Tiktok’s latest fad: confessions of trauma
What is causing so many young people to identify as emotionally damaged?
There’s a new trend on TikTok, wedged in-between videos of teenagers dancing and singing: confessions of trauma. The app is rife with young people, particularly young women, engaging in the same behaviour. The #trauma hashtag has a staggering 3.9 billion views. Most surprising about these confessions is their generally light-hearted tone — one famous musician follows the popular format of claiming his humour comes from his ‘trauma’ — as well as their intentional vagueness. What is causing these thousands of young people to identify themselves as emotionally damaged?
@mtvmcribsdo YOU have a favorite traumatic memory?? #trauma♬ original sound – ben
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I first started to notice the popularisation of ‘trauma theory’ — the idea that most of a person’s problems can be traced back to some unresolved, vague traumatic events in their life — after hearing learning about a book that was popular among young women.
Nearly seven years on from its publication, it remains the #1 ranked book under ‘Healing’ on Amazon, the massively popular text ‘The Body Keeps the Score: Mind, Brain and Body in the Transformation of Trauma’ by psychiatrist Bessel van der Kolk. Which may seem strange, given that the book’s target audience is a relatively small niche — that of doctors specialising in PTSD related disorders.
Hot on the heels of ‘consent theory’, which told us that we were facing a ‘consent crisis’, ‘trauma’ has become the latest fad to hit feminist wellness circles. Perhaps the reason for its enduring popularity with young, socially-conscious people is thanks to van der Kolk’s assertion that, left untreated, trauma can begin to manifest itself through physical ailments. Constant headaches? Back pain? Short of breath? Don’t call an ambulance, call a psychiatrist.
This is not to downplay the seriousness of trauma. Doctors have shown the links between mental distress and physical illness for years. But what is curious is why exactly so many ostensibly normal, healthy young people believe themselves to be suffering such mental distress, without any of the typical experiences of those traditionally diagnosed with PTSD.
The difference between trauma and other mental illnesses in the spotlight like generalised anxiety disorder is that trauma is explicitly defined as a responsive action to a negative external stressor. Trauma, and the mental illness most closely associated with it (PTSD), are therefore closely linked to broader societal conditions. If there is a significant uptake in young people identifying themselves as traumatised, it stands to reason there is a significant stressor embedded in wider culture.
It is not healthy to have 1 in 8 young people seeking out professional mental help, nor for 17% of the adult population to be hooked on powerful anti-depressant drugs with nasty side effects. We should be concerned that young people pathologise their dissatisfaction with modern life, adapting in unhealthy ways to untenable social conditions. Falling back on ‘trauma’ as a catch-all explainer doesn’t bring us closer to a genuine solution.
“It is not healthy to have 1 in 8 young people seeking out professional mental help”
If you provide the supply, you will encourage the demand. Yes, supply and demand works both ways. I suggest a significant cull in the number of “Health Care Professionals”. I don’t think that I am joking.
My wife is a psychiatrist. We have talked about this extensively and I completely agree. We push the young generation to be introspective not to find their inner strength, but to think about how damaged and fragile they are.
I’m not surprised at this, for years Tumblr was rife with people self-diagnosing various mental health issues, many of them made up syndromes, as a way to seem ‘interesting’. These people knew nothing, had done nothing, had no achievements, had never been anywhere, yet wished to ‘educate’ the world and generally finger-wag at people, whilst being narcissistic.
It is also a ready-made excuse for the lack of real-life effort and any failings or poor choices or behaviour.
TikTok is the new Tumblr, there was bound to be a different version of the same dynamic as on the other platform.
“These people knew nothing, had done nothing, had no achievements, had never been anywhere”
This sounds like a living hell, and seeing yourself as this would be traumatic. I could imagine nothing worse than being without expierences, education, achievement, and complex thinking, it would be soul wrecking to be this, and to know it.
To be fair, much of it stemmed from the fact that they’re disproportionately around college-age. But at the same time, they wished to appear ‘expert’ about something and generally assume a bossy, know-it-all manner. Nobody can tell them they’re wrong about being otherkin!
by the time I was college age my experiences were amazingly vast, I was not much educated being a school dropout basically, but had been up to stuff….
I do have a hard time understanding shallowness – but then I guess you get it from how you grew up, as it seems very normal.
