From Taboo to Trend: The Normalization of Trauma and Its Downsides

Since the Covid-19 pandemic, the term “trauma” has been an important topic of discussion among young people seeking a sense of belonging to a group. This trend manifests itself on social networks, where many influencers share their traumatic experiences and so-called “experts” offer advice on mental health. What was originally a taboo subject treated only by a certain elite – that of various psychiatrists, psychologists, and psychoanalysts –  is now one of the first contents we consume on all platforms. 

Trauma – originally a scientific term – is a phenomenon that occurs as a result of a significant event, such as an act of violence, accident or abuse. “Trauma is by definition something that is beyond us, that escapes us, that takes us by surprise and that we can’t control. In general, the victim, as part of a defence strategy, will squeeze out a part of herself, and completely eliminate from her consciousness any subject closely or remotely associated with this trauma. This often results in traumatic amnesia,” explains Indira Jouini, a second-year master’s student in psychology. Healing from trauma requires a lot of effort and time, a long therapy, a period of mourning until the ordeal is overcome. This can last for many years, during which time it is often difficult for the victim to open up. In recent years, however, the term trauma has become more common. “People tend to use the term for a yes and a no, for every unpleasant experience in their lives. But without shock, it’s hard to talk about trauma. The term is dangerously trivialized, and its correct definition is forgotten,” says Indira.

Ethics of trauma sharing

The pandemic has strained social relationships, as people have found themselves locked into social networks as their main distraction. We then witnessed an upsurge of influencers using inappropriate or incorrect hashtags such as, #trauma, #traumatized, or #traumadump, to refer to trauma. This may have had a beneficial influence, as it allowed people to speak up about a subject that was previously rather taboo. However, it is important to acknowledge the downsides of the abusive use of this term. “The excessive use of the word for everything and nothing could lead to the minimisation of the real suffering a victim may have experienced, as well as discredit those individuals and generate a decrease in the available support for those who really need it,” says Indira.

The younger generation, who are the primary consumers of these platforms, have been the first to be impacted. Indeed, trauma has become one of the leading topics of conversation, leaving many to talk about their problems feeling somewhat obligated to do so. “Of course, it is important to be able to discuss what makes us suffer and to be able to put words to it. Adolescence is the period when young people tend to see their parents as untrustworthy and seek comfort from their peers. But it is important not to fall into trauma dumping,” says Indira. This term is defined as: generating attention around oneself, consciously or unconsciously, by unloading one’s traumatic experiences onto others. This will happen repeatedly, forcing the listener to feel compassion until they become an emotional sponge, which is not their role. They find themselves in a vicious circle, in which the victim seeks relief; asks for help; and tries to free themselves by sharing their pain, but only ends up reliving their trauma by constantly talking about it. This can create anxiety in the recipient, who may seek to end the relationship to avoid any emotional contagion. 

Generational obsession with trauma

In young people, trauma dumping can have much more serious consequences, impacting their emotional well-being and mental health. They are generally more vulnerable due to their limited ability to cope with intense emotions. When exposed to it, they may feel overwhelmed by negative emotions, which can lead to symptoms such as anxiety, anger, and even depression. “Young people do not have the capacity to be an emotional sponge in this kind of situation, and this can have significant repercussions on their social relationships. It is impossible for a child or young adolescent to maintain a healthy relationship with someone who overwhelms them with negative emotions. The resolution is often to escape, causing the recipient child to end the relationship, which will only accentuate the psychological distress of the person who is simply trying to release their trauma through dumping,” says Indira. 

It’s not just young people who are obsessed with this term, it’s our entire popular culture. In recent years, and not just since the pandemic, this term has been everywhere. There are dozens of books that shed light on it, such as The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel Van Der Kolk, which reached the number one spot on the New York Times best-sellers list in February 2021. There are over 5500 podcasts that deal with the subject; public figures who openly share their stories; as well as dozens of films. The issue is that by using this term excessively for everything and anything, it tends to become trivialized, potentially discrediting victims and reducing the support available for those who truly need it. To avoid using this term informally, it is necessary to continuously educate on mental health at all ages. We must ensure that we do not fall into a society where pain takes precedence over all our emotions, where people who have suffered from trauma become commonplace.