Living Vicariously through Others? The Good and the Bad

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Living vicariously

What does it mean to live vicariously? It means experiencing life indirectly through someone else’s experience rather than living the events yourself. 

When you live vicariously, you immerse yourself into someone else’s world and you live the life of that person in your imagination. You identify with the person and take on his real life experiences as if they were your own and you also feel the same feelings and good emotions as them.

Living vicariously through others is a normal part of life. Most human beings desire to be successful in life.

However, there are negative forces that might deny someone this opportunity. That is why you constantly find yourself comparing your life with that of others, especially public figures, famous people and other more successful people.

Living Vicariously: The Good

The good news is that there are certain advantages to immersing yourself in someone else’s real world and experiencing their successes and failures as your own.

○ A supplant to experience life

In life, we cannot experience everything there is since you may be interested in a variety of things. However, there may not be enough time to do all there is. Therefore, living vicariously is what we do to supplant it in its place. It can feel rewarding.

If you are unable to experience life, maybe as a result of your current circumstances in life or due to physical reasons or means, you can live to see your dreams fulfilled as part of someone else’s life. It opens you up to the possibility that there is much more to life.

○ Main reason behind the power of empathy

Living vicariously helps with empathy

“Empathy is the vicarious affective response to another person” Mill J.S.

When you live vicariously, it means that you are experiencing life through someone else’s experience to feel what the other person is feeling or going through. This makes it possible to share their feelings and have empathy for them, as you can place yourself in their shoes and sympathize with their circumstances.

You are more attuned to your own feelings, but it can be difficult to get into someone’s head and understand them. When you are empathetic, you understand other people’s emotions and respond appropriately to them.

○ Life will feel like an adventure 

Living vicariously is usually something that happens unconsciously. For example, when you watch some movies or tv shows or when you play some addictive video games or when you read a book, you start living vicariously through the lead character for some second hand thrill.

Living out your fantasy lives through novels and films is fine since it is fiction and it transports you into the exciting and new adventures of fictional characters for short periods.

It allows you to forget about your life and immerse yourself in a more exciting world and explore the power of the imagination causing vicarious enjoyment. 

Living Vicariously: The Bad

Is it an unhealthy way to live life vicariously? After all, we have always advocated for living for yourself? Vicarious living in itself is not a bad thing, however, when it takes up a huge chunk of your life it can have negative effects.

○ Living vicariously is a form of escapism 


You could be living through others because you do not believe in yourself or your abilities.

You could also be dissatisfied with your daily life and be looking for another world to engross your life since your present life is not all that pleasing to you. In such a case you will need to examine the problems in your life and address them.

Clinging to another person could be a way to try and find release or resolution to your life. However, it does not help you grow as a real person as you don’t learn from their mistakes, as you can detach from them when they fail. It prevents you from feeling the pain of defeat and facing your shortcomings.

○ You are living a life that is not your own

When you live vicariously through someone, it means that you start following someone you admire to the extent that you want to do everything the way they are doing it.

You want to be like them, therefore instead of following your dreams and passions, you may end up making a decision based on the choices that the other person is making.

When you admire someone in your life, like a character in a movie, you may push aside your desires and wants and live through the other person. This means that you will not experience life as yourself or have firsthand experiences and not fully explore the potential in your life.

○ Limiting your opportunities by not living in the present

When you live vicariously, you may share someone’s experiences to the extent that they might feel firsthand. However, this means that you may get so caught up living in your imagination that you do not experience much and causes low self-esteem

To fulfill your dreams, you need to be your own person. This means having the independence of thought, action, and feeling. By not living in the present, you may become stagnant in life and trapped in your current situation. 

The Importance of striking the Balance (Knowing the Boundary)

There is nothing wrong with admiring someone or being happy for them, but living through someone should not be a substitute for living your own life.

○ What is vicarious pleasure?

Living someone else life

This is when you are happy when someone achieves something in life. Being happy for someone when good fortune smiles on them is a healthy way to respond when someone you like achieves something good. It allows you to have pleasure in others, while not being jealous about their achievements.

However, when these feelings are carried to the extreme, living vicariously through someone else can be damaging for you, as it does not promote and sustain your happiness.

Major example are when you celebrate, argue, or fight with closed ones for the sake of your favorite celebrities, sports stars and others. Remember that these popular people don’t even know you and anything they achieve makes zero impact to your lives.

○ Why you shouldn’t compare your life to others

“Try not to get lost in comparing yourself to others. Discover your gifts and let them shine!” — Jennie Finch

Living takes courage. If you want to live an authentic life, you need to step away from other people’s shadows. You need to establish beliefs, boundaries, and values that are unique to you.

You can draw inspiration from others, but there comes a time when you must have the guts to face the real test of following your pursuits. After all, what’s the point of being alive but not living?

○ How can I stop focusing on other people?

Set goals and live your life

If you want to live for yourself, then you have to set your goals and plans. This will help you to live a fulfilled and purposeful life. Live your own life and not someone else’s.

Some people are quite good at manifesting what they want in life and actively going after what they want. They can also be talented. Nevertheless, we are all capable of getting what we want with the right support and guidance.

An Overview – Can you live vicariously through yourself?

Living vicariously through others can consume your individuality if you are not careful. You should recognize that you are a multi-faceted human being with your thoughts, feelings, and desires which should not be subsumed by imitating others. It is important to let yourself be who you can be. 

When was the last time you said “I wish I could do that?”

Instead of living vicariously through others, can you live vicariously through yourself? Living vicariously through yourself can be a good way to understand others and be empathic to them, while still being yourself and having your own emotions, thoughts, and feelings about things.

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Manasa is a passionate person who loves to share insights on life and everything it has to offer. She also love to explore the human mind, as well as offer advice for those seeking help in their journey of self-discovery.
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