Why you should watch cringe and uncomfortable TV

Do you ever find yourself having to turn off the TV, change the channel or close your eyes? Ignoring gore, there’s actually an argument to keep watching cringe content. The inability to deal with the emotions elicited highlights how we deal with those feelings in every day life. It’s natural to want to run away, disassociate or distract yourself, especially if you’ve suffered from trauma in the past. However, repeat exposure will lower our resistance and heighten our emotional bandwidth.

There’s a Pirates of the Caribean sequel that my sister refuses to rewatch because of the sad ending. Like, she will get mad at you and cuss you out for even suggesting she endure that torture again. Memoirs of a Geisha, one of my favourite movies as a teen and inherently heartbreaking, was added on to that list. My entire family in fact feels deeply whatever is happening on the screen. I once made the mistake of playing Drive for them, and caused World War 3 during the elevator scene. My mother didn’t speak to me for a week.

It took me years to be able to watch British cringe comedy such as Peep Show or IT Crowd.
In real life, I cannot deal with shame, embarrassment or guilt. I tried to describe my ‘shame attacks’ to a therapist a few years ago, and how they were literally the worst feelings ever.
Now, I am watching Normal People on BBC (which I highly recommend). It’s a love story between two Irish teens, a tale of heartbreak, miscommunication and embarrassing mistakes. More than once an episode I find myself stopping the show, and I have to force myself to keep watching. But will this really help me cope with real life situations?

Frankly, the science says yes, anecdotal experience says no.
Irene Lyon is my go-to neuroscience educator, and she explains the need to train nervous system regulation here wonderfully. Often, we are so distant from our own feelings that being confronted with them suddenly, like while watching a show, can deeply unsettle us. Working with focusing and our felt sense as I described here can ease us back into being in our body.

I love TV and film so immensely, but I also hate them for making me feel so deeply. I know its fictional, but my mind and body do not seem to acknowledge this. When the characters suffer, I suffer along with them, and there is nothing I can do to make them feel better. Maybe I should read my blog post about being an empath/codependent again, maybe I should find a silly comedy that does not throw my nervous system through the ringer.
Have you ever experienced these deep feelings of shame watching TV? How do you deal with them?

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