Are we experiencing the new age of emo?
‘Being vulnerable’ is one of the biggest trends on TikTok this year and we’ve seen the videos to prove it. Here, psychologists explain the rise of opening up online and what it means
Wednesday 9 November 2022 By Lola Christina Alao
We all have that one friend who’s guilty of sharing just a bit too much online. Or maybe you are that friend and you find comfort in expressing yourself to the world. Currently, there’s a viral ‘trend’ on TikTok, which sees people sharing some sort of emotional revelation that includes making videos of themselves in tears, telling stories of heartbreak or opening up about personal trauma. Sometimes, you’ll even find couples recording themselves cuddling all over your For You Page, with a long caption describing their love. As it stands, ‘being vulnerable’ is the fifth biggest trend on TikTok according to Hootsuite.
It’s perhaps unsurprising that we’re ‘opening up’ more in the digital world. And there is something to be said about the relationship between social media and mental health, at a time when we’re still navigating life after a global pandemic. Around a third of adults and young people say that their mental health has become worse since March 2020. And with loneliness on the rise – 3.3 million people admit to feeling lonely all or most of the time compared to 2.6 million people in 2020 – there’s a real emphasis on the importance of connection and community. It’s understandable then that ‘Honest Tok’ is taking off, with users (including celebrities) trying to circumvent this.
Earlier this year, Bella Hadid was praised for posting a carousel of crying selfies to her 47.2 million followers on Instagram. ‘Social media is not real. For anyone struggling, please remember that,’ her caption read.
Like Hadid, many feel less alone by sharing online, says Dr Daria J. Kuss, the course leader of cyberpsychology at Nottingham Trent University in the UK. It can be therapeutic to express yourself to the world from the comfort of your own home, especially when you’re met with warm responses.
‘Recording yourself being emotional and sharing stories about difficulties in life may fulfil a cathartic function, where you are relieved of some of the emotions as they are shared,’ she explains. ‘The old saying goes, “a worry shared may be a worry halved”, and TikTok and other social media platforms often become the outlet of choice.’
But being vulnerable online doesn’t come without risks. Psychotherapist Jade Thomas BSc MBACP points out that creating an open conversation on social media around difficult topics without proper psychological therapy or professional training can be difficult.
‘Having these conversations can bring up unprocessed feelings around the experience,
which could make people feel even more vulnerable or isolated than before,’ Thomas explains.
It also opens people up to receiving hate comments or negative opinions. ‘If an individual is already in a vulnerable state and then receives bad responses, this can leave them feeling even more shamed,’ she says. ‘It’s always important to reflect on why you might be sharing a story and consider the possible consequences.’
For years, platforms like Instagram have acted as a highlight reel of our lives. It’s a haven for perfectionists and the home of faultless FaceTuned selfies – even photo dumps, which in their nature are supposed to be a randomly selected collection of images showing a sense of ‘realness’, are carefully curated to portray a certain aesthetic or lifestyle.
TikTok, on the other hand, encourages ‘a come as you are’ mentality. A typical scroll on there will show you everything from a ‘day in the life: depression edition’ video and someone telling the story of how they found out their dad was cheating on their mum, to another person taking us on their ‘acne journey’. Perhaps that’s why 46% of 13 to 19-year-olds use the platform daily – Gen Z have a known reputation for craving authenticity, truth and real stories.
Oversharing or being vulnerable on social media isn’t for everyone – some of us may just prefer to live a more private life – but the rise of this TikTok trend shows that there’s clearly a genuine need (and space) for honesty online. It’s only human for us to bond over our experiences, and in a world of loneliness and isolation it gives us easy access to a community of people who just might be going through exactly the same thing.
In need of a mental health check? Book a spot at this week’s Wellness at Work event at DUMBO House tonight (Wednesday 9 November) for tips on how to navigate life with seasonal depression.
For help and advice on your mental health, visit Mind.