6 Reasons NOT To Live Vicariously Through Others (+ How To Stop)

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Life is full of ups and downs. Sometimes far more downs than ups. You may find yourself bored, listless, or otherwise unhappy with the way your life is going.

But maybe it’s deeper than that. Perhaps you’re someone who hasn’t had a happy or easy life. You may have experienced something severe, like child abuse or neglect. Maybe you could never realize the goals that you had for yourself before life came crashing in like a tidal wave, drowning you in responsibility.

These situations and more can drive a person to live vicariously through others.

But what does it mean to live vicariously through others?

Simply put, it is the act of using your imagination to find escape, contentment, fulfillment, or happiness through someone else’s experiences.

That may be keeping close track of your favorite travel influencer so you can see all the adventures they go on, the sights they see, and their experiences.

Maybe it’s urging your child to do all the things that you never had a chance to do as a kid. Did you want to be an athlete? A ballerina? Be able to compete at a high level in whatever it was that you didn’t get to do? And do you find yourself pushing your child to fulfill your dream instead of nurturing their dream?

And then there are books. Books have served as an escape hatch for an unhappy person. Maybe it’s a child trying to keep their mind off their hungry stomach and their parents who don’t care. Maybe it’s an adult who has a difficult life that just wants to escape for a while. You can certainly live vicariously through fictional characters as a way to escape.

But what’s so wrong with that? Why shouldn’t you want to see the sights of a foreign land if you can’t travel yourself? Why is it bad to push your child to try to excel at activities that you never had a chance to? Why shouldn’t you try to experience a different reality through a well-written, well-loved book?

There’s nothing wrong with that – in moderation. The issue is that some people live vicariously through others to avoid their own life. They go to an extreme and lose sight of what they could have for themselves if they devoted that time to doing anything to improve their own life.

And, of course, you run into situations where you’re engaging more with fantasy than reality. That doesn’t necessarily mean a good book, either. It can also be the fictional reality that some influencers and content creators put out there to seem more interesting than they are because it is a useful tool to bring in new followers.

Why shouldn’t I live vicariously through others?

1. It deprives you of your own life and experiences.

The hours you’ve spent focused on someone else could have been spent working on your own life. It’s a massive time-sink that deprives you of the most valuable resource we have – time. Everything else is secondary. You can’t earn or buy more time.

2. It deprives the other person of their agency.

Sometimes we may not have the healthiest of boundaries. In particular, let’s say you’re a parent pushing your child to fulfill your dream. The child may want to make you happy by participating in something they don’t like, but what you could be doing is building a healthier relationship by finding connections in their interests. There’s nothing wrong with encouraging your child to step outside of the box and try new things.

3. It gives you a reason to not try.

The act of living vicariously through others provides a level of happiness and fulfillment from reaching goals that aren’t yours. You didn’t put in the work or get to reap the rewards. You don’t really get to enjoy the kind of success that comes with putting in that effort. If you’re finding fulfillment through the successes of others, what gives you a reason to bother trying? Why not just spend your time scrolling on your phone or watching content creators do their thing? It’s a hollow way to feel successful because it’s not real.

4. You may inadvertently influence others.

You may not realize that you’re doing it. Still, you can end up creating expectations that aren’t right for the person you are living vicariously through. For example, let’s say you have a friend you live vicariously through. They have financial comfort, they’re living a good life and traveling, and you’re hanging onto what they do. Well, what happens when they decide to change it? Maybe they’re tired of living that life, and they want to settle down. You can cause resentment or hurt feelings if you’re not careful.

5. You lose sight of the individual that you are.

Spending all of your time focused on others can make you lose sight of who you are. You are an individual with your own strengths and weaknesses. You may have goals or passions in your life that you want to pursue. Or, maybe you don’t. Maybe you haven’t found something that you’re passionate about that you want to work toward. That’s okay too! But you won’t find it by living in the shadow and experience of someone else. You have to get your own goals, get out there, and do your own thing.

6. Living vicariously through others can feed your insecurities.

Consider the following example. There’s a fitness influencer that you greatly admire. They have the perfect body that you wish you had. They’re out there posting pics and videos on the ‘gram of their protein shakes and gym selfies. They’re posting inspirational quotes and pointless bullsh*t about hustle culture. They’re snapping pics of smooth cars, nice clothes, and the fancy house they live in. And you find yourself envying that lifestyle, a lifestyle that is a pure fabrication.

They don’t mention the touch-ups on their pictures with photo editing software to make their stomach look smoother, their hips look better, or to refine their physique. They don’t mention that they aren’t working out every time they’re at the gym. Sometimes they’re just going in, snapping a few pictures, and then leaving. They’re not hustling to make ends meet. They may be living off a trust fund, their spouse’s income, or money they had stacked up before they became an influencer. And those smooth cars, nice clothes, and fancy houses?

