“Don’t even get me started on the day I’ve had”: the psychology of why we go sadfishing online

Written by Amy Beecham

You’ve seen the posts; you may have even written one yourself. But a new study has delved into why we love to engage in ‘sadfishing’ online, and what it means for our attachment style.

Have you ever had a day so bad that you just want to let everyone know about it? “Life’s shit,” you feel like declaring to a stranger on the street. “Why is everything so hard?” you want to wail at a friend over a glass of Whispering Angel.

But it’s a cold December night and you’re home alone with nothing but Netflix’s Wednesday for comfort. So what do you do? You open up Instagram/Twitter/Facebook and start spilling your guts…

Social media’s newfound encouragement for everything #unfiltered and authentic (hello, BeReal) is providing even more fertile ground for us to share our woes, big or small.

It’s no surprise, then, that in recent years, psychologists have started to delve deeper into the concept known as ‘sadfishing’. Coined by writer Rebecca Reid, it’s described as the act of posting emotional or dramatic personal content to gain sympathy or attention online.

From deeply personal caption essays to the cryptic classic “Don’t even get me started on the day I’ve had” status, it’s all too tempting to turn to our online community when things get tough.

While it may sound cynical, it’s simply human instinct to crave external validation and social approval. It goes without saying that we are social creatures. We’re a culture of sharers, celebrating and commiserating with one another at every opportunity, which naturally extends beyond our IRL lives and onto our timelines.

But why do we really do it? And what impact is it having on our emotional wellbeing?

Why do we overshare?

When it comes to oversharing in general, we often do so out of a desire to connect with others. By opening up about our most personal hang-ups, we invite and build emotional intimacy with the people around us, even if that depth is one-sided. It’s often not even about their response, just the act of being ‘seen’ is enough to keep some feelings of loneliness and isolation at bay.

But oversharing on social media specifically can also reveal something about our attachment style.

New research published in the Journal Of American College Health investigating sadfishing found that those who engage in it might be more likely to have an anxious attachment style. 

Those with a secure attachment style will trust easily and accept love and intimacy, making them less likely to reach out via acts like sadfishing. On the opposite end of the spectrum, avoidants fear letting people get too close and will likely keep the people in their life at arm’s length. 

However, an anxious attachment style involves a fear of abandonment and coming across as needy in relationships. Despite this, the psychologists found that those with an anxious attachment style seek out social connection in ways that are both positive and negative. They might worry that their partner or friends are pulling away from them, or feel vulnerable after rejection and seek an ego-boost.

While it’s common to partake in sadfishing, we all know that spending too much time on social media can have a negative impact on our health. Large bodies of research on the links between social media and mental health indicate that simply spending time on these apps can lower your mood and increase symptoms of anxiety and depression.Other studies also show a clear connection between social media and loneliness, as well as social media and depression.

Researchers also warned that too much sadfishing may be keeping those individuals from getting the help they need, because their expressions of sadness aren’t recognised as genuine.

“When social media consumers become desensitised to suffering due to the assumption that most people are sadfishing, those who need help may not get it,” the researchers explained.

But if you do spot a post from someone you know, it should always be taken seriously. Because if there is no way to know if a friend is attention-seeking or in serious distress, the best response is to reach out privately and offer support. 

Let’s be clear: there’s nothing wrong with talking about your problems online. And equally, there’s nothing wrong with wanting attention. But becoming more aware of our motivations for doing so, including facing some of our insecurities, can only be a good thing for our mental health.

Images: Getty

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