Question:

I hope by the will of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) you guys can help or offer some suggestions.

My problem since I was younger is that I have an escapist mentality. Whenever things would get rough I would idealize this perfect world, in which I was beautiful, strong, confident, perfect.

Fast-forward 20 years later, I still have this problem, I want to live in reality without always having to daydream. I do live in reality, but I notice my daydreams often convolute my thought processes. How do I stop this and focus on the here and now and live my life for what it is.

Another side note is, I think I do this subconsciously to seek the validation and approval of others. How do I stop the cycle? Because I don't want to end up with major mental issues when I'm older.

Answer:

Bismillah hir Rahmanir Rahim,

It is always difficult to face the disappointment of others especially from those you love or look up to. But until you grow to love and accept yourself, you will never feel accepted by others and will always feel the need to escape into an ideal world, or present an ideal image of yourself.

With marketing and media constantly telling us that there is something wrong with us, it gets harder and harder to accept and be confident about ourselves. The advent of social media where everyone presents only the best part of their lives has not helped the situation either. We live in this illusive world where the presented reality is usually anything but reality, and everyone is in competition of painting the best picture of himself or herself.

I applaud you for wanting to live in reality, because not many do. Whether we are stuck in the cyber-world, the corporate world, or the entertainment world, none of those help us live in real world. Living your life for what it is will again require accepting your life for what it is. There are things that you may not be able to change. Those things you leave in Allah's hands. But for the aspects of your life you can change, you must take a proactive role.

My first recommendation is to figure out your goals.

All the things that you are unhappy about, or wish to improve will never change unless you actively plan to make it happen. Whether they are physical, spiritual, or psychological, if you are having trouble achieving them, break them up into smaller more practical goals so that they are not so overwhelming or so daunting that you feel the only option is to imagine achieving them. Also seek help in mapping out the route to achieving your goals from a friend, mentor or mental health practitioner.

As for any difficult situation that you may come across, if you need to take a step back to gather yourself take it. Re-energize yourself to engage instead of disengage. More importantly believe that you have the capacity to handle anything that may come at you. Allah does not burden you with more than you can handle. But that does not mean you have to handle everything on your own. Seek help from others, even if it's just for moral support.

Validation Seeking

As for the cycle of presenting an “idealized” image of yourself to others for the sake of approval and validation, I believe the best way to stop this cycle is to be completely honest, first with yourself and then with those who are important to you. If you have trouble being honest with someone, ask yourself if it is worth maintaining a relationship with someone that you cannot be honest with. It is important to surround yourself with positive people, and people who love you unconditionally. Positive energy is infectious and being around others who are non-judgmental and accepting will decrease your need to seek approval.

There are many forms of escape that people turn to, or engage in when enduring hardships or difficulties. And many times they can affect your daily functioning or be hurtful such as drugs, sex, alcohol, etc. or in your case, allowing your mind to escape to another reality.  “Escapes” can be addicting and difficult to get out of because they trigger the reward centers (dopamine) in your brain, and your body wants more and more of it. The trick is to find the escape that triggers the same reward center, but at the same time makes you stronger, more alive and fits your lifestyle such as exercise, art, worship, etc. The more you engage in positive escapes the more you will find it easier to stay away from negative ones.

Engaging in activities that are fulfilling and healthful will help you to feel more positively about yourself as well, followed by an increase in confidence. Serving others less fortunate than you will also help you stay grounded in the reality of the world, feel good about yourself, and most importantly appreciate all the blessings in your life.

And finally, serve Allah. Strive towards taqwa, and remind yourself of your purpose in life. The more present and God-conscious you can be the more you can live in the here and now. Pray, meditate, unplug from the dunya and plug in to the deen. We are constantly distracted or busy distracting, and moving further and further away from the reality of this life and ourselves. The only One you really need to impress is Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He), and who more merciful, loving and accepting then He?

