"They would like the laurel of victimhood without the actuality of being victimized."

Yes. This phenomenon exists with sexual identity as well. I've said before that the rise of identifications like "gray ace demisexual" (aka having a normal sex drive) is because kids today want to be Queer but they don't want to be queer.

Expand full comment

Of course, it doesn't take a cynic to suspect everything written here about multiple personality disorder also applies to the explosion of people identifying as being transgendered. The fear of calling bullshit on trends spread by social contagion for fear of "handing ammunition to social conservatives is not going to end well culturally, or politically, yet here we are.

Expand full comment
Apr 22, 2022·edited Apr 22, 2022

I love your writing. This is a really good interrogation of something I've noticed on social media. The other disturbing part of this is it tries to ensnare you. Especially if you've had a mental health crisis, so many institutions are set up to encourage you to make that part of your identity not just on social media but among therapists themselves. It's actually difficult to find a provider who doesn't buy in to this culture of valid feelings etc. Lots of learned helplessness going on. Now, at 26, I am sick to death of my feelings being affirmed; instead I want to feel better.

Expand full comment

My son was "diagnosed" with this, DID, by a substance abuse counsellor when he was a raging alcoholic. It was so handy that it wasn't really him trashing the house, terrorizing his girlfriend and getting DUIs.

Expand full comment
Apr 22, 2022·edited Apr 22, 2022

Again it seems exactly like the consumptive chic movement of the 19th century where women adopted the look of the consumptive because dying of TB was glamours and real and made you special.


A more recent example might be the stereotypical benzo (mommy’s little helper) addict 1950s housewife. Only boring average common women were happy being a housewife - those with depth suffered and needed to medicate that suffering.

Expand full comment
Apr 22, 2022·edited Apr 22, 2022

I see a different etiology, I think.

Playing with identity has ever been the privilege and recourse of the young, that is to say, people who are still figuring out what they're going to do and what they've got to do it with. That's fine as far as it goes, and can be both enjoyable and useful. But I'm not sure there is any longer a distinction to be made between play and work - certainly the "grind" or "hustle" cultural concept argues that there's not; by that rubric, if you're not doing work, you're wasting time. From a perspective like that, no such thing as play can even exist. And a lot of the Internet, these days, lives and breathes that concept. Can you blame them? The algorithm eats that shit up, so especially on as algo-driven a platform as TikTok, which by all accounts is actively hostile to and quite good at preventing users curating their own experiences, that mindset is liable to be at the core of most or all of what you see.

Hence trivially the escalation, because it's a Red Queen's race: you have to run as fast as you can all the time, just to avoid losing ground. If you actually want to earn, if you want to have an audience at all, you have to stand out. I think all of what you describe pretty much falls out of that. It's of a piece with Logan Paul's exploitation of a suicide, or with that guy who deliberately crashed a plane for YouTube views a little while ago - same purpose, same outcome, and if the blast radius of that plane crash was smaller then that's only by happenstance.

It's not identity play any more, because on the Internet not much of anything can be play at all any more - not that there aren't places where it still can, but they're very niche and not geared to generate engagement, and even there you see the effect on people of the prevailing culture. It's identity *work*, identity as personal brand, and I'm less worried about it somehow poisoning the wider culture - the wider culture is already poisoned! - than I am about the effect it's going to have on the people who are tied up in it now. I don't see that they ever really had much of a chance, and while it's reasonable to expect people to rise above their circumstances, it's a bit Calvinist to ignore the fact that not everyone has that in them, or should need to.

I'm just glad I had the good fortune of a chance to mostly figure out who I am before all this shit came along. I don't know how the hell anyone who didn't have that luck is going to deal with the same problem, and I'm glad that's not a problem anyone expects me to try to solve.

(It's also worth noting that all you're going to see on TikTok or Twitter, unless you know how to look and expend the effort in doing so, is the people who've found the most success in this Red Queen's race that the modern public Internet has largely become. Just being aware that these algorithms exist and do what they do does not suffice to render you immune to their effects.)

Expand full comment

Recently at my wife’s work, an inexperienced clinician (not a psychiatrist) diagnosed someone with multiple personality, and my spouse (actual psychiatrist) was so angry. She ranted all night about how this clinician harmed the patient.

I don’t know if this specific clinician was influenced by TikTok / social media… but it’s not impossible to imagine. There are lots of adults on TikTok, including mental health professionals. (Someone could write a whole post on “Therapy TikTok” where alleged counselors and therapists give bite-sized mental health tips that coincidentally affirm what people want to believe.)

A lot of people dabble in mental healthcare who really don’t know what they’re doing. Primary care doctors prescribe psych meds… minimally qualified “counselors” see very ill patients… nurses with varying degrees of experience… and so on. You would imagine there’d be enough gate keeping and requirements to prevent incompetent care, but sadly that’s not the case.

So it’s very possible that the TikTok trend has increased the number of people getting diagnosed with DID, even when they aren’t seeking such a diagnosis. If this becomes widely accepted it will cause a lot of harm.

