Escapism provides distractions, not solutions

Analyzing the downsides of finding connections outside of reality


An illustration of an individual with a TV on their head | Graphic by Kripa Mayureshwar

With entire fictional realities only a few clicks away, it’s only natural that some people prefer imaginary people and ideas rather than forming connections with individuals present in real life. 

Escapism, otherwise known as seeking distractions from real life, can seem comforting. Out of 252 MVHS students, 67.9% affirm that they have experienced strong emotional connections to fictional shows or characters. Resorting to seeking a sense of belonging from alternative methods, such as fictional characters or celebrities, can be detrimental. However, temporarily escaping to a fantasy doesn’t remove the issues present in someone’s life; instead, the reluctance to face reality can be harmful, making it essential to seek out more permanent, tangible alternatives. 

There is a fine line between using healthy coping mechanisms and escaping into fantasy — coping mechanisms become detrimental when they transform from an occasional comfort to an addiction, and it becomes difficult to function without regularly indulging in that habit. An example of these comforts turning detrimental lies with the development of parasocial relationships – a relationship between two people where one of the individuals involved are unaware of the other’s existence – and hence unaware of the relationship. 

The epidemic that we are currently experiencing stems from how adolescents are especially prone to developing these relationships — according to NCBI, more than 57.6% of adolescents believe that they are in real relationships with the celebrities they idolize.


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On TikTok, users such as Oli London are infatuated with BTS, desiring relationships with the band members. 


Once you’re hooked, connections to the outside world begin to take a backseat to the attachment to fictional characters or those you’re unlikely to engage with on any real leveland concepts, trapping you in this alternate reality. Binge-watching a show or reading a book and devoting more time to the plot and characters over real life responsibilities – school, friends and family – can create distance from reality. 

Because escapism is a very accessible distraction, people naturally resort to this during times of crisis — at MVHS, the highly competitive environment can encourage students to seek distractions from the ongoing stress. In addition, the COVID-19 pandemic further isolated students during over a year of remote learning, pushing them away from maintaining real connections and instead choosing to adopt bonds with fictional characters. 


The Price of False Comfort  

On a biological level, psychologist Susan Pinker addresses in The Medium how neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine and oxytocin are released during face-to-face  interactions, which work to regulate stress and anxiety responses. A deficiency of these neurotransmitters can lead to a less stable mindset, leading to mental challenges such as anxiety or depression — by overindulging in fictional relationships, the once-controlled passion becomes unhealthy. The neurological benefits of interacting with someone else in person does not translate to online or fictional relationships, making it essential to have these genuine means of communication.

Illustration of a girl visualizing herself in a parasocial relationship with Draco Malfoy, a fictional character from the Harry Potter book series and film franchise | Graphic by Kripa Mayureshwar



While face-to-face interactions are ideal, transitioning abruptly from addictive escapism to purely real life relationships can oftentimes be difficult, demotivating the individual from seeking more personal relationships.  

Developing parasocial relationships or obscure obsessions is an issue, but it is natural for one to find comfort in shows, songs and books — developing genuine interests can be beneficial, because they can open the door to conversations with other people in one’s life, hence establishing new relationships. 

Another alternative would be interacting with a trusted adult instead of peers, to effectively break down the mental barriers – fear of judgement or social anxiety – that stop people from reconnecting with others their age.    

It’s essential to build connections with other people and even things, but it’s also important to reflect on whether they’re healthy or actually a way to push aside unwanted feelings. Although it is attractive to rely solely on parasocial relationships when reality is unappealing, these relationships inevitably make it more difficult to reconnect with real people — the longer we choose to distract ourselves from our true problems, the harder it will be for us when we finally want to recover. Through over-investing in false realities and avoiding what’s in front of us, relying on parasocial relationships will never grant us the same benefits that fostering true relationships would.