Sadfishing: Showing Sadness on Social Media

Sadfishing is the phenomenon of displaying distress or sadness on the Internet. For many, it's a pity strategy. Learn more today.
Sadfishing: Showing Sadness on Social Media
Maria Fátima Seppi Vinuales

Written and verified by the psychologist Maria Fátima Seppi Vinuales.

Last update: 28 November, 2023

Showing sadness on social media is what’s known today as “sadfishing”. For many, it’s a way to “normalize” that things aren’t always as perfect as our photos on the beach or of having a coffee at a trendy bar.

For others, it’s a strategy of victimization that’s used to gain followers and become a “trending topic.” What’s behind this phenomenon? Keep reading the following article to find out more.

What is sadfishing?

Sadfishing describes the behavior of an individual who excessively publishes their emotional problems on social networks with the aim of gaining sympathy from others. This term comes from Rebecca Reid, who referred to those people who exhibit their emotions of sadness, anguish, or discomfort on social networks.

This behavioral pattern could be related to anxious attachment, according to research published in the Journal of American College Health. People with this attachment style fear abandonment and need constant reassurance. Thus, they may use sadfishing to get the attention and validation they crave.

This concept is formed from the words “sad” and “fishing.” It plays off of another play on words, “catfishing,” which refers to the creation of fake profiles on social networks to obtain some benefit.

In this case, it refers to exhibiting sadness as a way to get attention and obtain the benefit of sympathy and pity. But do you think this is true?

Positions for and against sadfishing

Like everything that happens in the digital world, sadfishing has its supporters and its detractors. There are positions of all kinds. Those in favor of sadfishing present the following arguments.

It helps to humanize social networks a little

Suddenly, people show themselves as they are, with their happiest days and those in which they feel unhappy. As a result, the narrative of the “perfect life” falls away and shows that all people – even those who are famous, have money, or are known for their talent or beauty – can experience difficult circumstances.

It can be a way to ask for help

When people feel bad or lonely, sometimes expressing their discomfort can be a way to ask for help. And for this, they use social networks as their outlet.

It’s a way of expressing emotions

Has it ever happened to you that, after telling someone what was happening to you, you felt a greater sense of relief? This is what happens to most people. Giving words to what we feel causes us to stop sailing around in our own thoughts and open ourselves to the world. This is a way of relieving the burden.

It makes mental health and its importance visible

Globally, anxiety, depression disorders, suicide, and other issues cause concern. As such, social media has become a key space for raising awareness, promoting understanding, and offering support to those facing mental health challenges.

Now, something seemingly innocent, such as saying “I’m sad,” can lead to a barrage of negative and invalidating comments, as well as harassment and even cyberbullying.

Therefore, socializing our emotions in search of understanding and support could be counterproductive, as many people may discredit what we feel and criticize and hurt us.

Those who are against sadfishing in many cases behave like “haters” and point to the following arguments.

They see it as a strategy to attract attention and gain more followers

It’s true that some people may use social networks as a platform to get attention or followers, but we shouldn’t generalize and assume that everyone who shares their sad feelings does so with selfish motives. Each person has their own story and their own reasons for expressing their emotions.

They invalidate any kind of expression of discomfort or sadness

These detractors claim that those who express sadness on social media (for example, a famous person) have no reason to complain if they have everything a person could want: Money, fame, a giant house, thousands of followers, etc. In other words, being famous (or young, or pretty, or having money…) excludes any possibility of experiencing unpleasant emotions.

They justify their malicious comments.

In general, those who criticize sadfishing claim that if a person chooses to expose themselves in such a way, they know what the possible consequences are. This type of user believes that they have the right to say whatever they want.

However, it’s worth asking ourselves, are we only able to tolerate happiness, joy, and perfection? Why are we so bothered by the sadness of others? Why do we find it so hard to believe that others can have problems, even when it seems that their life is perfect? These questions can serve as a guide to reflect on our relationships with others.

Some guidelines for taking care of yourself on social media

If you’ve ever felt sad and decided to share your feelings online and, as a result, have received offensive comments, it’s important to consider some tips.

Although it would be best to educate people to have more empathy and make responsible use of social media, the truth is that the anonymity these platforms allow leads many people to express themselves in an aggressive manner. Faced with this, the best thing to do is to take care of yourself. Let’s see how.

  1. Choose what to share and what to expose: It’s best to use tools that protect us and promote cybersecurity.
  2. Choose to delete, block, and report: It’s crucial to make invisible those profiles that are aggressive and leave comments that incite hatred.
  3. Learn to separate: Although comments may be hostile, this doesn’t mean that they’re true. This aggressiveness is more a reflection of what others are or feel than what’s happening to you.
  4. Seek support from people you trust: It’s important to turn to those who have a genuine interest in your well-being. Also, you must accept that not everyone will always like you.

Don’t let privilege cloud your empathy!

This phrase was coined by the social media accounts of Ita Maria, a female activist and feminist. This phrase comes in very handy to help us think about the fact that, many times, we set the bar very high when speaking or expressing ourselves about others. However, we don’t know their context, their circumstances, or their starting point.

Instead, we can take an active role in deciding how we want to use social networks and whether or not to show our emotions. We can also strive to be more tolerant of the choices that other people make in their use of social media.

Finally, if we decide to play the game that social media offers (showing, sharing, liking, etc), let’s also let others decide what content they want to share.

In any case, if we believe that they do it to cause pity or we simply disagree with their strategy, we always have the option of “unfollowing” that person. Bullying them or being aggressive doesn’t have to be the answer.

Although the virtual world seems like a space of impunity where we can act any way we want, let’s think about whether we would act in such an offensive way in a face-to-face interaction. If so, perhaps it’s a call to ourselves to ask for help.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.