What is our fascination with reality television? I believe we’re all allowed one or two guilty pleasures. I admit that I have been known to “escape” into the worlds of the The Real Housewives of Atlanta, The Amazing Race, or The Bachelor from time to time. Obviously, a large number of us do, based on television ratings. But why?
Reality television provides viewers with an opportunity to escape the monotony of their own lives, escape the problems and burdens of their own circumstances, and offers opportunities for emotional release. During the time that we are watching other people’s challenges and conflicts, we are able to forget our own lives. We find ourselves having thoughts like, “Well, at least my life isn’t that bad.” We may even think, “So-and-so is gorgeous and rich and even SHE doesn’t have it all together.”
I liken the fascination with reality television to the car accident on the highway, causing bumper-to-bumper traffic. People can’t help but to stop and stare because it is human nature to be fascinated by tragedy and extreme conflict. It can be hypnotic to watch—even when it’s happening on television. Yes, reality television has its pros. It is a distraction from life stressors, a psychological study on human nature both in the everyday and under extreme circumstances, and it provides us with opportunities to appreciate the fact that no one—not even reality television stars—have perfect lives. And yes, a certain amount of escapism is healthy. Escaping from our lives gives us the ability to recharge, in a sense, enabling us to go into the next day feeling more energized than we would have felt had it not been for the escape. However, as the saying goes, too much of anything is not a good thing.
How much reality television is too much? Here are four signs that you have not found a healthy balance between escapism and reality:
- You spend little to no time each day facing your own issues.
Do you find that you can not spend longer than a few minutes thinking about your own personal issues? Do you find that you want to think about and talk about anything BUT the things that stress you out? Do you find that each time stress hits you, you turn on the television? If so, you have not found a healthy balance. We must find adequate time to deal with our own issues even if doing so stresses us out in the moment. The point is to face our issues in order to find solutions or strategies to reduce the impact of these stressors.
- You consider your life to be extremely boring.
Do you consider your life to be so boring that the only source of excitement you find is escaping into other people’s lives and living vicariously through them? There is no reason why you can not find ways of making your life more exciting. It is never too late to shift the direction of your life, add some momentum to it, or simply incorporate new people or interests into it.
- You know your favorite reality tv stars better than you know yourself.
Is it easier for you to guess how one of the reality stars would react to any given situation than to say what your reaction would be? Are you able to confidently name the emotions that stars have had after a specific conflict, yet find it difficult to name your own emotions day to day? Can you more easily name characteristics of your favorite stars’ personalities than your own? Put energy into deciding who you are, what you like, and what makes you tick. You are valuable and unique. And you deserve to know who you are.
- You feel isolated and disconnected from others.
Do you lack meaningful relationships with others? Do you find that most of your conversations with friends are shallow or focus solely on what you have seen on television? Connection with others is essential. And if reality television is getting in the way of building or maintaining these connections, then reality television is standing in the way of you allowing more happiness into your life.
Remember, there comes a point when “escaping” could be considered “running” and “avoiding.” If we have issues or emotions that need to be dealt with, escaping into reality television is not going to solve these issues or erase these emotions. Once the program is off, we go back to our lives and our issues. Remind yourself that pushing things below the surface does not push them out of existence. Put at least as much time and energy into facing your issues and being present in your own life, as you put into escaping them through television and/or any other coping strategy. Tell yourself that you are going to make your life so exciting and interesting that someone could make a reality television show out of it—minus all of the fist fights, hair pulling, and back stabbing, of course!