If only you were able to get away, start over, and live how you actually want to live.
This is what the geographical cure promises.
The geographical cure is the idea that by moving somewhere, or changing locations you can rid yourself of your problems and finally live a fulfilling life.
At the core, the idea of geographical cure deals with happiness and well-being which is why it’s worth discussing in detail. In this article I want to go over the benefits, misconceptions, and how it relates to our everyday lives.
Identify the problem before prescribing the cure
At one point or another we’ve all tried to get away from our problems, to create space in order to clear our mind and deal with them better emotionally equipped. This is the essential idea behind geographical cure and depending on the type of problem it may, or may not be beneficial.
At first glance the geographical cure seems like a logical method to problem solving:
Out of sight out of mind.
But that would like a doctor prescribing a drug without identifying the issue first. Get out of here, the doctor says, you aren’t my responsibility anymore.
There’s supposed to be a set procedure. A series of questions and tests to identify the problem. Then the doctor prescribes the correct medicine for your diagnosis.
We must know two things before trying to fix a problem:
- What’s bothering you, and
- Where does it originate from?
We must know what the problem is and where it originates before prescribing anything.
The general rule of thumb with geographical cure is… It works if your problem’s origin isn’t internally driven.
Let me give you an example,
Jim is an alcoholic. He believes that his environment is responsible for his alcohol abuse. He complains that If he were in a new place he could reinvent himself and start anew. He wouldn’t have his group of friends and aquantiances influencing and/or urging him to drink. Without his social circle and daily routine, he thinks his alcohol problem would subside.
What Jim fails to confront is his internal struggle with substance dependancy. Instead, he passes the blame and therefore responsibility to external places and people. What Jim doesn’t understand is that no matter where he goes in the world he will always struggle if he doesn’t deal with his personal demons, so to speak.
In this example, the geographical cure is a form of escapism. In fact, Alcohol Anonymous members are warned about this concept since it’s widely common among addicts to idealize a place. As the saying goes however, “Wherever you go, there you are.” In other words, people bring their problems with them.
When, if ever, is the geographical cure beneficial?
In certain contexts I think relocating yourself is the right decision. Moving out and/or leaving a toxic, unhealthy, dangerous environment is not escapism. It’s self preservation.
Unlike someone struggling with substance dependency, a person who’s life is in danger because of their surroundings should leave. There’s no sense in taking unnecessary risk. Let’s look at another example.
Maria is married to Jim, a low-functioning alcoholic. They’ve been together for 10 years but unfortunately the last half of the decade Jim has increasingly become abusive. He wasn’t always like this. She loves the person she married all those years ago, but can’t do it anymore. He yells at her like a drunkard, curses and throws things across the room. Maria has tried to keep the marriage afloat, but nothing she does works and it’s only getting worse.
He hit her the other night after driving home drunk. Maria always gave Jim the benefit of the doubt, he’ll change his ways, but no. Not anymore. She told herself that if it ever became physical she would leave. Emotionally traumatised and genuinely afraid for her well-being, Maria packs her bags and moves to another state.
In this example, the geographical cure is a sound solution. Now, it isn’t perfect but it works. It works because Maria’s problem was Jim- an external factor rather than something internally driven like the first example.
In less extreme contexts the geographical cure can be beneficial as well. If you have a problem that’s troubling you it can help to change your surroundings. I personally like driving somewhere calm and peaceful. Wherever I can think clearly and come up with the right solution. I know that when I go back I can face whatever my problem may be.
You can see how the geographical cure entirely depends on whether or not you confront and deal with your problem.
If you go somewhere for avoidance then it would be considered escapism. Conversely if you go somewhere to clear your mind, reset and take action then it is your responsibility to do so.
Returning to the first example, If Jim felt compelled to get out of town for awhile I would argue that even though it isn’t the perfect solution- definitely not a cure- getting away might be a positive thing to do. The newness of a place evokes excitement and curiosity.
A break from the everyday norm might be what someone like Jim needs. Being in a new place allows for what psychologists call “pattern interruption” which is a technique used to change a particular behaviour.
Within that brief interruption Jim has the opportunity to see his life from an outside perspective, reflect on his toxic dependency, relationships, and life choices. An internal change can happen here as long as he doesn’t cling to the idea of geographical cure. He must understand that the newness of a place fades and old habits/ behavioural patterns will eventually reemerge.
What are misconceptions about the geographical cure?
A common misconception about geographical cure is that the beneficial effects are permanent.
In the examples above we can see how the geographical cure is not an all-in-one solution. If anything, it’s a single step in the problem-solving process. Even Maria who is better off in a different state still faces residual damage from her relationship with Jim. Although she’s safe from his abuse, she now deals with depression and emotional trauma.
For Jim, if he doesn’t take responsibility, correct his behaviour and get his shit together- for lack of a better term- then going somewhere to “reinvent” himself is foolish and delusional. Even the most serene white-sand paradise in the world can’t cure addiction. Problems must be internally resolved before reality mirrors change.
Another misconception about the geographical cure is that the further away you go the better. If you’ve read up until now (I thank you) it’s obvious that this isn’t true. I would recommend reading the article Travel Is No Cure for the Mind to understand how no matter where you go in the world, a far-off foreign country or Caribbean island, eventually you fall back into the same routine with all the same redundancies that made you move in the first place.
The geographical cure promises an all-in-one solution to our problems, but at closer examination we can see that isn’t the case.
What we realise is the fact that no matter where we are and where we go our problems are not dependant on location, but instead on our ability to resolve them.
How can you and I be happy anywhere in the world?
By not relying on somewhere out there to change our state of mind. By reflecting, identifying, and resolving our problems here and now.
This is the real cure:
To fundamentally understand no matter where you go, here you are.
What do you guys think about the geographical cure? Do you know anyone who’s benefited from moving away or is it generally a form of escapism?