We Were Not Made for “Escapism”

British singer Raye’s song “Escapism” (which was released in 2022 and has recently gone viral on Tiktok) is about the kind of escapism that can ruin a person’s life. “Escapism” tells a dark and heartbreaking story based on the singer’s own life, with Raye neither glamorizing nor rejecting the destructive escapist activities she describes. The popularity of “Escapism” suggests that many people resonate with the singer’s story of trying to escape pain through various destructive and numbing activities. The narrative of “Escapism” offers an insight into why our culture indulges in so much escapism: relational brokenness is at the core of our tendency to escape.

Why We Try to Escape
Escapism comes in many forms, from the trifecta of drugs, sex, and alcohol promoted through music and media, to more acceptable (but still potentially destructive) forms like workaholism and entertainment. While some forms of escapism are kept secret and taboo, it seems that almost everyone has some form of escapism that has become “acceptable” to them, whether it is Netflix, porn, cocaine, or workaholism.

Plenty of factors contribute to why we allow ourselves and others to indulge in harmful escapism. One factor is that we live in a culture that promotes avoiding pain whenever possible. Raye attests to this in the first verse of “Escapism,” singing

And I don’t wanna feel how my heart is rippin’
In fact, I don’t wanna feel, so I stick to sippin’

Raye essentially states that forms of escapism she has pursued in the past (like drug use and reckless sex with strangers) are akin to a drug addict trying to convince a doctor to give them anything that will take their pain away. In the chorus of “Escapism,” she sings,

I don’t wanna feel how I did last night
Doctor, doctor, anything, please
Doctor, doctor, have mercy on me, take this pain away
You’re asking me my symptoms, doctor, I don’t wanna feel

Listening to the lines of “Escapism,” it seems that to Raye even escapism that could end catastrophically is a viable alternative to pain. Raye calls the song “a cry to just desperately not feel the reality in the moment you’re in.”1 It would be easy to think that for Raye, one form of escapism is as good as another, whether it be sex, drugs, alcohol—or all of the above.

At first glance, Raye’s casual exhibition of her self-destructive hedonism looks like pure immorality, a party anthem for people with no moral compass or instinct for self-preservation. But underneath the bravado of a pop star having a wild night is something much darker. Escapism is so common because of what is carried within so many people in our culture: histories of relational hurt and brokenness.

The Relational Core of Escapism
Pain avoidance is the obvious reason for escapism, but most often that pain—in full or in part—comes from other people. Raye kicks off the first verse of “Escapism” by letting us in on some of her own relational pain:

The man that I love sat me down last night
And he told me that it’s over, dumb decision
And I don’t wanna feel how my heart is rippin’
In fact, I don’t wanna feel, so I stick to sippin’

In short, Raye’s indulgence in escapism is a direct result of relational pain and an attempt to avoid it. She is aware that the kind of escapism she pursues perpetuates the sort of relational brokenness that caused her pain in the first place:

Drunk calls, drunk texts, drunk tears, drunk sex
I was lookin’ for a man who was on the same page
Now it’s back to the intro, back to the bar
To the Bentley, to the hotel, to my old ways

By “back to the intro” and back “to my old ways,” Raye is acknowledging that her behavior will inevitably leave her heartbroken and looking for a way to numb and escape the pain…again.

It is not just romantic heartbreak that fuels the escapism Raye recounts. “Escapism” depicts a person without healthy relationships with lovers or friends (I don’t trust any of these [sisters] I’m with). As “Escapism” ends, Raye admits that while she is recklessly indulging in sex and drugs, she is keeping the people who really care about her at a distance (I left everyone I love on read/ Spilling secrets to the stranger in my bed).

Raye’s other songs show that, like many of us, she has more than enough reasons not to trust others. Raye alludes to how she has been hurt and manipulated by men on the song “Oscar Winning Tears” and to a string of sexual assaults from childhood through adulthood on “Ice Cream Man.”2 It seems that, as a result of the relational wounds she has suffered, Raye chose to close her heart off to the possibility of truly loving or being loved (He won’t take my heart, but he’ll take off my dress).3

Disengaging from meaningful relationships and finding safety or satisfaction in something else is appealing. Most people probably have plenty of reasons to prefer escapism over the messy, difficult, work of finding and maintaining good relationships. Raye has reasons to avoid close relationships, as she gives examples of how relationships can be genuinely dangerous. Yet the hole left inside of her by the lack of healthy relationships cannot be filled with the escapism she pours into it.

