The Power And Price Of Illusions

Let me ask you something: do you live in an illusion right now? Your life, as you perceive it, is 100% true? There aren’t any hidden parts that you’re avoiding? Are you sure about that? Your personal relationship is exactly how you think it is? Or your career? Just take a close look at your life and try to see if there are any parts that are just masks, facades for another reality. A reality you’re not yet ready to accept, to be more precise. I agree this is not an easy thing to do, and you’ll see why.

I did a few informal tests with this a while ago. I asked a few friends that question and guess what: everybody answered they’re not living in an illusion. They live their life as they should live it. After a while, let’s say a few months after the first round of questions, I restarted the “test”. The answers were slightly different this time. Some of the respondents told me that parts of their personal relationships proved to be a little foggy. Some of them told me that their career started to feel void sometimes.

Fact is everybody agreed that, to a certain level, they actually lived in an illusion, if only for some parts of their lives. That informal test proved to me something I was feeling for a long time. That we live in, and sometimes we thrive for illusions almost all of our existence. Illusion is part of our life, either we want it or not.

And with that, we’re getting to the core of this article. What is he power of illusions and what is the price we’re paying for obeying them?

How Can You Tell You’re Living In An Illusion?

First of all, let’s see how can we define an illusion. There can be many answers to this but let’s try to keep it simple: an illusion is a facade to a much difficult to accept reality. A facade which covers parts that we don’t really want to accept or to expose to others. This facade acts like a replacement for this reality, like an embellisher or a camouflage net.

Now, the real question: how can you tell you’re living in an illusion? If that illusion is a replacement for reality, well, it can get really tricky. So, how do you really know you’re living in an illusion and not in the “real” world? How can you tell?

I tried many approaches to answer this question, and, to be honest, none of them really clicked. Every time I was sure I was close to defining an illusion, the whole scaffold crumbled and had to start over. Because, you know, one of the fundamental qualities of an illusion is its “reality” consistence. What makes an illusion an illusion is its capacity of camouflaging reality with something believable.

Well, after many trials and errors, I finally fond something that worked. Something that was able to define an illusion as opposed to reality. And that was fear. More precisely, fear of loss. If you are experiencing fear of loss in your current situation, then you’re in an illusion.

Let me explain.

Imagine you’re in a dream. You enjoy so much what you dreaming and yet, deep down, on a very remote level of consciousness, you know you’ll have to wake up. And you don’t want that. You want to stay there because the dream is much more enjoyable than the real world. You’re afraid to wake up. You’re afraid to step out from the illusion of the dream.

It’s the same thing with illusions. You feel so great living them but deep down you know they’ll have to end sooner or later. And you don’t want that. So, you’re afraid to wake up to your real life. Why? Because your real life may be different from what you’d want to experience. Maybe it’s boring or maybe you don’t have enough friends or emotional stability, or maybe you don’t have enough money.

Whatever the reason for your refuge in an illusion, it is always associated with the fear of loss. In real life, you have nothing to lose. You’re already complete. You can only enjoy your life every second.

Comfort And Fear

There is this thin line between an uncomfortable reality and a soothing land of illusions. Staying in the uncomfortable land will require a lot of effort. Will require willpower and endurance. Will make you feel sad, miserable or defeated. On the other side, in the land of illusion, all you’ll need is a leap of faith. You need to fake just a little bit, until you get in tune with your own illusion. That doesn’t require a lot of effort. It’s far more easier than facing reality upfront. So, you take the plunge, dive in, and give up to reality.

Living in an illusion will give you comfort. But it will also force you to live with the fear that you may lose what you already have. Because you know it’s not real. You know it will end, sooner or later.

The moment you get rid of the fear, the illusion will dissolve. Most of the time this would be a traumatic process. You became so attached to a certain lifestyle that loosing it all of a sudden will have major impact on your life. But sometimes the dissolution of the illusion will be actually enjoyable.

Regardless of the emotional vibration, losing an illusion is always healing. You will emerge as a more powerful and grounded individual.

