I can’t pinpoint exactly when feelings went viral, but it happened.
And now we’re surrounded by posts, memes, snaps, grams and vines that talk all about feels: catching feelings, having feelings, knowing feelings, getting hit in the feelings. You get the idea. Most of this feelings-based content hinges on the fact that it’s detached and irreverent. Feelings are the punchline.
But lately I’ve been wondering, since psychoanalysis taught us that humour is often a window to our unconscious, what are we really talking about when we talk about feelings online? Based on some very unscientific twitter, tumblr and instagram trolling I have learned that, most of the time, we are talking about 1 of 3 things:
The king of pop-feelings. From his first mixtape, Drake was publicly mocked for talking about his feelings too much. However it was exactly this vulnerability (and his IDGAF attitude about it) that made him famous. Fans like to vicariously experience difficult emotions – things like regret, nostalgia, loneliness, isolation – major themes in Drake’s music. It’s the same reason Kurt Cobain resonated with Gen X’ers. Or why I can’t stop playing that new Adele song even though I don’t like it. We struggle to express ourselves, to identify our emotions, and music helps us put words to what we don’t understand.
The majority of #feelings on the internet are unsuprisingly related to crushes, breakups and relationships. “Catching feelings” is an especially common turn of phrase. And sure it’s pretty cute. I like the idea that emotions are something that overtake you – unexpected and often unwanted. The thing I don’t love is the negative connotation of “catching feelings.” If we think of feelings as a contagion, it perpetuates the idea that our natural state is somehow “neutral” or without emotions. Which is not true and sets people up for unrealistic expectations of both love and life. The reality is, emotional stability is something you will always have to contend with.
Obviously teenagers rule the internet in a myriad of ways because they are so much better at it than the rest of us, but nowhere is their reign more supreme than the public expression of irrational emotion. Twitter – the epicentre of anonymous feelings – is full of teens who unabashedly post about their latest dramas. It’s so embarassingly, beautifully earnest. No thirty-something is going to post 80 updates in a day about the guy who won’t text them back, but a teenager will! They are saying what everyone else wants to say, but won’t because we are adults with self-respect and boundaries. Do yourself a favour and search #teenfeelings. It’s like a livetweeted bildungsroman.
Okay…then what aren’t we talking about?
I’m not breaking ground when I say that social media places a high value on positive emotions and experiences. An instagram post with you looking happy and full of joie de vivre will get you likes. But what happens when you’re not feeling so hot? The trouble is that with so much value placed on appearing positive, fun, outgoing and excited online we devalue and deny our negative emotions. And moreso, in our desire to connect and “be social,” we forget be alone with ourselves which gives us less time to identify and express those difficult emotions.
I think ultimately our fascination with feels and feelings is our attempt to experience and contend with emotions we’re uncomfortable with. Experiencing the intimacy of male friendship? Post a pic of you and your bro #feels. Struggling with the relationship between you and your mother? Post a review of the new Meryl Streep movie #feels. It’s our attempt to go there without really going there.
And yet, safely expressing difficult emotions allows us to identify what’s causing them and to address those causes. This is an important – essential – coping skill that contributes to our overall mental health and well-being.
So, to wrap up this touchy feely post about feels, here are a few ways to express negative emotions…positively:
And once you’ve done those things? Learn from them. Make positive changes. And release them. Through exercise, dance, cooking, writing, painting, or (if you prefer) as hit records….like Drake 🙂