Not many people know this about me, but I have an undergrad degree in English Literature. I 100% went to college to be a writer. Not a reader, a writer. Initially I considered journalism but I honestly didn’t want to take STAT and ECON. I’m a decent writer, not so much an avid mathematician. The fact that the program would require me to take STAT and ECON made me question if it was the direction that I wanted to go. So I switched to the English department and focused on creative writing. It was great. I got to write a lot. But what I didn’t expect was to find a deeper love of reading. I fell in love with it. I loved the characters and the emotional depth that can be created by transposing words from one brain to paper to another brain. It still fascinates me to this day. Long story short, I quickly realized that I read, and write, from a predominately psychological perspective, and flash forward here we are today- a therapist writing about the therapeutic aspects of literary science.
I don’t formally identify as a bibliotherapist, as many out there do. I wear multiple person centered hats and believe in finding what vibes best with each individual client. But when someone relates to the world through the philosophy of fiction, I am all in!
I think more people do this than we realize. Have you ever read a book, or watched a movie or TV show, and thought “Wow, I really get that.?” Of course you have. That’s the attraction of literature. If you haven’t had that experience, maybe you’ve read or seen something and thought, “That’s totally insane and like nothing I’d ever do.” There’s relation in that too. When we read, or view, stories, it often ignites our introspective world view and leads us to assess ourselves in a very casual and non threatening way. Sometimes we pick up on this, other times it just happens. When we can learn to attend to those experiences, we can learn a whole lot about ourselves in our understanding in and connection with the characters.
Earlier today, someone said to me, “I’m Downton Abbey, does that make sense?” First of all, I’ve never watched the show. But that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t make complete and utter sense to me. I know enough about it to get the connection, but the more important part is that she sees the connection and it means something to her and her life in the past, present, and/or future. In this situation, it becomes not about my analysis as a therapist, but about her self-analysis of the evoked emotions and relational experiences that she shares (or doesn’t share) with these made believe characters.
You see, literature moves us because it ignites not only do we often resonate with the spirit of the story, but also it provokes a certain level interest and curiosity. Theres something about it that draws us in. Something that makes us think. But in a fictional world, how can we feel like we so perfectly relate? The answer: Perception.
The way that we see ourselves or others in fictional stories is indicative of how we view and perceive ourselves internally. I mentioned earlier that this is a non threatening type of processing, It can be way more comfortable to relate to a fictional character or story because, well, it’s fiction. When we enter into another world that we understand to be apart from reality, we are free to think and feel however we want to feel, especially if those thoughts and feelings are projected onto a fictitious character. For someone who suppresses their anger, it is much safer to explore and feel anger inside a story. The same goes for any other emotion you can think of: happy, mad, sad, glad, the whole gang.
The same concept also applies to experiences. Fictional portrayals of different life scenarios and relationships can make certain reactions and emotions easier to stomach, thus safer to process. It allows us to check things out about ourselves, our world, and others around us, without hesitation or precaution. We are free to think and feel in our natural state without any societal pressures. Don’t get me wrong, our societal makeup still shapes the way that we view these stories because that’s all that we know. So yes, in some way we are not free from society. But there is a lot of freedom and value in being able to openly, yet biasedly, assess the fictional world.
So, yep, there’s more to TV than meets the eye. It can be an insightful and mindful experience if you open you eyes with intention. It can alert us to some of our crafted preconceived notions about ourselves and others. It can offer peace and healing through relation and offer a sense of community different from any community that reality could provide. So next time you feel guilty for binge watching TV, consider it instead an act of therapy and self-care.