You can rent or return all of that stuff. Just hit up a high-end clothes retailer, take some pictures in your new threads, return them the next day. Hell, you can snap pics in front of the car or house of someone else. AirBnB and car rentals are both a thing.

It’s not hard at all to fake a life on social media if you really want to. And what are the people who live vicariously through those people going to do with that? Nothing except waste their time and make it easier for those influencers to make more money.

There are plenty of reasons not to live vicariously through other people. But the real question is, how do you stop?

How do you stop living vicariously through other people?

1. Set your own goals to pursue.

Sometimes, you may overcompensate for things you do not like about your life. One way to avoid getting pulled into fantasizing about another’s life is to set your own goals to accomplish and celebrate. Maybe you have some past victories in your life that you can celebrate instead. A reminder of what you can accomplish may be in order.

On the other hand, maybe your life hasn’t been that good. You don’t really have anything you can feel proud of that you did. That’s okay. You can start building toward something by setting small goals to celebrate each day.

It doesn’t have to be complicated. A goal can be as small as choosing to work out for a half-hour every other day. Sticking to that kind of schedule is certainly something you can celebrate.

2. Examine what makes you unique.

No one else in this world is you. You undoubtedly have some traits, interests, or experiences that make you unique. Have you lost touch with them? Have you lost touch with the goals that you wanted to crush in your own life?

Remind yourself of who you are and use that as a platform to pursue more of what you want out of life. Past accomplishments can remind you what you’re good at or inform you of where you may struggle.

3. Detox from digital devices.

It might be time to take a break from digital devices for a while. Sign out of social media, put down the phone, and go engage with life in some way that isn’t a total waste of time. It also helps to keep in mind that few people post their tragedies or mundane life situations on social media. All you get to see is a highlight reel of things that are going well or things that the poster wants you to think are going well.

Time away from digital devices is great for you. It can help you find your balance and recalibrate your perception of other people that may not be healthy. Don’t tune in to everything your friends, family, or influencers have going on.

4. Accept your life for what it is, not what you wish it could be.

Do you have regrets? Probably. Most people do, even the people that claim they don’t. We can always look back on life and find something we wish we had done differently. Maybe we did something hurtful to someone we cared about. It could be that you didn’t make the most of an opportunity when it rolled up and knocked on your door. Perhaps you chose the safe, comfortable route instead of the uncomfortable one.

It’s okay. Let yourself grieve for those losses so you can move past and get over them. Let yourself feel your feelings about those situations, positive or negative. Doing that will help you free up that emotional bandwidth for more important things, like new goals and ventures.

5. Take inspiration from other people.

Living vicariously can serve a positive purpose when used in balance. It would be impossible for you to go out and experience everything that life has to offer. Even if you could, you would still be limited by your own perceptions. Everyone sees the world in a slightly different way which means they will interpret events differently. They may love something you do not like. They may like something that you do not love. And that’s okay! Our differences provide a colorful, interesting world.

You can certainly use other people’s experiences to inspire your own life. Instead of hanging on to what they do, you can always go out and do those things yourself. There’s nothing wrong with saying, “Hey, that looks really fun! Let’s go do that!”

6. Turn your doubts into curiosity.

Sometimes we avoid taking risks because we doubt ourselves. You may not think you are skilled, competent, or worldly enough to do the thing that you are watching someone else do.

But the thing is that no one really starts off great at anything. Sometimes people completely belittle the effort it took to make the thing look effortless. Every artist everywhere has, at some point, heard someone say, “You have so much natural talent!” And you know what, they might. But chances are pretty good they didn’t get to be a good artist by resting on their natural talent.

Hard work beats natural talent any day of the week because you can really only improve when you’re out there doing the work. If you want to make the most of it, you need practice, practice, and practice.

And if you are filled with self-doubt, it can be difficult to see yourself succeeding. So instead of focusing on the doubt, try to focus on immediate curiosity. Focus on what you can do today to bring you closer to that bigger goal that you want to accomplish. Be curious about the journey to get there instead of losing yourself in another person’s goals.

7. Address your insecurities.

Some people live vicariously through other people because they are insecure about who they are and what they bring to the table of life. If that’s the case, it may be necessary to address those insecurities to feel comfortable with yourself. But, of course, that is much easier said than done.

Insecurities often stem from painful places and trauma. Addressing those insecurities may require the help of a therapist to unravel the trauma and create some healing so you can move on from it. You don’t want to spend your life being dragged down by that anchor around your neck.

And still, living vicariously can be a maladaptive coping mechanism for traumatic experiences. It may just be easier to escape into fantasy than to deal with the very real and ugly reality you may face. If that’s the case, do seek professional help for dealing with that trauma. A therapist should help you find healthier ways of engaging with the world so you can take back your life and live it to the fullest.

If you want to look further into the therapy route to stop living vicariously through others, check out BetterHelp.com. You can talk to an experienced therapist whevere you are in the world at a time to suit you.

Click here to learn more or to book your first session.

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