The temptation will always be there though. Whenever life gets complicated, you will try to find an escape in some mental constructs, in some new territory that will seem more comfortable. Forget comfort. Comfort is the mother of all illusions.

Life is not comfortable. It’s beautiful.

Dieting For Illusions

Getting rid of illusions is very much like losing weight through dieting. Not only you will be confronted with a completely different way of doing things (eating, in this case) but your own body memory will fight this change: why are you taking me through this? Don’t you know I’m used to weight 100 kilos? Why are you trying to make me weigh 85 kilos?

Well, those 15 kilos difference are the weight of the illusion which is dragging you back. They are keeping you in an inexistent world. And yes, loosing them is difficult, but only in the beginning. The moment you can break through and make your body understand that its real weight was always 85 kilos, and that 100 kilos comes from an illusion of safety and control, things will dramatically change. You will gradually lose the illusion of a 100 kilos individual and get back in your 85 kilos real shape.

It’s the same thing with illusions.

For instance, if you’re in an illusory personal relationship, you may have an excess of emotional safety, tied up to a certain person. I guess the more popular term for this is co-dependance. Our internal memory will fight our intention to break free reminding us that we’ve “always” been comforted and soothed by that specific person. Which is, of course, completely false. We just thought we’ve been comforted, we perceived the whole context as comfortable. But our internal memory developed this sense of attachment and will fight back every time we’re trying to break the circle.

So, loosing that excess of attachment will make you not only look slimmer and fitter, but it will actually make you understand that comforting and soothing doesn’t have to be necessary tied up to a certain person. On the contrary, you’ll realize that comforting and soothing are not at all coming from the outside. But that’s another story. 😉

Once you’ll get rid of that excess, you’ll realize that a fulfilling personal relationship will never keep you blocked by fear of loosing it. It will be the same in any circumstances. It will survive to contexts.

And it’s also the same thing with much simpler situations, like a job. If you really fear loosing your job, then you’re living the illusion of stability. You’ve grown an excess of “illusory stability fat”. You are tied up to a single context and you fear the loss of that context. The “stability fat” is keeping you tied up to that job. And when you actually lose the job, the fat will make you slow, clumsy and depressed.

You’re not designed to be slow, clumsy and depressed. That extra fat can be avoided if you just stop fearing loosing your job. This simple step of avoiding fear of loosing your job will actually stop the process of accumulating “stability fat”. Yes, you may lose the job. But you won’t lose your financial stability. Because you’re a valuable individual and you will always find other sources of income.

The Power Of Illusions

By now you should be comfortable with my description of illusions and with their associated problems. But there is something very important about illusion that we shouldn’t ignore: illusions are powerful. Extremely powerful. Sometimes, they can push us do things we couldn’t do in different circumstances.

As you can see, I’m trying to avoid a black and white definition of a life with or without illusions. I don’t think they’re bad or good. As I said, I think we’re sometimes thriving for illusions.

Fact is, every time you’re enjoying a motivating facade for some parts of your life, you may do incredible things in that area. Let me give you an example.

If you’re usually a shy guy, and that is your real nature (that’s nothing wrong with being shy, by the way) and you get into a personal relationship which will feed your self-esteem, you will accomplish a lot of stuff. Suppose the relationship is just an illusion, and your partner doesn’t really care about you. As long as the facade will be motivating, and you will be thinking that you’re cherished and valued for who you are, you will grow tremendously. Yes, you will still be in an illusion. At some point you will have to wake up from the dream. But while in the dream, your life advanced tremendously. In this case, the awakening process will be really traumatic. But there’s no need to abandon or ignore the things we did while you were in that dream. They’re still part of your personal history. They’re still part of your experience.

If we look at them this way, illusions can sometimes be extremely efficient triggers for evolution and growth.

