Healthy Mind

We Asked Therapists for Their Thoughts on Having a ‘Feral Girl Summer’

Photo: Stocksy/Videophilia Stock
Never had I heard the word “feral” describe anything other than an animal before the rise of “feral girl summer,” the subject of TikToks that have now amassed a collective 34 million views. But, aptly, the trend itself—which, despite its name, could apply to folks of any gender identity—doesn’t stray far from its animalistic namesake. It refers to an energy as wild and free (“no worries, only vibing”) as you might expect a feral cat to have, and even calls upon rat imagery (“align your rodent chakras”) as, perhaps, the strongest exemplifier of not caring about much anything at all. To delve into the source of this primal, unhinged vibe and learn how it might pan out, I spoke with a few therapists. And, spoiler alert, their responses weren’t as anti as you might expect.

“Based on the videos that are trending, I’m hearing a need for exercising personal freedom and choice,” says therapist Sierra Hillsman, LPC, NCC. After years of being restricted by pandemic realities and living in hyper-vigilance due to concerns surrounding personal health, people (especially young people) are ready to “create memories without being told what to do or how to do it,” she says. Cue: a feral vibe of just acting on what feels good or right in the moment.

“We’re seeing a real shift away from normalities, formalities, and traditions in exchange for an embracement of individuality, independence, and novelty.” —Alexandra Cromer, LPC, therapist

Posed as both an alternative to “hot girl summer” (because the feral person purportedly cares less and wreaks more chaos) and an extension of it (since both trends call upon folks to be their most authentic, fun-loving selves), the ethos of "feral girl summer" may also stretch beyond a rejection of pandemic-era life. “I believe we’re seeing a real shift away from normalities, formalities, and traditions in exchange for an embracement of individuality, independence, and novelty,” says Alexandra Cromer, LPC, outpatient therapist at Thriveworks.

Below, therapists share why they suspect "feral girl summer" has picked up so much steam thus far, and the pros and cons of embracing a full-blown feral blaze.

Why the rise of "feral girl summer" makes sense, psychologically speaking

Right now, there's perhaps a stronger collective desire than ever for the pandemic to be over (even if that's factually far from the truth). “Those who are engaging in 'feral girl summer' are clearly saying, ‘No more [to the restrictions]. Whatever happens, happens, and I’m going to live my life regardless of the outcome,’” says Hillsman.

To Cromer, it also tracks that this “reclamation of personal agency” would take root on TikTok and spread from there. “The platform is [a space for] independent thought, different opinions, and alternative lifestyles,” she says. “It enables self-expression, and then allows folks to bond on the baseline of, ‘Oh, I feel that way, too.’”

Part of why so many people have seemingly felt the feral energy, though, may be in response to opposing trends that also found their footing on TikTok. “'Feral girl summer' could be considered a rather direct nihilistic reaction against trends surrounding health, wellness, and hustle culture,” says therapist Beth Henderson, LMSW.

For example, think of TikTok’s “that girl” aesthetic, which is generally the person who wakes up early, drinks a green juice, pops on a matching workout set, and goes for a run before noon (aka the antithesis to the feral person). “Capitalism states that if you tap into these chakras, buy this bag, post this TikTok, etc., you will achieve happiness—but this feral trend seems to turn that on its head, stating that my capacity for joy is within me already,” says Henderson.

In a way, there’s both a hopefulness to that energy and a hopelessness, too, depending on how you view it. Either you’re positively rejecting “traditional, uniform, or restrictive cultural patterns” in order to do life and be happy in your own way, says Cromer. Or, perhaps, you’re jaded by the country’s persistent capitalistic machine to the point where you’re burnt out and feel as if there’s “no way forward with the current structure of society,” says Henderson, leading you to abandon all attempts at diligent planning and rule-following for a reckless (feral) life.

The potential upsides and downsides of going fully feral

Because being feral in the sense of the social phenomenon is often synonymous with being your true self, no holds barred, there’s certainly a positive side to embracing this energy, says Cromer. "Feral girl summer" rejects the societal push to act in certain ways or engage in particular practices and instead suggests that it’s okay to be an “unedited, unfiltered version of yourself,” she says. “This promotes a narrative of self-acceptance and allows people to recognize their worth as whole individuals.”

To wit, if your intent in embracing feral energy is to experience “liberation [by way of] increased self-awareness or to develop a deeper connection with yourself, then it is a journey worth exploring,” says Hillsman. But, if you’re hopping on the feral bandwagon for less high-vibe reasons, “like resentment, revenge, regret, or fear of missing out, then it’s probably best to reconsider,” she says.

That’s largely because acting on those instincts without care for your future self or for others could come with steep consequences, with which you’ll eventually have to deal, says Hillsman. With this in mind, it’s important to consider the state of your mental health before you go full feral. Hillsman suggests you ask yourself: “Am I being fully present with my thoughts and emotions throughout these experiences, or am I using…reckless behavior as a form of escapism? Am I embracing this trend with awareness for my emotional state, or are there just some things in my life that I find uncomfortable to deal with right now?” If you suspect that your answers fall into the latter camps, then maybe feral vibes are ill-advised, in your case.

To be clear, though, none of the experts are against having fun and feeling free; they’d just rather you find that carefree release in a way that won’t pigeonhole you into, well, a totally feral future.

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