 

6 Responses

  1. Alvia Thahir

    Assalamu alaikkum wrb,

    Dear sister,

    I have been dealing with the same issue for years. By Allah’s mercy it has got a bit lesser as time flew. Yet, Escape mode is a pretty deep issue that brings consequences when ignored.

    I was really grateful to find you article as it was pretty much the answer I was on search for years. Alhamdulillah. Jazakallahu khairan sister!

    In sha Allah I kindly request you to help me with another issue I m struggling with.

    Alhamdulillah I have this strong craving to Get closer to Almighty Allah (swt)! I really want to submit myself as a righteous slave to Him and avail His Pleasure! At times I wish I could run away from this deceiving worldly life, which is blinding me from My Real Purpose. And as a young housewife in a joint family I m unable to balance my worldly duties with My Imaan & Ibadah. Its bigtym difficult to find ehsaan in my salaah, when my mind is cramped up with family issues. And I m hardly able to ponder over the hidden treasures in Quran, when I m switching modes between a house wife and a freelance designer.

    Bottom line: In the role of a multi tasking Housewive, how do I still take steps closer to Allah ( swt ) spiritually and mentally?

    Jazakallahu khairan.

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  2. Aleyy

    Excellent article, JazakAllah Khair.
    I (and I’m sure many others) are having the same problem. I will try to implement these suggestions, inshaAllah.

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  3. Kirana

    I actually think – provided you have enough self-awareness to know it is an idealisation which is a different thing from actual – that it is not necessarily always bad to do this when you’re young and feel devalued by others around you. It is a defense mechanism, to reject the undervaluing of your self that you are receiving from others. The alternative is worse, that you believe the disempowering messages you are getting.

    But, being a defense mechanism, it’s not supposed to be permanent. It’s actually a positive self-image, only that you have to detach it from other people’s validation of it. Question yourself, am I today beautiful, strong and confident? If not, why not, or why do I not think so about myself? And work on building the character that fits the image you aspire to. For instance, “In my dreams I am brave. How would I act differently in such-and-such life situation if I really were brave like the ideal me? Why can’t I do it in real life?” In time, you’ll find the image itself will adjust to something more real, something that is better – for example such reflection should modify your understanding of what ‘beautiful’ really means. :)

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  4. farfalla

    I completely understand your dilemma as I often feel the same way. Fantasies (be it daydreams or fiction novels) used to be more enjoyable to me than reality– maybe they still are. But one way in which I reconciled my need to escape was to focus on what I could and could not change.

    Naturally, I prefer my own thoughts to social interaction. I used to hate this about myself, but I’ve realized, as an introvert, I’m always going to be inside my head more than I am out there talking to people. Once I accepted this life became a lot easier because I didn’t strain myself trying to be someone that I was not. I could focus on being confident in my social awkwardness rather than bend over backward trying to be a social butterfly.

    In my experience, the more time I spent working to build self-confidence, the less I needed to escape and the less I needed validation from others. The first step is accepting yourself with all your strengths and weakness. (I know this is easier said than done.) Another tip and perhaps, the most important, is to ask Allah SWT to grant you self-confidence and to make things easy for you.

    I hope this helped. Best of luck! :)

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  5. Yasmin

    Salaams … Bsmillah The peolple of the world are not necessarily role models, with the pious exceptions of the righteous people. The only perfect role model we have is our Nabi SAW. People make decisions and act in ways in which may not necessarily be correct. They too are being judged by Almighty Allah SWT. Why look up to them who are not our prescribed role models. I dare you to be yourself, be different turning away from the nafs of approval. Shut down negative thoughts…STOP the manufacturing business of negative thoughts from your head. i dare you to do this. You were born for a higher purpose…not to get snatched in shaitan’s web… go get your higher purpose in life… be a seeker… not a victim… tune in to the right thoughts…fill your head with Islamic knowledge and declare war on yourself… go on…you can do it… what are you waiting for?… Allahu Akbar

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