Expand full comment

21st Century Salon has a similar article: https://bprice.substack.com/p/tiktok-tics-and-mass-sociogenic-illness?s=r

Also, I want to admit to being one of the "it's just elite colleges, it doesn't matter" people. I thought they'd start working at Goldman Sachs and become boring Obama liberals.

Expand full comment

This post is 100% true but it astonishes me, once again, that you see THIS, Freddie, with crystal clarity, and yet you don’t see the same thing happening with the “trans identities” that many young kids have. It is the same.

Huge swaths of what you wrote is equally true of the “trans issue” and could have been written about it. Passage after passage after passage. Really, please, I implore you, go back and think about this stuff in the context of a disorder that increased 4500% among adolescents and teens in 10 years, when it was vanishingly rare in the past and virtually never occurred in adolescents and teens in the past (in fact, adolescence was commonly understood by experts to _resolve_ a child’s gender distress in the majority of cases—as many older and middle-aged gay and lesbian people will attest: a few people spend their childhoods desperately wishing they were the opposite sex, and in past decades what often happened is they went through puberty and realized they were content with their body, but were “just” same-sex attracted. You will hear that story over and over and over, from older people who will also tellyou they “dodged a bullet” by being born early enough to avoid the trans label and medicalization).

Anyway, among adolescents and young adults — “being trans” or “being queer” is now a huge internet phenomenon, just like the multiple personality thing. Just like TikTok tics. These are ALL cultural creations. These are ALL idioms of distress.

You’ve said in the past you’ve shied away from the trans issue because you’re not an expert. Surely you’re not an expert in multiple personalities either, but you’ve been able to see through it and it hasn’t prevented you from writing this today.

Multiple personalities, TikTok tics, the 21st century Western phenomenon of “being trans,” the 21st century Western phenomenon of cutting yourself related to emotional pain — these are _all_ cultural creations, like koro or windigo or amok.

These are idioms of distress that groups of people latch onto and adopt from one another, all at once within a shared culture, to explain and express their distress.

It couldn’t possibly be any clearer and that’s why I’ve implored you — with your enormous influence and usual ability to see right through nonsensical bullsh*t — to read what I’ve written in my own substack about the 21st century trans issue. Our new notions of “being trans” are causing long-term medical and emotional harm to many vulnerable people, at least partly because nice liberal progressive types like myself often don’t want to touch the trans issue with a ten foot pole. No one wants to be thought a bigot. No one wants to be called one. Especially if you have trans friends.

Look. You can have trans friends whom you fully support and love. You can see them enjoying life expressing themselves as the opposite sex. You can see them as functional people who deserve respect and rights. Of course.

But you can _also_ see this new phenomenon among adolescents and teens as _not the same thing_ and as incredibly harmful to people who need real help.

Gender nonconformity is real. A (historically very few) people are so extremely distressed with their bodies that they prefer to “live as” the opposite sex, and various cultures make room for that to different degrees and in different ways.

May everyone live life respected and supported in being themselves. That’s my wish.

But a thing called “being trans” popularly understood to be a “mismatch between your body and your brain” is a completely cultural creation. It doesn’t pass the simplest test of common sense (never mind there is absolutely zero evidence for it, just as there is no evidence for having a woman’s elbow in a man’s body, or having a blue eyed person trapped in a brown eyed person’s body).

As you’ve just shown us, Freddie, by writing so capably as a non-expert on the multiple personality thing, you needn’t be a subject matter expert to look at the evidence with a dispassionate eye and evaluate it.

And so I’ll invite you once again to consider what I’ve written on this topic, because a lot of people are being ***harmed*** by a lot of good people’s inaction. By good people’s cluelessness. By good people’s refusal to consider the evidence and speak up on behalf of people who are being harmed instead of helped. By, in some cases, good people’s cheerleading and promotion of this idiom of distress, because they think they’re being kind and progressive and inclusive, in ways that medically and emotionally damage vulnerable people who genuinely need other types of help— in most cases, _not_ living as the opposite sex, _not_ permanent medicalization— to manage their distress.

No good comes from cheerleading an idiom of distress. It creates more distress. It fails to address real sources of distress, because we’ve told ourselves a just-so story about the nature of the problem.

If you’re willing to consider what you just laid out so nicely for us with regard to multiple personalities, and turn the spotlight on other idioms of distress, my post “Trans Is Something We Made Up” is a good place to start. “TikTok Tics and Mass Sociogenic Illness” is another one.

I’m passionate about this issue, and I shamelessly beg people to care about it, even though it makes me look like a huge jerk to ask people to read things I’ve written, because serious medical and emotional harms are being perpetrated on vulnerable people, and most of us are content to look away if it doesn’t affect us, or to vaguely suppose that “trans is another kind of gay” or to ignore the personal fallout of speaking out on a issue that doesn’t affect us directly and will likely make other people angry at us (and completely misunderstand our intentions).

I shamelessly implore anyone who sees through the multiple personality thing to take the same hard look at “being trans” as just another idiom of distress currently expressed by the same set of young people, who most often need help that they’re not getting.

Expand full comment

A small percentage of the population are hyper creative and open individuals. It's the only thing that is important and meaningful in their lives. The ideal situation is that they become artists and express themselves in a manner that eventually betters the world.

