by Layla Casares
I recently watched a YouTube video by a woman named Kelly Stamps titled “Stop Telling People Your Business.” In her video, Stamps talked about how sharing the intimate details of one’s life opens up the space for negativity from others, and how it can be helpful to omit unnecessary information when communicating with others. The beginning of the video demonstrated a skit in which two coworkers greet each other after the weekend. One coworker asks the other if anything interesting happened over her weekend. The other coworker pauses and asks herself whether she should share exactly what she did but decides to say that nothing much happened. Throughout the rest of the video, Stamps explained that being discreet is not antisocial or rude behavior. She also mentioned oversharing can signal that a person has no boundaries and needs validation from others in order to feel comfortable with themselves. She recommended that if the audience wanted to share information with others, they should so do after everything has been said and done. This video reminded me of a trend in internet culture that I’ve witnessed in recent years among teens and young adults, especially within the year since the beginning of the covid pandemic. The particular example that comes to my mind are the memes I have seen circulating on Instagram.
People have been using Facebook memes to make jokes about their personal information. Facebook has a feature where people can make posts with customizable text and background photos. A few years ago I noticed screenshots floating around; the format was being used ironically as a means to say outlandish things that were obviously meant to be funny to the viewer. As time passed, these posts started being used to share specific ideas instead of just being purposefully strange and incomprehensible. I began to see them being specifically posted to Instagram by memes pages on the app as a way to garner an audience. The people who run these meme pages usually either make the templates themselves or take a preexisting post and editing in a purposefully messy manner in order to make the text highly specific to their life. For example these posts may say something like “I need to stop pretending like I know what I’m doing in life, but I won’t” or “I don’t care how busy I get, I will always make time to live in the fantasy world I created in my head”. Most times these posts center around sharing someone’s state of mental health or even traumatic events.
Being open about mental health and personal problems has become more common, especially among millennials and gen z. This marks a difference from previous generations, such as baby boomers and gen x, where such topics were stigmatized and it was not as common to see people openly discussing them. This has created a gap between the younger and older generations. The younger generation find themselves frustrated when they try to vent or confide in their parents because they are commonly met with either the denial that poor mental health can interfere with daily life, or parents find it uncomfortable to have conversations about it. The older generation are accustomed to the previous social culture of keeping negative thoughts, feelings, or any potential mental health problems to themselves. This disconnect between generations is also apparent in the way the older generation is baffled by the jokes the younger generation make about their trauma and poor mental health. As a result of this divide, the younger generation takes to the internet to interact with those who are familiar with this manner of joking and can relate to it.
On the one hand, using these memes can be helpful; professional help is not accessible to everyone, whether that be because they cannot afford it or they are in an unsupportive environment. Many young people have family that downplays that their problems and demands that they ignore it or use unhelpful coping mechanisms. Instead, young people can find solidarity and support online in others when they vent. Additionally, these people may be willing to offer helpful advice and positive affirmations. I will occasionally post comments on Facebook meme posts if I find them relatable and have additional thoughts I would like to share. I don’t necessarily do it expecting interaction from others, but when they have interacted, they have usually agreed with me and found that my perspective was helpful or rang true within their own lives.
On the other hand, sharing so much can open a space where people can spiral further into negativity. I often find that when people make posts where they vent, others will also start to vent about their own problems in the comments section. Sometimes instead of helping each other, it almost becomes a competition to one-up each other in terms of how bad their trauma is and how poorly they are coping. Additionally, the normalization of openly venting erases boundaries and makes people think that it is okay to do it anytime, anywhere. There are times people will begin venting unprompted on a post that had nothing to do with sharing such information; for example, I have seen posts where people are appreciating their relationship with their parents/a parent and the comments be flooded with people talking about how they have a bad relationship with one or both parents, derailing the initial intention of the post. I also find that people often vent to influencers with big followings. On occasion, these influencers have had to speak out to tell their audience that they cannot handle the emotional labor needed to keep up with the constant flow of comments/private messages from those seeking help in the wrong places. When an audience places the people they admire on a pedestal, they forget that those, too, are real people who can be negatively affected by having stories of trauma piled upon them.
I do not think it is bad to publicly share information, but I believe it is necessary to establish boundaries and recognize that there is a time and a place for everything. Not everyone wants to or has the capacity to handle having other people’s trauma and mental health problems dumped on them at all times. Additionally, there comes a point in which actually seeking solidarity and advice turns into seeking validation without actually trying to solve the problem or at least improve in one way or another. As for myself, I tend to follow a method similar to Kelly Stamps. I prefer to keep the heavier stuff in my life between myself and trusted people, like family or close friends. I will occasionally, though, share the lighter stuff if it is relevant to the conversation or I am specifically asked about it. Being open and honest does not necessarily mean you have to share everything.