Hello, so before I begin, I am just going to warn you all that this post is going to mention topics which may be triggering to some readers. These includes topics relating to childhood trauma and mental illness. Now while I am not going to go into depth, if you are likely to find content relating to either of these themes triggering, then I would advise against reading. Also, this post does explore subjects which I have not been directly affected by, whilst “Trauma Core” is something which I have never participated in, therefore I apologise if it seems as if I have undercut anything, while I acknowledge that as a result, this post may lack some authority.
Right then, life can suck at times. So how can we cope? Smoking and drinking, perhaps? Meh, not too good for you. Engage in other unhealthy coping mechanisms? Look, do not even go there! Alternatively, there is always the option of opening up about it. Yet sadly there are so many people who have not really been able to open up about things, or receive help, and yet have been through some horrific stuff, at such an early age. And really, what can they do other than sadly choosing to cope in an unhealthy way? Of course, there is always the classic of having a cup of tea, but that is taking the p*ss? Oh, I remember. It involves the great wide web: where one is most likely anonymous, they can connect with others who have similar experiences, and they can express themselves in a way which can release a mixed array of emotions. And yes, you are aware that this kind of thing has gone on for a while now. Remember the sad 2014 quotes on Tumblr, fan accounts featuring sad song lyrics and even gritty photos, often depicting difficult themes? Nonetheless, Trauma Core has probably taken this to another level, but what are the implications?
What is Trauma Core?
If you remember a time before you downloaded TikTok (2020!!!), or if you happen to be extremely clever and you have somehow managed to completely avoid it, then when you stumble across Trauma Core for the first time, then unsurprisingly you would be a little confused. Even if you do have TikTok, and you are aware of the extensive range of unique aesthetics like cottage core, the thought of trauma Core may well seem a little odd to you. But trauma Core “is a type of imagery that delves into the themes of abuse and trauma.” This particularly involves sexual abuse, but can also include emotional abuse, neglect, or themes of mental illness including depression and eating disorders.
What is Included?
The art “often draws heavily on childlike and angelic themes, done so as a means to try and reclaim their innocence.” These can include images featuring Hello Kitty, care bears and children’s playgrounds. To me, this is understandable, considering that those who go through childhood trauma do not get the childhood which they deserve. Instead, they must grow up quickly. Therefore, I think that looking at childhood imagery as a theme partly depicts a sense of nostalgia for a time of their lives which they did not experience (due to adversity) but should have. Furthermore, I would say it is a way of expressing resentment, at the fact that they lost what should have been innocent young years, to trauma. Especially as teenagers, which is often the age when people begin to come to terms with the fact that their childhood was not how it should have been.
Furthermore, I have noticed that some of the “childhood themed” photos which are included in some “trauma core” pieces, are most certainly not photos of places which one would expect to endure in a perfectly happy childhood. Instead, they may include abandoned childhood bedrooms, of course all covered in pink, or old toys, just piled up, no good for anyone… Again, this makes perfect sense, since people who are involved in creating this art of “aesthetic”, would have experienced difficult childhoods, therefore it is not surprising that many images would appear disturbing, albeit childish.
What is Childhood Trauma?
When childhood trauma is mentioned, the first thing that springs to people’s minds would be physical or sexual abuse. However, childhood trauma occurs in many different forms. The main survey which measures childhood trauma would be the ACE test, which is a test which anyone can take to see how many “ACEs” they have. These are divided under three headings: abuse, neglect, or household dysfunction (including, but not limited to substance abuse, mental illness or mother treated violently). Now, while it is common for people to end up with at least one ACE, having three, or four can lead to significant problems for the young person, both while they are still young, and later in life. However, while childhood trauma is not something that cannot really be measured, I would argue that the ACE is not the most accurate representation of how much trauma someone undergoes. Firstly, because an answer of “yes” to any question can range in severity (living with a problem drinker is likely to be nowhere near as difficult as living with a drug addict), and there are other traumatic experiences not listed on the ACE survey which could really impact a young person: such as bullying, racism and poverty. In recent years, PCEs have also been developed, which consider positive childhood experiences. These include, “able to talk to your family about feelings”, “enjoy participating in community traditions” and having “at least two non-parent adults who took genuine interest in you”. Having these alongside ACEs is likely to give a greater representation of the quality of childhood one has had, nonetheless I would argue that PCEs are even more subjective than ACEs. Because what does a “genuine interest” mean, as one could say teachers could take a genuine interest in every child they teach, while does being able to talk to family about feelings mean that the child can physically walk into the room and talk about their feelings having their family roll their eyes showing negligible interest or understanding, or would it mean their family genuinely cares, understands, and radiates this most of the time?
But, whatever it is that you have been through is valid, and you deserve to be heard, listened to, and loved (I love you, even if we do not personally know each other)!
The Impact of Childhood Trauma
One who has experienced childhood trauma is at a greater risk of developing mental illness, developing addictions, and struggling with relationships later in life. This is because, when experiencing this trauma as children or adolescents, it leads them to being in “fight, fright or freeze mode”, which prevents them from being able to develop into young adults in the way that their peers do. Instead, it is likely that they resort to coping mechanisms, including alcohol, drug use or overworking. This can stunt development in ways including emotionally and can prevent children performing as well at school. Of course, this topic goes far deeper, and there are many ways in which trauma can impact the individual.
A Form of Art, or an Aesthetic?
It is understandable as to why many who have experienced trauma would resort to Trauma-core as a coping mechanism. Whether they are involved in producing art or not, they are going to find a lot of which they can relate to and find comfort in. Meanwhile, especially for those who do produce the art, I would imagine it would feel like a stress relief. This is especially likely to be the case, considering access to mental health services is extremely limited. Therefore, I would say that as an alternative, it is much better for young people to resort to a nondestructive coping mechanism like expressing their experiences through art, than engage in more self-destructive behaviors.
The main problem I see with Trauma Core is not with the art itself, but with the fact that it has become far reaching. This is partly due to the issue of “cross tagging,” where creators caption their posts with hashtags not relating directly to the topic. Subsequently, someone looking for something completely different to Trauma-core posts online, without a Scooby as to what it is, could still end up stumbling across posts relating to it. This could be very triggering for some, meanwhile people who have no clue about what these posts really mean, could end up stumbling across them then unintentionally glorifying it. Resulting in the aesthetic, and potentially trauma being fetishied and glorified online, which lead to the feelings expressed by those choosing to share experiences about actual trauma, being undermined or unbelieved. Understandably, partly for these reasons, many people involved in producing this art would prefer Trauma-core not to be labelled as an aesthetic, because this leads to it being made too mainstream, undermining the true and very touching meaning behind the art produced. Nonetheless, considering that the internet is full of young and old teens: many with substantial problems, many who do not have much to do, and many who are very ignorant and naive (this is not an attack, I was the same as a young teenager), it is not surprising that images relating to Trauma Core have circulated around the internet very quickly. And whether some would rather it be an aesthetic or not, it has gained enough recognition for it to be one of the themes described by Aesthetics Wiki!
To sum this up, I have to say that anyone who participates in Trauma Core is not doing anything wrong. Plus, we have all seen similar things before, which I would say have the potential to be just as, if not more triggering. Nonetheless, this does not mean that there are problems relating to this, including the fetichism of it, and the fact that it can be triggering. Now while this is coming from someone who has never participated in Trauma Core, my only personal word of advice for people who do participate in it would be to aim to keep it a little more tucked away, as an example by only using relevant hash tags. Again, I would maintain that it is a form of art rather than an aesthetic, since it represents a specific experience and serious issues which only some can relate to, rather than a fun kind of style which anyone can participate in.