The strange phenomenon that has been burgeoning since the dawn of social media is the broadcasting of psychological torment all over the internet. It is not rare to log onto Facebook or Instagram and read biopics of personal suffering written by people you may only have met once at a party or twice by the water cooler. It’s an uncomfortable feeling knowing the details of one semi-stranger’s breakdown, another’s eating disorder, another’s agony at losing their pet. Perhaps more disturbing is seeing these public announcements come from close friends. When I see these rampages, I assume the author has made a terrible mistake; surely they were meant to send this paragraph of pain to their mother. They must have clicked the wrong button. I quickly avert my eyes but on refection, being met with silence probably isn’t the very vocal sad person’s desired outcome.
Through the Sacrament of Reconciliation, Catholics know that God is aware of their pain, that if they have sinned, they may be forgiven. This is all the audience one really needs.
Through the Sacrament of Reconciliation, Catholics know that God is aware of their pain, that if they have sinned, they may be forgiven. This is all the audience one really needs. If, however, you do not have God as a witness to your suffering, you might be tempted to widen the audience, in search of the right pair of ears, of someone with the power to absolve you, who will be the balm to your anguish. According to Dr Hand, a lecturer in cyber-pyschology at Glasgow Caledonian University, “the more people tend to present about themselves [online], the less sympathy others have when things go wrong.” The more you share, the more irritated and callous an audience will be in response to your pain. Bottom line: in trying to elicit the sympathy and attention that might soothe their troubled psyche, the over-sharer is only alienating themselves from the people they are trying impress upon.
In defence of oversharing on the internet, Guardian journalist Frances Ryan argued that “social media can often feel an easier place on which to share than doing so in person; a kind of anonymous offload.” And this is where we have to be stumped because Social Media is not anonymous. It is very public- so why is it easier?
“Sad Fishing” is the disparaging phrase coined to describe using one’s emotional problems to capture an audience on social media. The accusation is usually launched at celebrities. Supermodel Kendall Jenner, came under major fire for this recently. Kendall wrote a (in the words of her mother) “brave, raw and vulnerable” post about the “debilitating suffering” that acne caused her throughout her teenage years. Later, it was revealed that this vulnerable bravery was sponsored by a brand of skin-cleansing lotion.
Those accused of Sad Fishing argue that sharing their deeply personal misery is both cathartic and some sort of a public service.
Those accused of Sad Fishing argue that sharing their deeply personal misery is both cathartic and some sort of a public service. It consoles people who are going through a similarly hard time, who feel alienated in their own experience of said sad thing. Although there is truth in this, the trend does have the capacity to glamorise misery. It also can make misery contagious. Being regularly confronted with detailed accounts of unhappiness plants a seed and might encourage the self-diagnosis of myriad mental health problems. The nature of Social Media platforms is to encourage competitive noise from each user. For those who can’t draw attention by being the richest, prettiest, best-holidayed or best dancer, the alternative might be mining their life for all the sympathy-worthy content they can find. There’s also the problem of it becoming a compulsion; the dopamine hit you get when your phone buzzes, notifying you of a like or a comment on your post, is incredibly addictive. Bleeding yourself dry of personal information in exchange for these dopamine hits is obviously not – to put it mildly – ideal.
However cathartic it may momentarily be to offload unhappiness onto the ears of a thousand acquaintances and semi-strangers, there will come a day when you might run into the friend of a friend’s aunt’s godson at the supermarket. You may suddenly realise you’d rather this distant godson didn’t know the darkest depths of your life’s story and furthermore that the distant godson can do pretty much nothing to ease your pain. At best, he might offer an awkward smile. At worst, he might call you a big fat Sad Fisher, laugh about it with his friends and make your life that bit more tiring and lonesome. It’s unlikely, on the other hand, that a priest would respond to your lament in any of these ways.
Panda la Terriere is a freelance writer
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