The Price You Have To Pay For It

But there is a price for this. Back to reality, here comes gravity. You will always experience disappointment and frustration, once the dream is over. You will feel defeated, alone and cheated. Even more, you will experience shame and guilt. I wish I could say there is a way to avoid all that, but I’m afraid I can’t. An illusion will always bring a cold shower at its end and that cold shower will not feel good. The only good news is that, based on that specific experience, you may avoid a future similar illusion. Of course, that will not prevent you from entering other, not related, life illusions.

As I said, sometimes we need them.

But, if you can live your life without fearing that tomorrow will take away something from you, you’ll be safer. Loss is inevitable. Loss is more often than not the direct effect of growing, of evolving, of going up. You can’t climb if you stay at the same weight. You can’t evolve until you don’t get rid of some of your old ideas and beliefs. You have to lose them.

Your Turn

I’m really curious now about YOUR illusions. Are you living some of them right now? Do you have any experience with overcoming them, with recovering from them, with avoiding them? Share it, I’m listening 🙂

23 thoughts on “The Power And Price Of Illusions”

  1. My son just swore into the Marines this week and I’ve been stuck in the, “cold shower”. Tears and depression, really dramatic thoughts. I am now looking at my while life and it feels like a lie.
    I was looking up the Marine Corps, Illusion of Comfort, saying (which is printed on a poster in my gym that I stare at whilst sweating on a treadmill trying to loose my comfort 15lbs of thirty years-I’ve been doing this for thirty years).
    I just happened to stumble on your article.
    I really enjoyed your article. It helps me to understand a lot. I’ve printed it out and plan to read it a few more times. I am a co-dependent too. I feel that I’ve been growing a lot in the last two years. It’s been painful but reading your explanation of the Cold Shower makes me realize that it’s probably all good!
    Thanks for your insight and thanks for sharing!

  2. This was actually a very useful article for me, thanks 🙂 Yes, I have been partly living in some illusions, and they are as comforting and reassuring as they can get. And yes, the cold shower is inevitable, but you always hope to be able to change the illusion into reality by power of will. And that doesn’t happen, unless you are starring in a movie or smth.

    So yeah, I truly enjoyed the article. Much as we might hate it, life is indeed beautiful and needs to be lived as such, our helping mental constructs aside.

  3. What’s going on here? Are you all for real? Or are your profoundness and eloquence products of my illusion?


    Hey, Dragos! There you go again! Pushing me to THINK! But then, I like it that way. It expands my appreciation for other people’s view of life.

    As for me, illusions should be ALWAYS kept in check for its aptness and healthy benefits. Some gives people favors, other illusions cause them disasters. It’s achieving balance of illusion’s role in one’s life that matter.

    And Dragos… give my poor mind a break. 🙂

  4. “We cannot change the cards we are dealt, just how we play the hand.”
    -Randy Pausch

    You have a great blog here, would you be interested in exchanging links? I am in the process of building a page with my favorite self improvement bloggers.
    Comment back on my blog and let me know!

    Looking forward to networking 🙂

  5. I think I’ve used the illusion of control throughout my life. In giving up control, or at least releasing the idea of it, I felt a lot of fear. I feared failure, loss, etc. Some of the things that I feared came to fruition, but I’ve come to understand that fearing something doesn’t keep you from experiencing. By the same token, letting things be (without trying to control them) doesn’t mean everything will fall apart. There’s freedom in awakening from such illusions.

  6. I think all successful people are delusional. We have that idea, that a reality which may not be real as yet to the world but to ourselves that we will make it. Any by golly those who stay disillusioned. Make it.

  7. I have to agree with your definition of illusion. I recently lost my job, and yet have incredible inner peace, because I know that it will lead to another door being opened. I did not hold the illusion that my worth was tied into what I did for a living.

    Also, I know the impermanence of life, for several years ago I lost almost everything I held dear in a fire. I did feel pain, but it made me realize how little real value my possessions added to my life, and I came out a stronger and better person because of it.

