The Canon Event Trend Reframes Bad Experiences As A Necessary Evil

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We've all been there. You had a wardrobe malfunction in front of the whole auditorium. You publicly asked someone out, and they said no in front of your entire friend group. You brought your new partner home to meet your parents, and they insulted your mom's grilling technique. Some moments in our lives just scream, "Teleport me to a different part of the multiverse where this didn't happen." 

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There is no way to avoid all bad experiences. Being human means that we're going to be embarrassed sometimes, go through a terrible ordeal, get our hearts broken, lose our jobs, or any number of other traumatic events. It's sort of baked into our lives. What matters is how we handle these events and reframe them for ourselves. 

There is a new trend on TikTok where people take difficult moments in their lives and reframe them as "canon events" that had to happen for their lives to change for the better (via Stylecaster). Let's dive into where the idea came from, how it works, and when you need to look for further help. 

Where the idea came from

The idea comes from the recent animated sequel, "Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse." (There are mild spoilers ahead, so consider yourself warned.) In the film, we learn that there are multiple Spider-People across the multiverse, with one in each reality. Each of them has a "canon event," which is an event that has to happen, or the universe falls apart. We won't reveal the big one from the film but think about it like this: A Spider-Person has to be bitten by a radioactive spider to become a superhero. If that doesn't happen, the world falls apart. It's an event that produces a change and cannot be altered. 

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So, if that embarrassing thing that happened at work had to happen, it means that it can lead to something good or that it had to happen so you could move forward. You've seen it in rom-coms where the protagonist spills a beverage all over her touchy boss, who fires her for it. As she's leaving the office with a box of her stuff, she runs into an old friend who just happens to have an opening at the company she's always wanted to work for ... you see where we're going with this. Stylecaster mentions one of the first TikTok posts about it, which was from @greekos_nikos, who posted himself, "Realizing it was never trauma, just a canon event." 

How it works

So, how do you take that terrible moment in your life and use it to change things for the better? Dr. Janina Scarlet, licensed psychologist and author of "It Shouldn't Be This Way: Learning to Accept the Things You Just Can't Change" (note: Dr. Scarlet co-wrote a chapter with the author of this article for "Spider-Man Psychology: Untangling Webs") spoke with us about how you can make this trend work for you. Dr. Scarlet explained: 

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"For many people who go through something traumatic, reframing an event can substantially shift the way they think about themselves and the world, and the future. For some people, it will impact them in terms of making them distrustful of others or making them question their abilities. For many people, they might, over time, learn about themselves and experience post-traumatic growth in terms of finding meaning from their experience."

In addition to the reframing, Dr. Scarlet said we should give ourselves the help we wish we'd had at the time. "People should think about what the younger version of themselves needed at that moment, for example, emotional safety and support." She suggested that we comfort ourselves the same way we'd comfort a friend with a similar experience. One thing Dr. Scarlet made clear is that this isn't for every traumatic thing that happens to us in our lives. "This type of reframe is not always possible for every traumatic situation. I want to be very careful in terms of not silver-lining every traumatic event that people go through because nobody asked for certain events in their life like sexual assault or abuse ... not every event 'had to happen' in order for somebody to find the core of their inner strength."

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What are the limitations?

As Dr. Scarlet said, there is a big caveat here. There are times when we can't do all the healing work without help from a professional. TikTok videos are not the same thing as getting treated professionally. Dr. Scarlet weighed in on when it isn't a good idea to use the "canon event" technique and when we should look for further assistance. She said:

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"When we're noticing that certain symptoms are impacting our daily functioning. For example, when the residual symptoms from a traumatic incident are impacting our ability to work, to socialize, or if they're impacting our mental and physical health, if they're making it difficult for us to think or to take care of ourselves, then it's definitely time to seek some kind of support, such as reaching out to a therapist or trauma specialist."

The bottom line is it's a wonderful thing to reframe trauma as something that spurs you on in a positive way, but if the trauma begins to affect your emotional and physical health, it might be time to seek professional help.

If you or someone you know needs help with mental health, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), or visit the National Institute of Mental Health website.

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