Relaxing with True Crime Stories… A Psychologist Warns It’s a Serious Red Flag

True crime lovers, it’s time for an intervention. If your ideal Friday night is kicking back with a glass of wine and the latest grizzly murder documentary, you may want to rethink your weekend plans. According to mental health expert Dr. Thema Bryant, an affinity for blood-splattered stories could signal some serious issues.

So before you queue up your next crime fix, consider what your viewing habits might say about your mental state. This could be a red flag worth exploring.

The Psychologist’s Controversial Claims

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During an episode of The Mel Robbins Podcast, Dr. Bryant made some provocative statements about true crime devotees. She advised listeners that if episodes of grisly procedurals like Law & Order help them unwind at night, they should reflect on what needs are being met.

“If your idea of relaxing before you go to sleep is to watch three episodes of Law and Order, [then] I would encourage you to think about ‘why is trauma relaxing to me’?” the psychologist remarked.

She suggested for some, high-stress media provides a sense of excitement lacking in their everyday lives.

Dr. Bryant urged true crime fans to lean into any discomfort triggered by her words. “To come home to yourself you have to lean into the discomfort because it’s gonna feel unfamiliar,” she explained.

The mental health expert’s bold comments quickly reverberated across social media, stirring debate.

True Crime Fans Weigh In

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Dr. Bryant’s podcast appearance prompted some soul-searching among true crime aficionados. Several admitted they found some truth in her assessment. As one commenter put it:

“This was SO deep. That in the innermost part of me, I felt the real me, peeking out saying “Can I come out now? I’ve been hiding for 43 years.”

“It distracts me from the pain I’m feeling in my life. I don’t like it, it just redirects my anger,” one listener tweeted. Another added,

“The trauma isn’t relaxing to me – it’s the justice the characters or real people often get that I never did in my own life.”

Others dismissed the notion that their viewing habits stem from trauma:

“I don’t watch it to relive anything. I like trying to solve the mystery before they reveal it,” one fan wrote.

However, some did agree consuming an endless stream of graphic content could be unhealthy. As one listener put it,

“Constantly feeding your subconscious mind graphic content DOES affect your mood and mindset.”

According to the American Psychological Association ¹, studies have shown that exposure to violent media can desensitize people to real-world violence and increase aggressive thoughts, behaviors, and feelings in both the short and long term.

While more research is needed, experts recommend limiting consumption of graphic content as a precautionary measure for mental health.

Exploring the Psychology Behind the True Crime Craze

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So what exactly draws people to gruesome true crime stories? According to experts in psychology and criminology, part of the appeal lies in gaining insight into the dark side of human nature from the safety of one’s home. True crime allows audiences to explore their own primal instincts and mortality without facing any real danger.

Additionally, crime dramas allow viewers to take on the role of armchair detective. The programs provide intellectual stimulation as audiences piece together clues and try to solve the mystery themselves. This interest is not inherently problematic.

However, Dr. Bryant and others argue fans should reflect on their motivations and avoid overindulging. Moderation and self-awareness are key to indulging curiosities about criminality in a healthy way. More research is needed to better understand the psychological motivations and effects of true crime media consumption.

Some potential negative effects of overindulging in true crime media:

  • Desensitization – Constant exposure to graphic violence can desensitize people to real-world aggression and harm. This may make them less empathetic to victims.
  • Increased anxiety/fear – Immersing oneself in grim stories of murder and assault can heighten feelings of vulnerability and unsafeness, even when statistically unlikely.
  • Obsession/hyping up threats – An unhealthy preoccupation with true crime could lead to distorted perceptions of danger and excessive worry about unlikely crimes.
  • Normalization of violence – Prolonged consumption may skew perspectives and make violence seem more common than it is. This can influence attitudes and beliefs.
  • Negative effects on sleep – Engaging with disturbing content right before bed can cause nightmares, insomnia, and other sleep disruptions for some.
  • Triggers for trauma survivors – Crime scenes and detailed accounts may serve as trauma triggers, exacerbating PTSD symptoms.
  • Withdrawal from reality – Overindulgence in dramatic stories as escape could encourage avoidance of real-world problems and relationships.

Moderation and self-awareness are key to balancing curiosity with psychological well-being when consuming true crime media.

The Historical Allure of True Crime

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Long before the advent of podcasts and docuseries, the allure of true crime had already gripped society. In the period between 1550 and 1700, Britain was awash with crime pamphlets. These weren’t just tales of malevolence; they were mirrors reflecting societal fears and curiosities.

Alongside, ballads of the time narrated crimes, often from the perpetrator’s viewpoint, marking an early shift in the genre from merely detailing the crime to exploring the deeper psychological nuances behind it.

Literary Exploration of Crime

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The 19th century ushered in a new era of crime exploration. Literary giants like Charles Dickens and William Thackeray began weaving crime into their narratives, not just for sensationalism but as a lens to critique society.

A standout piece from this period, Thomas De Quincey’s “On Murder Considered as One of the Fine Arts,” pushed readers to think beyond the crime, delving into societal interpretations and the complexities of human nature.

The Birth of Detective Fiction & Media’s Growing Influence

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As the 19th century progressed, detective fiction emerged, paralleling the establishment of formal police departments. This shift signified a move from relying on divine justice to human intellect in crime-solving.

Cases like the infamous Lizzie Borden murder in 1892 became media sensations, highlighting the evolving dynamics between true crime narratives, the justice system, and a public ever-hungry for the next gripping tale.

Finding a Healthy Balance

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Given the potential for negative effects, how can true crime fans indulge their interest without going overboard?

First, it is important to be mindful of content choices. Opting for fact-based stories versus sensationalized and graphic tales can help mitigate adverse impacts. Setting limits on consumption time can also prevent obsession.

Fans should also be aware of their own mental health status and motivations. Those struggling with depression, anxiety or trauma may want to exercise additional caution or abstain from disturbing fare. Seeking professional help to process feelings evoked by these programs is recommended.

Additionally, it is important to maintain perspective. Experts advise that true crime stories, especially fictionalized versions, represent statistical anomalies and do not reflect reality for most people.

Finding balance means being able to walk away from the grisly narrative and reconnect with real life. Moderation, self-honesty and perspective can enable fans to feed their fascination without harm.

True Crime Doesn’t Have to be Toxic

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For many true crime devotees, the lure of shadowy stories is deeply ingrained. And an interest in forensics and criminal psychology can often be intellectually stimulating. However, it’s important for fans to consciously assess their relationship with the genre and set healthy boundaries.

Rather than abstaining altogether, being an ethical and self-aware consumer of true crime media is key. Fact-check stories, limit exposure time, and choose less graphic content when possible. Seek balance and stay connected to other interests.

Periodically examining motivations and reflecting on how immersion affects your mental state is also wise. With mindful moderation, we can feed our human fascination with the sinister without falling into an unhealthy obsession. In the end, illuminating darkness need not damage the light within.

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Martha A. Lavallie
Martha A. Lavallie
Author & Editor | + posts

Martha is a journalist with close to a decade of experience in uncovering and reporting on the most compelling stories of our time. Passionate about staying ahead of the curve, she specializes in shedding light on trending topics and captivating global narratives. Her insightful articles have garnered acclaim, making her a trusted voice in today's dynamic media landscape.