What is Goblin Mode?

Oxford University Press recently announced the 2022 word of the year as voted on by more than 300,000 people—"goblin mode." Defined by Oxford as “a type of behavior which is unapologetically self-indulgent, lazy, slovenly, or greedy, typically in a way that rejects social norms or expectations,” what does this word say about the state of people’s mental health going into 2023? Is “goblin mode” a good mindset to embrace in this new year or a troubling one?

“One premise of ‘goblin mode’ is about saying no to outside pressures and expectations that no longer align with your well-being. I think this is very timely for living through the COVID-19 pandemic, which has brought so many restrictions,” says Karmel Choi, PhD, a clinical psychologist and assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital. “After holding it together for so long, people are ready to let go. They want to live on their own terms, even if it’s messy. ‘Goblin mode’ taps into this spirit of loosening tight expectations and allowing flexibility to explore other ways to cope with stress.”

The good & bad of “goblin mode”

Dr. Choi notes that in its best version, “goblin mode” embodies the idea of owning who you are, taking care of your needs, and living more authentically. During times of stress, it can be a powerful relief to give yourself permission to be as you are, instead of trying to hold it all together.

She also cautions there can be dark sides to this approach. While “goblin mode” may feel liberating in the short term, it is not necessarily a recipe for long-term well-being. For example, long periods of inactivity or isolation can increase fatigue and negatively impact mood, whereas physical activity, social connection, and regular routines are central for sustaining positive mental health and even preventing depression. And while it is important to express yourself and care for your needs, taking it as carte blanche to ignore norms and responsibilities can lead to difficulties down the road.

“People are likely turning to ‘goblin mode’ because of larger forces and pressures outside of their control (the pandemic, other broken systems, etc.),” says Dr. Choi, “so simple individual-level strategies can help but are not a fix-all.”

Channeling “goblin mode”

If you find yourself in “goblin mode,” here are some ways to channel that into something more positive:

  1. Identify the core underlying needs. Your personal goblin may be sending you a message. Is it rest or comfort that you need? Do you need to be seen or acknowledged in some way? You can begin to think of different ways to effectively meet those needs.
  2. Be proactive. Take this opportunity to learn more about yourself. You may find certain types of activities help your mood and provide relief more than others. Experiment with building these into your daily life instead of only indulging when you’ve reached a breaking point.
  3. Practice vulnerability. The popularity of “goblin mode” shows us how many people in today’s world resonate with the idea of having a space to show up imperfectly rather than being defined against an ideal standard. Look for situations where you could loosen harsh expectations and share your triumphs as well as challenges with people you trust.
  4. Strike a balance. We know rest is vital to well-being. However, periods of doing nothing may be best utilized as a short-term strategy; be mindful that it doesn’t slip into long-term avoidance. Once you’ve gained some relief, be sure to re-engage in life activities that are important to you. Rather than swinging between extremes of self-denial and self-indulgence, aim to land somewhere in the middle. For example, you might work on meeting your needs while also being of service to others.
  5. Seek additional support and help as needed. If you find yourself constantly in “goblin mode” or more often than you’d like, reach out to a loved one or seek out a professional to help you process what might be going on.