Perhaps more familiar to many of us is escaping through seemingly harmless means. To explain why she writes about emotional, dark, and personal topics, Raye calls making music “medicinal”4 and a “therapeutic process.”5 Losing ourselves in work, art, hobbies, or entertainment can also be a way to deal with pain. While within certain boundaries any of these things can be helpful ways to process or cope with pain, if they become escapist they will fail us for the same reason other types of escapism leave us empty: God made us to flourish in relationships.

God Made Us to Need Others
Christianity explains why escapism will always leave a person empty, only offering momentary relief from a problem. As creatures made in the image of the triune God, we are designed to flourish only when we are in meaningful relationships with others. The “new life” we are promised in the Bible (Romans 6:4) is not only something we will experience with God someday, but something we are meant to experience with other people right now. As theologian and neuroscientist Jim Wilder puts it, “New life produces relational maturity as part of spiritual wholeness.”6

This is consistent with the sort of life God calls us to practice. We are told to love one another (John 13:34-35), meet together regularly (Hebrews 10:24-25), seek reconciliation with those close to us (Matthew 5:23-24), and support and encourage one another (1 Thessalonians 5:11). While the admonishments that outline what our relationships with others should look like are more often overlooked than the “thou shalt nots” that dominate the moral imagination of Christians, they are no less important. For spiritual growth and maturity it is just as important that we follow God’s model for relationships as it is that we avoid sin.

Our need for healthy relationships holds true when it comes to mental health as well. While therapy, medication, and other treatments for mental illness and trauma can all be effective, healing does not happen without healthy relationships. Over the past decades, studies in trauma and human development have shown more and more that human connection is indispensable to mental health and healing.7 No matter how much therapy a person receives or how religiously they take their medication, without people who consistently and lovingly support them, a person will not be able to heal and flourish in the long run. It is not a coincidence that the same sorts of relationships that God calls us to as Christians are fundamental as both preventative and remedial solutions for mental health.

Cultivating Compassion for Those Chasing Escapism
But let’s remember that, for many people, healthy and meaningful human connection is not easy to come by. For someone who has been deeply wounded by others, meaningful relationships no longer seem a viable option, so they turn to escapism instead. How can Christians help those who seem to be cut off from positive relationships?

First, if we understand escapism in its sinful forms as a result of relational woundedness, it may help us have more compassion for those who indulge in self-destructive, hedonistic, or irresponsible sins because of relational brokenness. It also changes how we respond to people chasing escapism. If the sin is largely due to relational wounds and continued relational disconnection, what a person needs in order to repent from their sin is not an explanation of why they should repent but genuine, loving human connections. Often, people need relational connection, not just moral correction.

We are made to be in relationships with other humans because we are made in the image of a relational God. Ergo, we are made to be in relationship with that relational God. Ultimately, even human connection cannot fully heal the hole people try to fill with escapism, because we are made to be satisfied by God. However, our relationships with other Christians and with non-Christians can be the most tangible signpost to point people in the direction of their need for a relationship with God. Christians are called to model relationships characterized by selflessness and love (John 15:12-13), demonstrating what it looks like to truly flourish. This active example may be one of the most powerful forms of witness we have to a world that rejects God in favor of escapism.

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Jesse Childress

Jesse Childress has a deep appreciation for good food, philosophy, theology, and literature. He is the former Lead Content Editor and Writer for Summit Ministries' worldview blog Reflect, and spent a term studying at Francis Schaeffer's L'Abri Fellowship in Switzerland. Jesse has an MA in Cultural Apologetics from Houston Baptist University (now Houston Christian University), and began attending Denver Seminary in the fall of 2022 to study counseling, focusing particularly on the relationship between trauma and faith.