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  • Writer's pictureRyan Wilson

Why we get hooked on Netflix, HBO, Shomi & CraveTV

A while ago, out of the blue, I asked my husband to watch a show called Merlin. Ryan (my husband), is totally into the fantasy, magical, dragon, wizard stuff, but I am historically not. I can’t tell you why I asked him to watch it with me, I had seen an episode with him maybe a year before, but I have been at this long enough to trust my gut, so I did.

I am not usually one to get hooked by TV shows or movies, but I totally did with this one. I was on the edge of my seat, sending off all sorts of signals that I was emotionally invested as I watched. Ryan, who does similar to work as I do, was intrigued and asked what was going on. This irritated me and I dismissed it- which was sure sign there was something actually there I wasn’t ready to deal with.Over time I was sending off more and more signals that I was emotionally invested in this show, particularly the main character. The show focused around Merlin, who was actually a very powerful magician who was hiding who he really was, because he felt it wasn’t safe for him to be himself. When I started to wonder what Merlin will do next during the course of a day, it became unavoidable that there was something else going on. I had never been so hooked by a show before.

This all happened in the months leading up to me having the courage to act on a request

by patients to make You Tube videos summarizing some of the core concepts I teach. It was also in the time leading up to having the idea to create the Association for Positive Psychiatry of Canada, a new branch of Psychiatry that focuses on the non-medicinal aspects of wellness, on empowerment, resilience and post-traumatic growth (

When I meditated on how I was reacting to this show, I realized I was intuitively drawn to something that could provide me with validation and tribe, a sense of not being alone in my journey. It also encouraged me to have the courage to take big risks, because the show’s theme was that hiding who we really are is unhealthy and disrespectful to ourselves and others.

This also came at a time where I was getting a lot of encouragement from other professionals, like Family Doctors to spread how I do things because they could see how helpful it was to their patients.

Doing things the way I had always done them in my clinic was one thing,  I could quietly do things differently, and I was comfortable with that. However, when I was asked to make You Tube videos, I literally took a step back! Quietly doing things differently seemed much SAFER than putting myself and my beliefs out there on the internet for everyone to see! And when we do things differently than most of our tribe, it opens us up to criticism, and rejection, which makes us feel vulnerable.

I got hooked on Merlin because it met a need. For me, it became my pseudo-tribe and my validation that helped me give myself permission to take the next big leap of courage and create what became the Wellness Series, a series of seven 5ish min videos summarizing some of the core ideas I teach (including Survival Maps, Wish-Want-Commit and about feelings and dealing with them).

There is a difference between just watching a show now and then, and to feel we are “addicted” or “hooked” by it. When we feel hooked by a show, we become emotionally invested in it, the way I did with Merlin. We really look forward to watching it, sometimes to the point of being distracting, and often do so almost compulsively, watching multiple episodes in row – even to the detriment of getting a good nights’ sleep or getting work done.

In both my clinical and personal experience, we get hooked when the show is MEETING A NEED…. Some of the common needs it may be meeting include:

  1. Avoidance- it provides us with distraction so we don’t have to deal with any emotional stuff that might be hanging around or coming up.

  2. Validation– we are often drawn to and get hooked on shows that validate our world view. For example, if we believe government is corrupt and uses a lot of cover ups, we might get hooked on conspiracy shows like House of Cards. If we grew up with cops, we may be drawn to shows about crime, if we hope to be a doctor, we may be drawn to medical shows etc.

  3. Pseudo-intimacy- shows and movies allow us to feel like we are a part of very intimate, personal moments in characters’ lives.

  4. Our brains don’t distinguish between reality and what we are thinking and feeling,

unless we have particular cues. We react physiologically to shows we are emotionally invested in, as if they are real. This is why when we are really into thrillers and the bad guy is coming around the corner, our hearts start to race and our palms get sweaty, but as soon as we ask ourselves what we are doing, and remind ourselves it is just a movie, all those physical signs go away in 30 sec. This is also why when we worry we are being judged or are going to fail, our bodies physiologically react as if it were a fact unless we again give our brain certain cues, like using LABELING (restating our worry using distancing language, i.e., “I am having the thought I will be judged“).

  1. When we emotionally invest in a show, we get to feel connected to others in a meaningful way, without any risk of being hurt or vulnerable ourselves, so it often meets just enough of our intimacy needs that we are less compelled to actually put ourselves out there with real people. So  it helps us feel safe.

  2. Pseudo-tribe– We can get so wrapped up in shows and the lives of the characters that they become like family! This is

part of why shows like Friends were such a big hit, and why we STILL have shows like Coronation Street and other Soap Operas, that people will literally grow up with!

  1. When we emotionally invest in a TV tribe, we get feel connected, without any risk of being hurt or vulnerable ourselves, so it also meets just enough of our need for some sense of connection that we are less compelled to actually find our own actual tribe.

  2. Unlike pseudo-intimacy, pseudo-tribe doesn’t haven’t have to include very personal or meaningful aspects of life, it can all be superficial and light. We feel more like we are hanging out vs like we are talking to a close friend, which is more in keeping with pseudo-intimacy.

It may go without saying that getting hooked for a short while, like what happened with me and Merlin, is not necessarily a big deal. I was briefly  less productive, more tired and distracted, but it didn’t really cause any significant impact on my life.

However, if you find yourself jumping from one series to another and you are not actually having meaningful connections with others, you may want to rethink your strategy. Netflix, Shomi, HBO or CraveTV cannot really replace tribe.

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(Just a reminder, the Monday afternoon Drop-in is closed for Spring Break and will re-open on April 4th, 2016)

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