“as a way to seem ‘interesting’.”
Hits the nail on the head.
its mental health hypochondria with lashings of narcissism to boot.
Between schools introduction of Social and Emotional Aspects of Learning, or whatever name it’s going by now, and social media; children have had it thrown at them from every direction.
No it is not. These young people have been broken by modern thought. They are really traumatized as community and family are broken. In all the primitive societies ‘Shunning’ was the ultimate punishment – worse than death. Your people would just turn their back on you and you wold be shut from all society and love. This is hell. This is what society is now, it is non-inclusive, it does not take them in as a valued part of it. Modern society is pathological. This is Liberalism.
Yes there are genuine cases of mental health issues, and yes many genuine cases are in looked after children who come from abusive and frequently broken homes, and those children are most definitely traumatised. I also appreciate that there is a difference between attention needing and attention seeking and when narcissists raise children the result is children deprived of attention who are then vulnerable to predators which results in more trauma.
However, there are also many young people from good, loving homes who have been told to keep looking in and unpicking themselves, to the point that they’re a mess when they needn’t be! Today we ignore the truly traumatised and instead focus on the vegan who accidentally ate a bit of chicken! Dramatisation may not have happened but that won’t stop us being traumatised by it!
I agree it is hell though, made more so by social media.
The fact that 17% (1 in 6) of the adult population is taking antidepressants was news to me. I am astonished.
I find it depressing.
want one of my thorazines?
“What is causing so many young people to identify as emotionally damaged?”Officially sanctioned narcissism.
Post Modernism. The understanding there is no point, nothing is inherently good or bad, worthwhile or worthless, that all human culture, morals, drives, are mere vanity and all which is knowable is self – But also being not trained in thinking – self is but an id and ego, so all left is Nihilism and solipsism and existential loneliness, and guilt – self guilt is also instilled.
Postmodernism broke the family, community, and society, and all we are is alone, seeking attention and some comfort and escape from misery, but there is no foundation left to get away from the misery, as noting intrinsically good remains. This is Liberal/Left philosophy.
great summary Sanford-someone should be carefully tracking the suicide stats plus the drug abuse stats plus the genuine youth depression stats over the recent 20-30 years (or find those stats already done ideally). ‘We’ have let down our youth by mistaking greed ?? for progress. My son at 29 has had a vascectomy, lives in a camper, goes rock climbing and is a busy animal rights activist. To live costs him $100 per week and he can support himself for a year on 2 months casual work. But he is very smart and most young people are not-he is surrounded by depressed young people (existentially speaking) for whom the suicide option is a constant companion. He is bitterly misanthropic and I have little doubt that I will outlive him. And this situation is very typical….It is probably best that young people dont think too much and just find a niche somewhere in the machine and focus on buying stuff.
“Hooked on anti-depressants with nasty side effects”. Poppy, I enjoyed your narrative until this part which betrays a lack of knowledge and real world insights. People don’t want to be on anti-depressants and doctors like me would prefer not to prescribe them. And yes they can have side effects but often don’t. But they save lives and make a difference to quality of life for many. Non pharmacological approaches are preferable, but these drugs are prescribed because of a need. Maybe your bias can be improved for a more balanced narrative. And the SSRI are also not addictive unlike your word choice of ‘hooked’.
In the UK, it is recognised that 1 in 4 people will have a mental health issue in their lives. Some will even have many.
But not everyone needs to wear theirs on their sleeves. It is not brave to put your mental health issue out there for everyone to pick over. It doesn’t normalise it. And the “let’s get as many celebs to declare their mental wellbeing has been rocked by…” is not healthy either.
The healthy conversations about mental health should take place at home, with friends (real friends not those on social media), with people who can offer real support and solutions.
I recently read that 3 and 4 year olds are needing help with their mental health. How is that possible unless they are in an abusive home?
We need to have real conversations based on the real world and real people to unpick some of the unreal, media based “realities” that are now the situations our children and young people find themselves in and how they related to these fantasy worlds rather than the world they actually live in and their expectations of it. Then just maybe their mental health will improve.
“If there is a significant uptake in young people identifying themselves as traumatised, it stands to reason there is a significant stressor embedded in wider culture.” Well that would be one explanation.
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