Everyone is born with a longing to do something incredible with their lives, whether it’s pursuing a career, traveling the world, starting their own business, or even getting married and starting a family. But sometimes, we are guilty of having these emotional experiences through other people. This is called vicarious living—when we gain emotional excitement and fulfillment from experiencing the life events of others as though they were our own.
A prime example of this is a mother who never got her chance to make it as a gymnast and pushes her daughter to follow the same path so she can live through her daughter. This mother gains fulfillment every time her daughter competes in a competition and wins a gold medal…because it’s everything the mother ever wanted.
Whether we want to believe it or not, we are all guilty of living vicariously through others at some point of our lives, to some degree, especially today with the prevalence of social media and reality television. We do it when becoming heavily involved in a fictional character’s life when we read novels. We also live vicariously when we watch talented people do things on YouTube, such as painting, playing musical instruments, dancing, and cooking. We even live through our friends sometimes when we lead ourselves to believe that they are living a “better life” than we are.
There is a healthy way to live vicariously, but there are also some dangers attached to it if we let it go too far.
WHY DO WE LIVE VICARIOUSLY?
Achieving great things in life comes with even greater risks: the risk of failure, rejection, embarrassment, fear of change, or the possibility of physical accidents. There are a lot of things that can hold us back from experiencing the life we’ve always wanted to live, but, in the meantime, we want the emotional fulfillment that comes with accomplishing these things. This is why we have a natural tendency to live through others who have the boldness that we seem to lack.
Another reason we may live vicariously through others is because we may have attempted something great in the past, but never got to fully realize it for some reason. This typically causes a parent to push their child into fulfilling the parent’s dreams and ignore the desires of the child.
HOW CAN VICARIOUSNESS LIVING HARM US?
When we get deep into living our lives through others, we become dependent, lose touch with our own gifts and abilities, and push people into doing things we’ve always wanted to experience, just so we can put on a pair of virtual goggles and experience life from their vantage point.
We become dependent by counting on other people—whether our friends, celebrities, or social media “stars”—to do the things we’ve always dreamed of. Another thing is that our confidence and our craving for personal experience gradually fizzle out the more we live through others. We become out of touch with our talents, what we want out of life, and what we can contribute to the world. We may also end up living a life that is complacent with no elevation or development because we’re too busy watching that abstract artist create images that we know are inside of us.
HOW DO WE BEGIN LIVING FOR OURSELVES?
First, we must cleanse our atmosphere of anything that causes us to engage in vicarious living. It may be stirring novels, social media, or your favorite reality series. Whatever it is, you need a break from it to become more in tune with who you are, your talents, and what you want out of life.
Know that your life has purpose and that your purpose will not be activated until you take that first step to live your life for yourself.
Make a list of all the things you want to accomplish in life. Begin checking off that list, starting with the most attainable goal and work your way up. This will help you gain confidence in completion and succession.
Vicarious living keeps us from encountering the risks that accompany the pursuit of great ambitions and also from the hard work that it requires. Remember that grunge work and failure are the way to a prosperous life.