Do you ever just feel like life is too much and want to turn on the tv and hide?

Do you ever feel guilty about turning on the tv, like you should be doing something else, instead?

If so, this letter is for you.

In my new coaching group, a theme has emerged around tv-watching as a way to cope with the challenges of work and life.

Here’s what one client, who’s working hard to set up new systems to help her schedule boundaries, wrote (shared with permission, always):

On Friday night I was doing a guided meditation and a strong image of giant to-do lists and critical supervisors were trying to get into the room…. But the closed door was keeping them out.  

That vision helped me to make my home into a safe haven from the craziness of work.

But, sometimes, I just want to shut off, watch reality tv and hide.

Here’s what I wrote to her:

It makes complete sense that the part of you who’s overwhelmed wants to shut out the rest of the world. Of course it does. Shutting out the rest of the world is an important need, and it needs to be honored.

There’s a polarity of needs here:

On one side of the polarity, we have “engaging with the world.” On the other side, we have “disengaging from the world.”

Both are necessary.

Some of us (on the more extroverted side of the spectrum) need more engagement with others to recharge. Some of us (on the more introverted side of the spectrum) need more time alone to recharge. Some of us live somewhere in the middle of the introvert-extrovert spectrum. We’re known as ambiverts.

But no matter what our unique recipe of needs might be, we all have needs for engaging and disengaging.

It’s important not to ignore the part of yourself who wants to shut off, watch reality tv, and hide.

If you’re not sure whether watching reality tv is the best way to meet your needs (it may or may not be), one way to help you find out is to turn toward this part with love and kindness, and ask her what she needs.

As I’m sure you’ve heard me say many times before:

Everything we do, every action we take, is a strategy to meet a need, and underneath each strategy are deeper needs.

Watching reality tv is a strategy to meet a need.

What need might watching reality tv meet?

Maybe it meets a need for disengaging and not thinking about work. Perhaps it meets a need for pleasure and entertainment. Maybe it meets a need for fantasy and imagining a life outside of our own. Or some other needs. Or all of the above. Each action we take can meet multiple needs.

Looking at the Nonviolent Communication List of Needs can help you discern:[1]

Once you name your unmet needs, it becomes far easier to choose strategies to meet them.

For example, you might choose to watch an hour of reality tv to meet your need for disengagement and pleasure.

And, you might realize that after an hour or so, the strategy is working less well, and it would serve you to do something else for pleasure.

Or maybe, three hours meets your needs well. Or, maybe you decide that another activity meets your needs better.

In response to my invitation to turn toward herself, another client asked:

But what if I just want to watch tv and knit, rather than turning toward the part of myself who’s struggling?

To answer the question, I invited my client to ask herself this: If you’re physically wounded, what do you need?

You might need to cover the wound (a bandaid), to remove anything sharp that’s wounding you, or to rest and nourish yourself so you can heal.

You might also want to grab some pain relief medication to help you cope with the pain. Similarly, if you’re in emotional distress, you deserve support to help you cope with the pain.

What helps you cope when you’re exhausted, anxious, or in emotional pain? Sometimes, watching tv and knitting help take your mind off your pain can help you cope and feel better.

Sometimes, when people are learning to turn toward themselves with love and kindness, they think: “I should focus on the pain. I should figure out what the struggling part of me needs and try to meet the need.” But sometimes, turning toward ourselves takes more energy than we have.

There is a nuanced yet important difference between turning away from / ignoring / neglecting the struggling parts of ourselves and simply soothing the struggling part.

It is possible to acknowledge the struggling part and sit beside it on the couch while watching your favorite show. To discern the difference, helpful guiding questions to return to are:

From which part of me is this action arising? What need am I trying to meet? Is this avoiding? Or is this soothing? Sometimes, it’s both.

The key is to stay curious and not immediately assume that you should turn off the tv and turn toward your journal. The tv can be an ally, too.

For more about why it’s okay to cope with pain and how to do so, I recommend listening to Episode 20 of Emily and Amelia Nagoski’s podcast, The Feminist Survival Project: How to Numbing. (Heads up that I feel a bit iffy about their discussion of alcohol, but it’s complicated, and overall, I think this is a super important podcast.)

Here’s what my client ultimately decided to try to do to meet her needs:

Right now the next step that rings true for me is to keep meditating and making time to step away from to-do list mode at work….and take time for creative thinking.

I put on my calendar time for ‘deep work’ which means I turn on a timer and jazz music. The only rule is during that time I’m not allowed to check emails or text messages.

I also need to add a reminder to “exit my work browser” to my “it’s time to stop working” alarm.

It’s not our fault that we live in a world in which it’s harder than ever to disengage from work.

And, it’s also our responsibility to decide where we’ll focus our attention.

And, so, I’m curious to invite you to make a bite-sized, doable commitment to support you to meet your need for disengagement for the next two weeks.

That might sound like:

I am committed to exiting my work browser when it’s time to start working every day for the next two weeks.

Or:

I am committed to taking deep work, creative time without email or texts for fifteen minutes after work every day for the next two weeks.

What commitment might you make to stopping, disengaging, and doing nothing?

May you find the just-right amount of engagement and disengagement to nourish you.

[1] I share this list with permission from BayNVC, and I encourage you to find out more about and contribute to their work at www.BayNVC.org, TheFearlessHeart.org, and MikiKashtan.org. I use the words values and needs interchangeably.

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