Top PTSD Blog

by Tanya Ruckstuhl-Valenti LICSW, MSW


I’ve just gotten into something that hasn’t interested me since Aaron Sorkin stopped writing The West Wing w-a-a-a-y back in 2003: a television show.   I mostly consider television a waste of time.  I don’t mind a bit of mindless escapism once in a while, but television shows are fatally flawed by two separate problems:  predictability and repetition.  Every show seems to follow this recipe:  take two beautiful people attracted to each other but unable to culminate a relationship due to their ego/insecurity/foibles/external circumstances.   Add one abrasive-seeming character actor with a heart of gold and another who appears sweet at first but is a self-serving jackal in disguise.  Add a dash of public safety issues and viola!  Prime-time-drama.  Again, and again, and again. 

And this new one, the one I’m about to wax poetic about?  Same thing:  Scrubs.  Oh.  My.  Gosh.  I forgot how captivating great television could be!  The witty dialogue!  The unfolding of character!  The false feeling I get while watching, of visiting a new, interesting friend.   

The fact that it completely conforms to my expectations of beauty-based casting, repetitive central theme and a support cast of crunchy-exterior (Dr. Cox) and suave exterior (the evil hospital admin. guy) matters not a whit to me because the show is so darn fun. 

 Back when Sorkin was writing the West Wing, my television life was limited by the structure of the show.   It ran for one hour once a week.  There was no risk of watching too much.   I didn’t have cable and wasn’t interested in reruns. 

That has all changed.  With Netflix in the modern modem age of streaming video, we can now watch shows which have nine years of back episodes singing the siren song of sleep deprivation to us at any time, day or night. 

I limit my coffee intake to two cups (okay mugs) a day, but found myself tanking up another one this afternoon to make up for two late Scrubs-watching nights in a row. 

Clearly it is time to SET BOUNDARIES with me.  We Americans think and talk a lot about setting boundaries in our relationships, with our parents, with our kids, with our employers, but we often miss the opportunity and the benefit of calmly and firmly setting boundaries with ourselves.

Trauma survivors in particular have a relationship with boundaries which are often fraught with the too-much/not enough teeter totter.  As in too much self indulgence and not enough structure; or too much perfectionism and not enough creative play; or too much people pleasing and not enough self care. 

Boundaries are needed when we are craving something in amounts or frequencies which interfere with having a rich, full and varied life.  Boundaries are needed when we become passive recipients of entertainment rather than active co-creators.  Boundaries are needed when we repeatedly avoid doing something important by doing something easy. 

This is all primary-prevention phase stuff we are talking about here.  You can always hold out and wait for tertiary prevention (fancy-pants professional speak for “too late Bubba”) if you don’t want the inconvenience of setting a boundary (to be read in a droll, ironic tone). 

I highly (highly, HIGHLY) recommend the following course correction long before you reach the “addiction” phase in which you are damaging your relationship, job, or health with compulsive behavior: 

If you feel you may be developing a habit that needs boundaries, but you are not sure, try this experiment: 

1. Practice your indulgence, and then

2.  Abruptly stop.  

3. Don’t go back to it for thirty days.  

If you can do this without wanting to renegotiate your month long hiatus, than you have nothing to worry about. 

The purpose of this exercise is awareness.  Notice the cravings and the rationalization that your mind will manufacture:  “Oh it’s just a harmless bit of fun” and “Other people do it way more than I do.” 

Don’t buy into the PR campaign of your urges.   If you already know you are under the spell of a boundary-breaking habit you don’t need to try this experiment, you just need to set a boundary and stick to it. 

For myself, for my sanity, I am returning to my previous boundary of media-based entertainment only on weekend evenings.  Zach’s just gonna have to wait.


One thought on “Getting off the Too Much/Too Little Teeter Totter

  1. I’ve generally found that in relationships and in various other aspects of my life I am guilty of hopping around on your “too much/too little teeter totter.” As you put it, I am especially at risk for falling into this pattern of behavior because I am a trauma survivor.

    Recently, I have had the opportunity to engage in an interesting experiment in my relationship with my current boyfriend: a long distance relationship.

    Happily, I am discovering that, while I care very deeply for him, enjoy talking to him over Skype, and miss him very much, I am doing very well with him not in my immediate space.

    I feel secure enough that my relationship will be successful, that I’m not constantly obsessing over him.

    The benefits of this include my life not constantly revolving around my boyfriend, or my computer, or my cell phone – leaving me to be happy and productive in other areas of my life.

    I’m happy to learn that I’m capable of maintaining a healthy attitude towards something in my life (at least I think). And it provides me with a positive message that I’m capable of managing good relationships with anything.

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