If you've been on TikTok in the last few weeks, you'll likely have seen the now-viral Suzi stitches doing the rounds. The combined hashtags now have over 200 million views, all with one very simple premise: normal people like you or I taking to the app to share their wildest, most outlandish, or most devastating life stories.
It all started when content creator Susi Vidal - who normally shares recipe videos - shared her dislike for store-bought pesto while preparing a recipe for her followers. In the video, she shares: "Call me crazy, but I've never liked store-bought pesto." Since then, millions have taken to the app to share the wildest, most surprising or outlandish things that have ever happened to them.
Video themes span exorcisms, abductions, untimely deaths, and unbelievable but hilarious breakup stories, with a new video gracing my feed every other video at the moment. The stories have even become so popular that people are even rumoured to be making up stories for the sake of page views on the app (it appears to favour the more "out there" stories as more users engage with the story in disbelief).
After a Sunday afternoon scrolling the app and more time than I care to admit specifically watching Suzi stitches, I started thinking. Why, exactly, do some share their most personal and private stories on an app which has the potential to show said stories to millions of strangers around the globe? Is it a trauma response and a way to process their grief in emotion? And in turn, why as viewers are we so engaged with these stories? Do they subconsciously bring us light relief and make us feel better about our own lives, or is our viewing fuelled by morbid curiosity about other people's lives?
To get some answers to my burning questions, I picked the brains of the author and licensed grief and trauma therapist Gina Moffa. Below, she shares her take. Don't miss our guides to expert-approved mental health tips, the five stages of grief, and a professional's take on the definition of trauma.
As Susi stitches trend on TikTok, we ask: is oversharing on social media a trauma response?
First things first: why does the therapist think that videos where people share their most outlandish or traumatic stories with their followers are so popular at current? Well, there are a few different reasons, she stresses. "One is Covid 19," she explains. "While the pandemic kept us in our homes, it also brought us closer - people were sharing more intimately than ever before." At the same time, she continues, people started turning to TikTok for a sense of connection and community. "People were sharing their honest experiences and thoughts, some were sharing information that felt more trustworthy than the news media, and it kickstarted an era of more intimate social media," she continues.
One study conducted in 2021 backed this up, with participants confirming that they saw TikTok as an honest and open "just be yourself" kind of platform that encouraged authenticity. As a result, users began to use the platform as a kind of public journaling, the therapist shares, detailing their daily emotions and experiences.
The need to feel seen and validated
The next question that struck me as I scrolled stitch after stitch was: why might people feel the need to share such deeply personal stories with people they don't know online? Is it to play into an algorithm that favours more personal content, or is it more deeply rooted than that?
"In my work, I commonly encounter people needing to be seen and validated in your experiences and emotions," shares the therapist. Social media likes and affirmation online can certainly do this - make you feel both seen and validated, connecting you with strangers who have been through similar life experiences to you.
That said, she doesn't believe the algorithm is solely responsible for this kind of intimate sharing. "What I do believe is that people began to feel something they may never have felt in real life - seen, heard, and validated," she explains. "All of a sudden, you're connected to a community that brings empathy and understanding. As a therapist who specialises in trauma and loss, I know this can positively influence your mental health," she shares. Case in point: "Feeling less alone and more authentically connected to consistent and validating people has been proven to be one of the most powerful tools for those suffering from depression and anxiety, as well as PTSD," the therapist goes on.
Think about it: if you're suffering with your mental health challenges and don't have access to mental health care, you can often feel like you're suffering alone. Thanks to social media, as the expert points out, there's an immediately gratifying and validating community at your fingertips. "Somehow, social media has become that safe space for those who are sharing their most traumatising story," she reflects.
Does trauma offset trauma?
So, why do we love watching these videos so much, then? Other than making us feel validated and connected to others who are going through similar situations to us, do they make us feel better about our own traumas? Or, are they addictive or triggering visceral responses in our brains which make us unable to look away?
According to the therapist, the latter. "People watch traumatic share videos the same way we tend to linger at car accidents or natural disasters," she explains. "They elicit several different factors within you as a human: first, it stimulates your sense of empathy." Empathy is important as it's what makes us all human - the ability to see another human in pain and want to help.
Then, they make you consider how you'd do it differently - you wonder what role you'd play and how you'd have reacted if it were to happen to you." Interestingly, research has shown that considering other people's dilemmas can teach us to look within at how to prevent something similar from happening, with this study even concluding that you learn from and react more from witnessing negative experiences than positive ones.
Finally, the therapist shares that there is an element of addiction - although it's not to the videos themselves, but the adrenaline that they trigger in your body. "Watching an emotionally charged video will certainly trigger your flight or fight," she shares. "Think of how you feel during horror movies and psychological thrillers and you'll notice a similar feeling of adrenaline rush."
A final note
In short, the therapist doesn't believe there's anything wrong with sharing on
social media. Each to their own, and if it brings you comfort and community, more power to you. It's important to be mindful of trolls, of course, as this will negatively impact your mental health more than benefit from it. That said, TikTok seems to encourage positivity and kindness more so than other platforms.
Another final note from the expert: "More and more people are reporting feeling alone," she stresses. "Young people are reporting feeling more anxious and depressed than ever before, and social media has become a place for connection to bring healing and validation in an otherwise very isolating, fast-moving world. It makes sense that people choose to share so intimately - especially if they are getting their mental health needs met."
She continues: "To feel safe, embraced, witnessed, validated, and authentically connected without having to leave your bed is appealing for those without access to safe, consistent care in their real lives. In the end, the lesson is that we are willing to get our mental health needs met anywhere and anyhow these days, as a mental health epidemic continues to be at the forefront of the human experience post-pandemic."
Her advice? Sharing your struggles on social media is better than suffering in silence. That said, if you are struggling with your mental health, do seek professional help too, where possible. Remember there are free services out there designed to support your needs. If you just enjoy sharing or watching others share on social media out of sheer fascination - remember to always be kind and share your support where appropriate. You never know how your actions could impact someone.
Marie Claire Newsletter
Celebrity news, beauty, fashion advice, and fascinating features, delivered straight to your inbox!
Ally Head is Marie Claire UK's Senior Health, Sustainability, and Relationships Editor, nine-time marathoner, and Boston Qualifying runner. Day-to-day, she works across site strategy, features, and e-commerce, reporting on the latest health updates, writing the must-read health and wellness content, and rounding up the genuinely sustainable and squat-proof gym leggings worth *adding to basket*. She's won a BSME for her sustainability work, regularly hosts panels and presents for events like the Sustainability Awards, and saw nine million total impressions on the January 2023 Wellness Issue she oversaw. Follow Ally on Instagram for more or get in touch.
Bradley Cooper's candid words about fatherhood are going viral
By Jenny Proudfoot
Thomas Kingston's provisional cause of death has been given as "a traumatic wound to the head"
By Jenny Proudfoot
We are in a sexual violence epidemic and women are being failed
Wayne Couzens’ previous offences make for harrowing reading, but for many women, the missed red flags come as no surprise.
By Mischa Anouk Smith