is repressed in favour of the fantasy whereas escapism in the healthy sense escapism is used in order to better engage reality- if not in the moment then with the renewed perspective the escapism offers after it has refreshed the mind.

Escapism as a sanctuary for the mind. Similar to how one should not stay in bed all day yet it is a certain amount is essential for the health of the individual, likewise one should not spend all their time in escapist pursuits.

So back to the old everything in moderation I guess.


Escapism is like medicine. Medicine is only medicine when you take it when you need it. When you take it when you don’t need it it’s poison.

Uhu, but there is also the question of what makes something classify as escapism?

Like playing in a band for instance…

It might be an escape or it also might be good for personal growth so then it wouldn’t be escapism would it?

Is it a question of what the user uses the tool for?

There is still the matter of something being fun while not being escapism. Escapism then seems like an immature version of recreation whereas perhaps mature recreation is both fun and helps the person grow.

I think it would be best for you to first define what isnt escapism.
If you view anything that isn’t work-related, productivity or goal-related then that is very broad.

Learning a musical instrument, a new language or a martial art is not simply escapism. Each could theoretically be integrated into a job. But be equally as enjoyable as reading a novel or watching a movie. You should also consider the emotional expression, knowledge and physical fitness respectively gained by such hobbies.

It’s best with escapism to keep yourself linked at all times with the world and people… as losing yourself in a book, or videogame or movie or something is quite similar to the theist renouncing life and counting days till the afterlife. That sort of life is no life at all.

So I would say cultivate some hobbies that keep you in contact with people frequently, do something that involves going into the countryside every so often (hiking, horse-riding) which will get you away from the city. I think you need to learn how to relax and shed some responsibility every so often…

I personally consider any kind of self-fixation as a form of bondage. I want, I want, I want. I want to make a million dollars, I want to be important, I want to grow as a person. To the extent that I am in bondage like that, I look for a way to escape. There are temporary escapes, such as taking a vacation, relaxing with a good book, great sex… this is escapism in its fairly neutral sense - they are like medicine in my analogy (which can become poison when it’s not needed). There is also the possibility of solving the problem at the source - of escaping the bonds of ego. Of course, ironically, this could also prove to become a project that requires a temporary vacation! If so, that’s a sign that something is being done not quite right. Liberation from the bonds of ego, to whatever extent, is a liberating experience, marked by increased energy and joy. I think this is something all or most people have experienced. When you’re at ease with the world, there is nothing to escape from. Everything you do, such as playing in a band, is then marked by this ease and sense of wellbeing, which is not dependent on temporary conditions such as bodily health, etc.

I think the ideal is to satisfy as many criteria as possible with one’s activities.

So I guess it’s a case of being economical with your time.

and there’s that saying ‘find a job you enjoy then work becomes like play’.

Further than that life then becomes like play- learning or finding ways to enjoy everything you do and all that.

I consider every vacation I take a failure on some level. But when you need a vacation you need a vacation! The answer to not enjoying life enough isn’t to not allow yourself to enjoy life! Ideally, like you say, enjoyment is more integrated into everyday life.

Well I’m not into this Zen crap of enjoy everything even the most mundane (I don’t fully mean that but more in the nihilistic sense yes).

I find I appreciate even the mundane if I have tried my hardest/am on my path in the sense of amor fati but only if I know I’m on my path rather than following any old path listlessly and ‘enjoying my lot’.

You don’t have to enjoy everything. But what you might normally see as an obstacle on your path could be seen as a help to you, rather than a hindrance. It’s possible to have a bigger view of the place of such things in your life. Ultimately, there is no escape. There is no avoiding the things you don’t want. So you might as well make the most of things. I think so anyway.

You are overworking the definition of “escapism” - trying to make it fit barely similar occasions. Use a different word, if that one doesn’t fit.

^any other suggestions welcome. Nothing else came to mind which is why I kept using it for breakfast lunch and dinner.

You’re over-intellectualizing the world. There’s something in your life that’s hard to deal with emotionally, thus you’re removing the emotional content from it to better deal with it.

Well said Agape. I have come to much the same conclusion. I am an accomplished escapist. I have focused the better part of my life on the same sorts of projects, work and self improvement. You’re right they don’t necessarily make you happy. In some ways I find they drive you crazy and make you more and more reclusive. Some say we go there for “healing” but I think we go there because it’s easy especially for those of us who are highly introverted. It’s tough but we have to step out of our shells and live life as much as we can. Life is not simply a riddle. Thank you for the helpful reminder.

As a sick decedent who has made a life based on escapism, it becomes unhealthy the moment one does not realize that it is escapism, which happened to make right around 1st grade, when I had my first crush and, knowing I could not be with her in physical reality, had to escape into my fantasy world and come up with ways of winning over her love (dying for her) in order to vicariously experience the romantic love that I yearned for in reality but could not experience. From that point onward I fled into untold numbers of different channels to vicariously exerience what ever my psyche desired at the time.

