Human technology

Why TikTok is so obsessed with labeling everything as a response to trauma.


In everyday TikTok parlance, almost any behavior can be a response to trauma. Struggling to make small decisions? Possible traumatic response. Over-preparation, over-analysis, outperforming? All possible traumatic responses. Scroll through social media to the point where wondering if you have a problem with scrolling? Traumatic response. Get on the defensive and lash out in fights with your significant other? Traumatic response. Being a perfectionist? You guessed it, also a possible traumatic response.

The platform’s explanations of why exactly these activities might be responses to trauma are usually provided by someone claiming to be a therapist, or perhaps a “coach”. There is colorful text, and sometimes sad piano music. Or the information is relayed in a trendy TikTok format – for example, in a video, Britt Piper, a “coach”, who has attended several trainings on trauma and has nearly 200,000 followers, plays various “trauma responses”To the soundtracks of songs from Bo Burnham’s musical special Inside. In other, she invites viewers to “put a finger down” while she lists various behaviors to find out if they are good friends or if they are just stuck in a trauma response. Another asks the question, “Is this your response to trauma?” »Like text on a video made by a woman going by the Ask Courtney handle. Courtney, who uses her first name to avoid harassment and has 340,000 followers, says she has worked in the mental health field and although she sometimes identifies as a therapist in the videos she has no Licence– when I press her on her credentials, she said that “the license means nothing to mental health”, before adding: “I did not come out from under a bridge. By the way, the “trauma response” she lightly diagnoses viewers with is to “make people happy.”

The trend of common traumatic behaviors is so widespread that there are now viral jokes about that. It seems, in part, a simple case of social media rhetoric: relaying a vast assortment of human-related annoyances and pitfalls while simultaneously raising the stakes by saying, “We’re all that way because we’re traumatized.” ” But I wanted to know: What do true registered therapists think about this pervasive tendency to fundamentally label anything and everything as a traumatic response?

Perfectionism can be a response to trauma – or it can be a cultural value, or the way you were raised, or even a truly adaptive mode that you slip into for some aspect of your life. job.

First what is a traumatic response? Trauma is when your body learns things in a state of danger, says Chandra Ghosh, associate director of the Childhood Trauma Research Program at the University of California, San Francisco. She shared a photo with me, Danger Incarnate: a little two-headed dragon. Faced with a dragon, danger, you could run away. You could play dead. You could start hitting the dragon. You could even try appeasing and reasoning with the dragon. These are the four F’s of traumatic responses: fight, flight, freeze or fawn (or tender and befriend, depending on who you ask – Ghosh says the research community leans towards reaching out and befriending, but TikTok is firmly pro-fawn). The specific F number also depends on who you are talking to, even among licensed psychologists. But whatever you do in response to the threat, it could seep into your nervous system as a strong and valuable way to deal with the danger and ignite even when you’re relatively safe. It’s basically a traumatic response.

Yet, although widely categorized as F, the details of the answers vary by person. It can be “any kind of reaction” you have to a traumatic event, says John Donahue, associate professor of applied behavioral science at the University of Baltimore. Additionally, not all people will experience the same events as trauma – to extend Ghosh’s dragon metaphor, a person who has been trained to manipulate dragons might not be traumatized by his presence.

If the exact definitions of “trauma” and “trauma response” are a bit difficult to sum up, you may have already guessed that not all personality traits in human beings are always attributable to having had an experience. traumatic. “These things that are labeled as ‘trauma reactions’ are just predictable responses to anxiety,” says Kathleen Smith, therapist and writer. (She also notes that trauma is a specter and suggests labeling someone as traumatic is especially useful, from her perspective, for insurance forms.) The boss can be more deeply wired – a lot harder to think about then shake – if it comes from a place of trauma. But just having these personality traits doesn’t mean much. “A lot of things can affect you, and it’s not all a trauma,” says Ghosh. Perfectionism can be a response to trauma – or it can be a cultural value, or the way you were raised, or even a truly adaptive mode that you slip into for some aspect of your job.

There probably isn’t much harm in falsely labeling yourself as traumatic, although some therapists I spoke to were concerned that the label could leave people with a very intense label that was not true for. them, which might even make them feel weird towards their families who gave them a safe but imperfect upbringing. But “if your parents had perfectionist tendencies and you wanted to sit in sadness with it, it won’t hurt you,” she says. In fact, it’s possible that linking perfectionist tendencies to “trauma” in the most familiar sense of the term’s social alogorithm could help. “A lot of the things we would do in trauma-informed treatment would be good for everyone,” says Ghosh. In the hierarchy of mental health jargon, trauma may seem more intense than just anxiety (although who knows for how long!), But both can be bears or relatively minor issues.

Expanding the definition of trauma to include virtually everyone can reasonably be understood as a game of relativity on an app that takes advantage of it. “People will be very loose and broad in how they define trauma responses, in order to be broadly attractive or to make people think, ‘Oh, that’s me,'” says Tanner Hoegh, a licensed counselor. in Illinois, which produces videos on TikTok under the handle @tik_tok_counseling. Hoegh has a million subscribers on the app and has contributed his own entries the kind of trauma response. In a video titled “The trauma test“he tells viewers a simple question they can ask to find out if they have trauma:” Are you in pain? “He says the purpose of his account is to share educational material and that he tries to describe things in general terms to increase awareness of a variety of mental health issues – not just mental health issues, but to the idea that anyone watching the video itself deserves some help.

But as always, some people are trying to make money out of this specific information economy: Some creators of trauma response videos sell services claiming to help people they just, in a sense, “diagnose.” “. In Courtney’s bio, there is a link to her coaching website, where she advertises sessions at an introductory rate of two for $ 150 for one, or two for $ 200 for a couple. “Everything you need to heal is within you,” the website reads (she is unlicensed). Britt Piper offers an “eight weeks”intimate group coaching program”For $ 1,500 up front, or eight installments of $ 206. A private coaching program of the same length costs over $ 3,000, but places are filled until January.

It’s hard for me to say that either of these individual coaches are charlatans. I told Piper and Courtney about their videos and their activities. On phone calls, the two relayed more nuanced responses to trauma responses than those displayed in their TikTok videos (duh, I guess) and explained that certain behaviors are trauma responses to the extent that they are ingrained and difficult to stop. They told me that they themselves had experienced trauma and felt at times in their lives misunderstood by the same professionals who were supposed to help them. It makes sense – culturally and clinically, we still adhere to the idea that women’s trauma should be taken seriously. The reason you’ve almost certainly heard of the fight-or-flight system, but maybe not the trend and friendship, or fawn, is that PTSD research initially focused on males, Ghosh explained to me, and therefore lacked answers that were in part born out of how women are culturally prepared to deal with conflict.

In a way, the response to TikTok trauma sounds like a cue: We are “supposed” to be constantly polite, and yet, if we are, it could be a sign not of some intrinsic personality trait but of some sort. thing worth questioning. But this interrogation does not need to take the form of pseudo mental health care – shouldn’t mental health care include surveillance and be implemented as part of a standardized system? “If I say, ‘If you like a cheese sandwich, you might have trauma,’ I can lose my license,” Hoegh says. There are no such issues with people operating as coaches; the only way to be accountable is if something they say makes them unpopular. By not so subtly suggesting that everyone has trauma, they open up their audience and clientele to, well, everyone. Trauma, right now, is all the rage – and general high-stakes big trends aren’t just good for small designers, but social media who themselves host their #traumaresponse videos.



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