The ‘I want to disappear’ feeling, explained


“At last he was unencumbered, liberated from the suffocating world of his parents and peers, a world of abstraction and security and material excess, a world in which he felt painfully cut off from the raw rhythm of existence,” wrote Jon Krakauer of Christopher McCandless in the book-turned-movie Into the Wild.

In the true story, McCandless gave up his material possessions to hitchhike to Alaska and disappear into the wilderness. Not everyone is equally enthusiastic about the wilderness, but it seems that many share a desire to leave it all behind. Social media is full of memes about people wanting to disappear without explanation. It is not so much about going on holiday or dying, but about fleeing from often overwhelming and seemingly hopeless situations.

But what does wanting to disappear actually mean, and what can people really do about it?

“It’s normal to fantasize every now and then that you want to escape,” clinical psychologist Therese Mascardo told VICE. “The fantasy of escape is a common mechanism that superficially relieves some pressure for more difficult or complicated feelings.”

Psychologists say the human brain is set up to respond to stress in four basic ways: fight, freeze, fawn, or flight. The fight response involves facing perceived threats aggressively. The freeze response uses silence to avoid danger, or renders people unable to act against it. The fawn reaction immediately tries to please another person to avoid conflict. And the flight response runs completely away from the threatening situation.

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That means running away is just one of the ways people can react when life gets tough. “It’s basically ingrained in our survival instincts,” Mascardo said.

Often, the desire to run away happens when people feel overwhelmed with emotions and long for relief. According to Mascardo, this may become more common these days, as there is a lot going on in the world and many people feel more isolated than ever.

“When it comes to things like the environment, or gun violence, or pandemics, or even the economy, many people feel powerless and hopeless, leading to a sense of despair. I’ve seen my clients in the therapy room say things like, ‘What’s the point if the world ends in 50 years because of global warming?’” Mascardo said.

Disappearance is often an indication that something in someone’s life is not right and needs care and attention.

People who say they want to disappear may actually say: I feel alone and need love, I feel sad and need comfort or things that bring me joy, I am ashamed and need to know that I am an okay person, I am tired and in need of rest, i feel overwhelmed and need a plan, or i feel lost and need a purpose.

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“Ultimately, it’s a thought-distortion that running away will solve all your problems, but it can be equally comforting to imagine that you have the option of escaping it for a while,” Mascardo said.

Sure, few people can drop their lives and disappear for long, but Mascardo shared some tips for dealing with the feeling.

Get some space

In stressful situations, stepping back and taking a break can reduce the feeling of being overwhelmed and helpless. This can be as simple as getting away from your desk when work gets too stressful and going for a walk before answering that next email.

Get some rest

“Business culture tells us rest is for the weak, but the truth is we need rest to thrive,” Mascardo said, adding that people need breaks from the pressure to be “on” and pretend everything is okay. We need naps, vacations, and unstructured time when they aren’t expected to be productive.

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Practice mindfulness

According to Mascardo, mindfulness meditation is one of the most scientifically backed and accessible practices that improve overall well-being. Those who don’t know where or how to start can turn to many online resources. One of the easiest ways to do this is to watch and count your breaths.

Laugh and play

“As a productivity and profit-obsessed culture, we’ve forgotten how to play and have fun just to have fun,” Mascardo said. She suggested painting, singing, and laughing with friends as helpful methods of calming anxiety.


The benefits of exercise are not limited to weight loss or body modification. Mascardo said some movements, such as walking or dancing, are particularly good for reducing stress.

But she also said another thing people can do if they want to disappear is to face the problem directly.

“The most powerful thing people can do to alleviate the desire to run is to address the root of their suffering. In other words, identify and address the need directly, whether it be a need for support, love, kindness, joy, tranquility, or a sense of purpose.”

Follow Romano Santos on Instagram.

The post The ‘I Want To Disappear’ Feeling Explained appeared first on VICE.


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