What Does 'Goblin Mode' Say About Our Collective Mental Health?

goblin mode

Verywell / Mira Norian

Key Takeaways

  • The Oxford English Dictionary’s word of the year is “goblin mode,” a term selected by more than 318,000 voters.
  • Experts say the popularity of the term is a sign of the times, demonstrating how fed up people are with working hard to conform to unrealistic societal standards.
  • Goblin mode, like anything else, can go too far and harm your mental health. But in moderation, experts say it’s a positive shift toward self-preservation, healthy boundaries, and accessibility.

For the first time in history, the 2022 Oxford English Dictionary’s (OED) word of the year was selected by the public, and an overwhelming majority voted for the term “goblin mode."

Oxford Languages, maintainers of the OED, defines the term as “a type of behavior which is unapologetically self-indulgent, lazy, slovenly, or greedy, typically in a way that rejects social norms or expectations.”

It is, in a sense, antithetical to the curated, clean, ultra-polished aesthetic that abounds on social media, and it seems that’s precisely the point.

Jennifer Alumbaugh, LMFT

I’d love to offer a reframe of the way goblin mode is being defined. The pandemic has brought about significant changes in the flow of peoples’ lives for long enough that returning to ‘the before times’ is no longer possible or desirable for many people.

— Jennifer Alumbaugh, LMFT

The exact origin of “goblin mode” isn’t totally clear. It surfaced online as far back as the early 2000s, according to Google Trends, but it saw an accidental rise in popularity earlier this year thanks to a joke.

The term took off when a social media user tweeted a fake article, in which actor Julia Fox was quoted saying it while referring to her relationship with Kanye West. Fox later clarified in an Instagram story that she had never used the term before, but it caught on nonetheless.

TikTok videos tagged with the term range from dancing like nobody’s watching or having bad posture to eating large amounts of junk food or staying in bed all day.

The pandemic and other distressing world events were no doubt a catalyst for this change, said Bertrina Olivia West Al-Mahdi, PhD, a psychologist and licensed professional counselor who goes by Dr. O. People have been forced to focus on self-preservation, she said, and many are simply done with the pressure to keep up appearances. 

“This says that the state of our mental health is in severe distress where many are overwhelmed, overloaded, depressed, and stressed out,” Dr. O said. “[They’re fed up] to the point where they are tired of putting on a show.”

Jennifer Alumbaugh, LMFT, a licensed complex trauma therapist who now works as a mindset coach, said goblin mode is often framed as a negative thing, but in reality, it should be viewed as a positive societal shift. 

“I’d love to offer a reframe of the way goblin mode is being defined,” they said. “The pandemic has brought about significant changes in the flow of peoples’ lives for long enough that returning to ‘the before times’ is no longer possible or desirable for many people.”

Goblin mode, Alumbaugh argued, is something to be celebrated, especially because it allows those who don’t fit into the narrow box of societal expectations to be their authentic selves. People with disabilities particularly benefit from the normalization of goblin mode.

“An overwhelming number of disabled people have found autonomy and freedom in the ability to work from home—to not have to deal with dress codes and impractical clothing, to be able to do their work in spaces that are comfortable for them—yes, even in bed!” Alumbaugh said.

Can Goblin Mode Go Wrong?

So when does goblin mode go from being a healthy way of listening to our needs to a cause for concern? Dr. O said the practice should be about prioritizing self-care, comfort, and enjoyment. But if left unchecked, goblin mode can lead to a lack of motivation, isolation, and even depression.

While rest and relaxation are important, it’s all about balance, Dr. O added. If goblin mode has you feeling kind of “bleh,” you might want to set some goals for yourself and try to switch up your normal routine. The best way to handle this is to get active and moving again, she said. Even taking a 30-minute walk five days a week can help prevent chronic illness and improve symptoms of depression and anxiety.

As long as it’s within reason, embracing our inner goblin can serve to improve mental health rather than hinder it, Alumbaugh said.

“Because we look through the lens of this ableist system, we too often see these moves as ‘self-indulgent, lazy, and slovenly,’ rather than what they truly are: healthy boundaries, accommodations for accessibility, people honoring their limits and listening to their bodies, a generation who is simply done with conforming to standards that are humanly unattainable,” Alumbaugh said.

What This Means For You

If you’ve been considering going goblin mode lately, experts say you have no reason to feel guilty about it. Prioritizing your needs, comfort, and enjoyment is healthy, as long as it doesn’t get out of hand and ultimately harm your mental health. If it does get to that point, getting up and getting active will surely help you feel better.

By Mira Miller
Mira Miller is a freelance writer specializing in mental health, women's health, and culture.