A Psychiatrist Debunks TikTok’s ‘Fatal Flaw Theory’

We rely on TikTok for so many things, from haircare tips to makeup looks and even what to eat for dinner. Once again, the popular platform is coming in clutch, this time to help us straighten out our friendships. TikTok’s big sister Tinx sent the social media platform aflutter with a concept she’s calling “the fatal flaw theory” that’s meant to help you cope with some of our friends’ aggravating habits.

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So, what is the “fatal flaw” theory?

In a video that went viral, Tinx broke down her theory (later clarified as a rule) saying: “For every close or best friend you have, they have a fatal flaw [that] you have to accept that and not think about it because it’s a part of who they are.” Once you accept it, Tinx says, you then can’t get upset about it when it presents itself. “If your friend does something related to that fatal flaw, you can’t get mad about it because it’s a write-off. [Anything] within the realm of their flaw you just have to accept.” This is where things get interesting: “If you can’t,” Tinx says, “Then you should demote them as a friend and distance yourself.”

What does that look like? Say, for example, your friend Sally has a punctuality problem that bothers you and no matter how many times you’ve brought it up, Sally can’t seem to show up to brunch, a birthday party, or any occasion for that matter on time. According to big sis Tinx, you have two options—say nothing and chalk it up to Sally being Sally or create some distance between you two where you just stop inviting her places. Kinda intense, right?

What does a psychiatrist make of the “fatal flow” theory?

Before you go writing a strongly worded letter to Sally about how you will no longer be inviting her to happy hour anymore, we reached out to Dr. Susan Zinn, LPCC, LMHC, NCC and certified trauma specialist to weigh in on Tinx’s rule. Her take: The fatal flaw rule has some flaws of its own.

Though accepting your loved ones for who you are is a great virtue, before you submit to their fatal flaw, you need to ensure that the relationship is a healthy one to begin with. “Most important, before deciding whether you can accept a friend's limitations, it is essential that you first understand what constitutes a healthy friendship,” Dr. Zinn advises. “Toxic relationships can be dangerous to your mental health and wellbeing and can cause chaos in your life. At no point should harmful relationship patterns be considered a friend's ‘fatal flaw’ to be accepted.”

Not only that, but the theory also lacks a bit of nuance. In Sally’s instance, for example, if she’s a solid friend in all other ways, you can always trick her into arriving on time. If you need her someplace by 2 p.m., try telling her the event starts at 1, she might just arrive on time. Granted, Tinx was likely referring to issues that aren’t as minor, but certainly there are several steps to take before completely axing someone out of your life.

The bottom line. Friendships, like any other relationship, function on a spectrum. And per Dr. Zinn, if the friendship is toxic and doesn’t bring any positivity into your life, don’t make excuses to keep that person around. However, if it’s a relationship that brings you joy, then try to find a middle that works for both of you—which could just be accepting each other’s fatal flaws.

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Resident Hufflepuff, Beyonce historian, self-proclaimed tea sommelier

Steph is a native of Zimbabwe who is both enamored and genuinely baffled by the concept of silent letters. From 2020 to 2022, she served as Associate Editor at PureWow covering...