Of course the danger of TikTok and other platforms is that they provide a much easier and more immediately gratifying, but temporary path for these individuals. These kids actually are creative and imaginative. They are the same type that would be starting a band or painting or writing poetry. So I can't fault them for making the content that will give them attention and recognition. I hope most of them find some new and healthier ways to express themselves.

Expand full comment

It’s hard for me to tell how novel this problem is. It seems like the intensity of whatever the kids are doing these days (whether you’re worried about transness, performative mental illness, or becoming alienated from your religiously woke kid) makes it new and different, but does it really? I also remember the very real fears that parents had when I was a kid: sexual promiscuity, AIDS, teen pregnancy, satanic music, eating disorders… movies like Kids and artists like Marilyn Manson (who really did turn out to be a monster, actually) symbolized the danger and degeneracy of youth culture. And some of it is real! As the mom of a teenager I can confirm: having a teenage girl is terrifying. There is a lot that can go wrong and you start losing that sense of being the center if your kids life much more rapidly than you expected. And the worst part is there is no surefire way to “protect them” from the excesses of the typical identity seeking that teens do. Limit the internet as much as you can, provide a stable family and home if you can, take an interest in them but don’t turn them into narcissists, love them unconditionally but let them know that the rest of the world won’t, instill independence but also let them know you’ll always be there. It’s hard to get right.

I’ve started to think that the best antidote for what is essentially an excess of self focus is to figure out ways to shift their focus outward. It’s hard to do because self centeredness is a pretty normal developmental stage for adolescents, but probably the best way is to try to model it and encourage it. Figure out a way to care about something besides yourself and hope it sticks to them. And then just hope they’ll get through this stage, like most teenagers do, relatively unscathed.

Expand full comment

Add the new Disney/Marvel show Moon Knight to the list of pop-culture portrayals of DID. Also there is a sub-Reddit r/fakedisordercringe that documents this trend quite well, you can even see a while back Tik-Tokers we’re obsessed with pretending they had tics from Tourette’s, got bored with that then moved on to DID. What disorder will they pretend to have next? Only time will tell

Expand full comment
Apr 22, 2022·edited Apr 22, 2022

I have a more optimistic view of where this goes. I think it shows that the identity bubble is reaching its peak and may soon start to deflate. It’s jumped the shark. Reasonable people will feel increasingly comfortable saying so, because it’s such a difficult charade to maintain and because things like DID and Tourette’s don’t have the same cultural baggage as gender dysphoria. This in turn will lead to healthier, more honest, more skeptical conversations about the huge increase in rare mental illnesses and - perhaps more importantly - in trans or non-binary identification. Personally my preference would be for a culture where kids have broad latitude to express themselves, but where the adults around them are conscious of how malleable child and adolescent identity can be, and proceed with the appropriate caution (for example, when it comes to medical intervention). This caution, in turn, will deflate some of the extreme conservative backlash.

On the other hand, Freddie could be right and we’ll just continue on the road to crazytown. Time will tell.

Expand full comment

This has been around for 40 years in a general form. That long ago I used to work for a firm in the Denver office that also had a group in Manhattan. I noticed in one large group get-together in Denver, and when visiting the NYC office often, that all the Coasties could talk about their personal lives was their visits to Psychiatrists. Of the group in NY, only one was obviously dysfunctional - except not in his professional life, which was a huge success. Either the Boss was artful at picking mentally suffering people as employees, or more likely, it was a way to achieve status in a group. A way of communicating out East. The people in Denver rolled their eyes when they couldn't be seen. So it's mutated from adults to young adults, and to kids. To people who really suffer from mental illness, these people are a bunch of terminally selfish counterfeits. They are so self-absorbed that their skeletons are on the outside.

Expand full comment

You wrote:

"Ideas core to the toxic mental health ideology that kids are absorbing on TikTok include

That intense childhood trauma is universal or near-universal, despite the fact that it simply isn’t, and thank god

That trauma is somehow ennobling, a maker of meaning, a creator of identity, a way to be unique and special, rather than something terrible we should do everything we can to prevent

Correspondingly, that to be mentally healthy is undesirable, when it’s a condition we should aspire to secure for everyone

That mental illness is an identity, the most important and central element of someone’s self, rather than an unfortunate detail, and that the right way to have a mental illness is to revel in it, celebrate it, fixate on it completely, act as though there’s nothing else interesting or meaningful about you than your mental illness

That any critical thinking or questioning of their rhetoric about mental illness is inherently a matter of “stigma” and thus illegitimate, and that the job of doctors and therapists is always to affirm their self-diagnoses, not to act as independent and dispassionate agents

That anything they feel is valid, that their emotions are a perfect guide to their reality, and that anything that contradicts their intuitions or their desires is by definition the hand of oppression."

Victim status is highly prized in the West these days. Victim status trumps any argument, even to the point where any and all malfeasance is excused and even praised if committed by the right sort of victim.

The irony of course, is that if early childhood trauma were so universal and damaging, imagine how people must have suffered in the olden days, or in the Third World right now.

Expand full comment

In this house we believe in science.

Expand full comment