    The reality is that anything or anyone we cherish can be gone in a moment, and so what matters is not that they are there, but that we make the moments we do have count. Rather than investing my emotional energies in worrying about how I will feel when someone I love is gone, I choose to show them here and now how much I value them. When they pass on, I focus on the joy of the times we had, and celebrate that they were a part of my life, instead of feeling sorry for myself for losing them.

    You’ve managed to inspire me to make a post of my own. Thanks, Dragos.

  8. Dragos,

    This is really an interesting exploration of illusion. In short, it seems to sum up – “What are we hiding from ourselves.” You always write about fascinating topics.

    In my view though, the real illusion is to believe that our life is “real” in the first place – that’s any and all parts of our life. Therefore, how can we ever separate out an illusion from an illusion?

    I’m not saying this isn’t a worry exercise, because it is – just that we can go even further in understanding illusion.

  9. Dragos, as Lyman said … this is going to take some time to get my mind around. Creating Illusions is very much like creating habits. In fact, I view an illusion as a group a habits we have constructed that are interrelated. An example of this is the co-dependent relationship you indicated. Our co-dependency is a group a reactions that we have repeated time and time again to solidify our behaviour towards this person.

    Maybe step one to ridding ourselves of illusions, at least the bad ones … is to constantly be aware of our actions and understand the power of habit creation. Change things up and always understand that whatever we do can easily become something we will do again, again and again.

    Excellent post.

    • Habits are a very important part of our lives and you’re very right, their role is forming and fixing illusions, by taking some parts of our lives on auto-pilot is huge. Thanks for bringing this in 🙂

  10. I don’t agree that “experiencing fear of loss in your current situation, then you’re in an illusion”.

    Whatever we have in reality we will FEAR of losing it. My parents are REAL and not an illusion but I fear losing them to death. Likewise for the love of my life. I will DO fear losing him to illness or accidents because life is unpredictable.

    “Whatever the reason for your refuge in an illusion, it is always associated with the fear of loss. In real life, you have nothing to lose. You’re already complete. You can only enjoy your life every second.”

    In real life, we have EVERYTHING to lose. We work hard for something, but one wrong step may result in us losing them all. Fact of the matter is, when we KNOW we have SOMETHING we treasure (be it loved ones or a career) we will fear losing them and HENCE work to keep them. A happily married man will think twice before doing something dangerous because he doesn’t want to die, because he has a family to support, because he FEAR losing his family. These are not illusions.

    • I think that, from my point of view, you’re experiencing the illusion of control. Loving people is not equal with the fear of loosing them. I think that the moment we start to fear loosing our object of love, we’re not experiencing love anymore.

      For me, this fear test always “clicked”. I’m sure you’re not going to like my comment but i don’t think you’re loving your parents. You got attached to the feeling of comfort and protection their existence is giving to you. At least this is what I perceive from what you’re writing. Of course you’re going to be hurt when they’ll pass away. Pain is unavoidable, but suffering is optional. But fearing their potential loss cannot co-exist (again, in my opinion) with your love for them. You have to choose: either love somebody as he/she is right now, right here, either fear of loosing that person.

      In this space and time, we’re limited. We have to go, sooner or later. That’s the normal course of things. Whenever we’re fearing the loss of something or somebody, we’re experiencing the pressure of our own attachments to those contexts, nothing more.

      Now, what’s natural? Enjoying life as it is. Being there for the ones you love for as long as you can. Be happy and live your life. At some point you, me, and everybody else will disappear. That’s it…

  11. Wow, Dragos… excellent article. This one’s going to take some real thought. I know that there are illusions in my life with regards to my work… the illusion of safety and security is much more comfortable than the idea that, like you said, I am a worthwhile individual who will always find other sources of income. This particular illusion of mine is a powerful one, but I’ve been chipping away at it for a while now, and reality is starting to peak through. 🙂

    • Glad you liked it, Lyman. As for your illusion, I don’t think it’s a problem to have a job you enjoy doing. I think there’s a problem though the moment you start fearing you’re going to loose it. Keep staying on that path, Lyman 🙂

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