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What is ‘sadfishing’ and why is it all over our social media?

Since we’ve all started to become chronically online, people were bound to turn the online world into their personal diaries and emotional punching bags. Like, it’s not what we would have expected to happen, but with people becoming increasingly unable to properly digest their emotions, we’ve arrived at the Internet’s newest trend: Sadfishing.

Now you may have heard this term before or have seen it a couple of times while doom-scrolling on TikTok, Instagram, and the like. But essentially, ‘sadfishing’ is when a person exaggerates their emotional turmoil just to gain sympathy. Sometimes, it’s not even exaggerated anymore—with people just candidly sharing extremely delicate details of their lives on social media.

The term ‘sadfishing’ was actually the topic in a research paper published in the 2021 Journal of College Health titled, “Sad-fishing: Understanding a maladaptive social media behavior in college students”, where the authors had defined the phenomenon as “a tendency of social media users to publish exaggerations of their emotional states to generate sympathy.”

The first time ‘sadfishing’ was seen in pop culture was when Kendall Jenner “opened up” about her struggles with acne in a series of Instagram posts back in 2019. The “struggle” was apparently a marketing strategy for her then partnership with the skincare brand Proactiv.

In an interview with the HuffPost, Cara Petrofes and her colleagues said that the people that engage and participate in sadfishing are most likely to have the “anxious attachment style,” which means that these people have a hard time feeling secure in their relationships and at often times have that fear of being abandoned.

“Our research showed that those who are anxiously attached tend to seek validation through others and need consistent friend activity and a higher number of online/in-person friendships.”

But, people don’t necessarily have to fall under the “anxious attachment style” trope to construct their own sad messages online. Because what? We absolutely LOVE being validated online!

According to Tess Brigham, psychotherapist and host of the podcast “Psychlegalpop” in an interview with HuffPost, “We all need validation, and sadfishing is a quick, effective way to get it…In the same way a “like” gives us a quick dopamine hit, posting something vulnerable and getting a stream of “You’re so strong” or “You can do this” comments gives some people that same rush.”

For the past couple of years on social media, we’ve all seen people just turn on their tears for the views, seen all the uncomfortable stories that should’ve been kept private, and the ones that take the ‘Main Character Syndrome’ to the next level.

And honestly, doesn’t it creep you out a little bit when people post all their unhinged trauma and reactions online? It’s like….social anxiety is afraid of them. Like, we get that we can post whatever we want, especially if we feel comfortable about it.

But when we get a little bit too comfortable with it, is when it becomes concerning. See some examples so you’ll better understand what we’re talking about:

@chin_up_sunshine_ Part 8| #payingitfoward #keepinghismemoryalive #homicidevictim #ptsd #traumatok #nationaldayofremembarance #tribute #grief #gonetoosoon #gonetoosoonneverforgotten #creatingmyownjustice #resilent #grieftok #veterantok #lovetok #poetrytok #twloha #recoverytok #healing #healingtiktok #booktok #angel #metaphysical #thrideye #mediumsoftiktok #spirituality #love ♬ The Night We Met – Marianne Beaulieu

@tiktokdirtydeletes #maddiebraps throws a fit during #exiletaylorswift ♬ original sound – DirtyDeletes

@sheluvsdnd agree?? #fypシ #sadtok #painhub #depressionandanxiety #mentalhealth ♬ the night is still young – favsoundds

@vilya554last lyric gonna be “I can’t help myself from holdin for yeah”♬ original sound – Stan 🙂

@nolydimate♬ Scott Street (Slowed Down) – Phoebe Bridgers

@no.more.aj #suffering #drained #sad ♬ original sound – AJ

@kylerden #fypmototiktok #fyp #anxiety #breakdown #deppression #mentalhealthmatters ♬ scott street – ☆

@lumtieuhongthu_11823 hmuuuhmuuu☹️😭😭😭suyy #lumtieuhongthu #boyfriend#crying ♬ nhạc nền – Lụm小红书🐨

@theyourstrulyjulieI’m always crying in planes tbh♬ Okaaay lets go – Sarah Vilard

@drerika_hendo Am I an #uglycrier though? 😓 #soupset #finals #finalsweek #schoollife #momlife #stressedoutstudent ♬ original sound – Dr Erika Hendo | Chiropractor

Would you really post the private details of your life for strangers online to see and have a say on it? Well, that’s what’s happening on Reddit with all the “AITA” posts, but do you get the point?

It’s one thing to be open about your life on social media, and another thing to deliberately do it for people to notice you and to gain sympathy from others online. Sure, others may do it unconsciously because they believe that the Internet is one of their outlets, but they have to remember that your digital footprint could be permanent.

Could you imagine looking back at all your posts after a couple of years and feeling the second-hand embarrassment for your younger self?

All of us should try to build genuine friendships and relationships. Sure, this could be an understandably difficult task for others, but it’s one thing to consider if all we’re doing is trauma dumping on social media 24/7.

Just something to think about, right? We could be embodying the “main character” vibe, but we could go…overboard with the sadfishing and deliberate begging for validation part.


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