As young people, one of the things we all fear most is being vulnerable. It’s scary to be rejected or feel ashamed of yourself or behavior – it attacks the very core concept of our being which is to connect with others. Vulnerability quite literally is defined as the “capability of being physically or emotionally wounded” by Mirriam-Webster. Meaning that the very challenge of vulnerability is to open ourselves up to the idea that things might not work out for us, and it might really suck. However this, for the vast majority of us, is the main struggle of life – we experience traumatic events that are beyond our control, and then we must put in the work to be able to be emotionally open again. This, in my very humble opinion, is the core issue of all trauma – it takes away our willingness to be emotionally or physically wounded, even if that never happens and we get to experience something beautiful! But the fear of not knowing the outcome is what holds people back from all kinds of experiences. While this may seem so simple, nothing ever is, and there is a multitude of reasons or factors which would make our emotional experiences more complicated. One of the biggest ones for our younger generations is the internet.

I think we could all collectively agree that within the last decade, the word “trauma” has become so widespread on the internet, that we all inherently understand more about it as a societal concept in general.  However I would strongly argue that doesn’t mean we are more emotionally literate when it comes to mental health. In the landscape of social media, mental health is very much treated like a commodity – something to be shown off, flaunted, and even glamourized. In particular, people are being heavily encouraged to disconnect from their actual emotional states, and are even praised for making jokes about their emotional shortcomings, or lack of ability to be vulnerable (Not to mention the extreme fixation on hookup culture which also contributes to this). For example, the place I have noticed this most is on TikTok. For the vast majority of trends that I’ve witnessed most of them have to do with one rooted concept – disconnecting your emotions. If you are a user of TikTok you might be able to recall some trends like this – such as the ones where people show off how much better they are without an ex, or ones where people flex the fact that they can turn off their empathy in an acting challenge. There was also a trend where people tried to flex how manipulative they could come across. Not to mention the overuse and complete destruction of the word “simp” – a word originally used to describe guys who are being nice to people in order to sleep with them, but now just generally used as an insult to describe guys who are emotional and kind towards people they like.

There are literally thousands of examples where this is occurring, and emotionally stunted behavior is turned into a chance to get views or likes, however you have to really think about what you’re looking at to notice it. This in and of itself is another issue, that we are being primed to not notice when we are being encouraged to feel less. On the other hand, apps like Instagram do promote a much more empathetic approach to mental health topics, however I would argue it is  a surface level outlook which encourages less deep understanding of oneself, and more of a girlboss/guyboss/theyboss, get-over-it-quick approach. 

This all cumulates into a very confusing approach for young people. I would contend that the biggest force directing people’s emotional intelligence would be the more narcissistic approach of TikTok, because people are more willing to get an ego-boost than be mushy gushy about how they feel. We are at the ages where most of our most formative events occur – and also when a lot of us are due to address traumas that occurred throughout childhood or adolescence – but the internet is encouraging people to ignore their emotions and not feel what they need to feel. It’s normal to feel sad about an ex you had 3 years ago. It’s normal to get embarrassed around a person you wanna ask out. It’s normal to randomly feel intense emotions out of nowhere – we are dealing with a lot of stress! By being scared of what could potentially go wrong, or by masking your true emotions with ego of false confidence/nonchalance, people are depriving themselves of experiencing their full range of human emotions. This especially goes for young men, who face even more social pressure to be non-emotional or stoic.

To be completely honest, I’m not entirely sure about how to be less anxious about being openly emotional, but I do know that at some point I heard a really important lesson which has stuck with me for years; it is never a loss when you have opened yourself up to be vulnerable. It is brave and incredibly admirable, because it is one of the hardest things you can do. I try to keep this in mind when I get embarrassed for being upset about something, or when I feel silly for feeling a certain way about someone or thing. Also as much as I have talked down about the internet/social media, I am still an avid user and spend most of my free time consuming the exact things I am damning. I think the main goal is to know what you are consuming and how it is effecting you, and to try not to participate in these things that encourage poor emotional intelligence, because there are younger and younger people joining TikTok and social media everyday, who are going to learn to see this behavior as the first resort, and end up suffering later because of it.

So, am I telling you to delete the apps? No. Am I encouraging you to see things through a lens which encourages empathy and less emotional resistance? Absolutely. Because until the day I die I will be an advocate for being an emotional disaster sometimes, and I think we would all benefit from acting a little less nonchalant about our feelings and limits.


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