To me then, I would say that escapism is never healthy, so long as I define the word “escapism” as the unconsious drive to escape from reality. Now if I’m watching a stupid comedy or masturbating all day long to porn, so long as I realize exactly what I’m doing, I wouldn’t call that escapism, but rather more of a needed break from the ordinary reality we live in; much like we take a break everytime we go to sleep.

Basically, so long as you are mindful of what you are doing (whether it’s fantasizing about WW3 or masturbating to internet porn) and you realize that after you’ve had your entertainment it’s time to get back to “the real world” I would say that is healthy. When you think you are living your life and “doing your job” when in fact you are just running away (from yourself, from reality, etc.) than it becomes pathological and a problem.

Just my perspective of course.

Rezzing this old thread cos I have been thinking about it more recently and have a few more points to make on the matter.

I have been thinking…

Escapism was perhaps a too narrow term to use for what I meant orignally.

I am now thinking…

Yes escapism is useful as a palliative, a surrogate when nothing better is around but the broad ‘thing’ I have been getting at I think is that one way or the other we want to be entertained.

Using this term it doesn’t fall into the ‘necessarily pathological’ trap that the term escapism has connotations of.

So escapism is a subset of entertainment but I would say not necessarily the best.

As an analogy I have been thinking of escapism as what masturbation is to sex. Escapism, like masturbation, gives you a much yearned for relief allowing you to commence more productive activities without the constant nuisance of sexual desire on the mind but sex is still better. The same way, rather than just being masturbators all their life, most would prefer to find fulfilling relationships to be in long term.

Escapism would be a subset of entertainment in general and the best entertainment being that which most engages you with the world (very broad I know and would require more qualifying but I’ll leave it at that for now), I’d say.

I’ve also been thinking about ‘the sliding scale of escapism’ as I recently decided to rid myself of more destructive forms of escapism (drugs) for less harmful (albeit still pretty unproductive) ones yet still satisfactory in giving catharsis (fiction novels). When I marked non productive forms of entertainment as ‘forbidden’ this still did not quell the desire (of the ‘Id’ I guess) and so every few months I’d find myself taking drugs again even though I would swear myself off them each time previous.

When I thought about this more I realized it is likely because I had quickly cut off other entertainment activities and drugs had been a long time ‘go-to’ in low periods as my mind had a strong association with the good feelings. Now, becoming more clear of this negative cycle, and realizing that they actually took me further back as they would plunge me into pits of despair and depression afterwards I have now re-evaluated my belief patterns and am looking to re-add some of these ‘lesser evils’ such as fiction and computer games as I am getting to see their utility which I too quickly eschewed before.

So long term I think it is about shedding them to eventually have such a positive feedback loop in one’s productive activities that your lifestyle ‘feeds itself’. This would be my idea of self-actualization. In the meantime however I am thinking if the entertainments aren’t productive then a step in the right direction is they are not directly harmful as my previous activities were; ‘harmless enough for now’. I like to think of it like a butterfly in incubation. Eventually it will shed its cocoon and be beautiful but for the time being the cocoon is essential to keep it alive and nourish it into the creature it will become.


Good thoughts, Agape.

escapism is not pathological if you pay your psychoanalyst a lot of money…if you are a YAVIS
person escapism becomes creative imaginative life…
and what about life would you want to escape from?

On that, I would caution anyone who wants to take something they enjoy doing, such as a hobby, and making it their job (that is finding a job where they perform the same skill for money). What usually happens in this case is one’s play becomes work. The work will maim one’s play, not become it.
Many people think it’s only logical to do that, but it usually doesn’t work out that way.

For example, if you like composing music and find a job where you actually do it for money, you’ll eventually end up hating it because your boss will want you to do it HIS way. So, unless you find enjoyment spending your time pleasing your boss and his taste/preference, especially when doing something that you inherently care about, you won’t like it. The job will bastardize it to the degree where you would not only stop getting any enjoyment out of it, but end up even hating doing it.
As a slightly better alternative, one could become freelancer.

On escapism:
I hear many stories of people who found ‘faith in god’ when they were at the very bottom of their lives. And it helped them. It pulled them out. This kind of escapism I would argue is forgivable, because the alternative may very well have been suicide. For some people it may be a must. The last resort.

Life is the last resort and pathological but short term escapism from the death, as long as one is unaware of the subtle but definite suffering aspect of it and while the death seems to be certain.

And any (illusion of) certainty is the primordial escapism of awareness from the uncertainty.

Personally, I don’t like escapism so much because of the inherent (sometime subtle) stress or the sensation that we are hurrying, pressing, running (away).
But I guess it’s almost unavoidable for us all.

I have also been thinking how a usually productive action could also turn into escapism without proper focus.

For example today I was doing my work and realized I hadn’t done my fiddle practice for the day. Time was getting on while doing work and I got to thinking that the more I put it off is the more I was ‘escaping’ it in an otherwise productive activity.

Then again that isn’t so bad because in theory the more I worked is the more money I would have for leisure and fiddle lessons for example.

So just practicing proper awareness I guess.

Also it’s fine to allow oneself to make such ‘mistakes’ as they help you refine you in your technique of life I think.