Demystifying Cringe: In a society, there are rules. Some rules serve as laws, like don’t kill or steal; others function as social norms, like don’t chew with your mouth open or pick your nose in public. But some are much more nuanced. Some social rules aren’t so much rules, but are more like expectations and standards, like knowing how to behave in different environments with different people. Knowing who you are, what you are good at, and where you stand in various social hierarchies and then acting accordingly— like knowing how to assess people’s reactions to you and adapting appropriately.
And when someone does the wrong thing related to one of these types of rules and acts in a way that is oblivious and attached from what is socially expected, they’re not arrested, and they’re typically not even scolded, but something else interesting happens.
So what is the meaning of cringe?
When someone behaves in a way that demonstrates a lack of understanding and awareness of both themselves in the context of society that they’re in, the people watching this individual experience a weird phenomenon. A phenomenon that is often described as cringing.
A feeling of embarrassment and pain for the other person— the videos, photos, music, in real-life experiences that make us coil up and feel a tightening sensation.
The instances that can make us feel horrible for someone but good about ourselves at the same time, the things that can inherently be sad but for some reason still tend to make us laugh.
There’s a weird enjoyment found in the sensation of cringing.
So much so that a huge category of humor and entertainment is rooted in the experience of cringe content, but why?
What is it about seeing someone else do something weird, wrong or embarrassing that is so enjoyable?
Firstly before we answer this, we should understand why we feel this sensation in the 1st place.
Why do we cringe?
Cringing is a result of an empathetic function known as vicarious embarrassment, where an observer empathizes with and feels embarrassment for another person.
It is a response caused by mirror neurons, which are neurons that fire when someone observes someone else and imagines him or herself in their shoes.
The cringe we feel when watching someone breaches social expectation and does something embarrassing is like how one might feel when seeing someone break a bone or get a bad cut, as it activates the same part of the brain known as the Pain Matrix.
When seeing someone else get hurt, the observer can often experience a cringe-like response as their brain tries to self-impose the sensation to effectively empathize with the individual they are observing.
This effect allows us to feel bad for others, to care about how others feel, and to function smoothly as a society without everyone always hurting each other.
However, in terms of experiencing a cringe because of someone else’s behavior, it takes more than just doing something embarrassing to be considered cringy.
What do you find to be cringeworthy?
Things like tripping in front of a lot of people, fa*ting in the middle of a meeting or spilling a drink on oneself while trying to take a sip are all certainly embarrassing, but they’re not really cringey.
This is because they don’t contain essential factors. Something that is cringey requires a person intentionally doing an embarrassing action, paired with a lack of awareness that their action is, in fact, even embarrassing.
They lack self-awareness and, furthermore, they lack awareness of the people in context around them.
They have, at least in this situation, what is known as a weak theory of mind, which is the psychological ability to accurately discern oneself from others they don’t understand, that others are seeing the world differently than that, and there’s no connective tissue between how they think they’re coming up and how they’re actually coming off.
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Someone thinks of themselves in a certain way often involving the belief that they possess a certain skill set, then presents that sense of self in a social context but is completely wrong and comes up weird, foolish, unskilled, and detached from reality. When we see this, it makes us feel that cringing sensation, a morbid peek into the mind of a person who is so far out of touch that it makes us feel pain for them.
But the most fascinating question that cringing or cringe-content raises is: why would anyone enjoy watching this?
Why would the act of observing someone flop over themselves so miserably and so publicly be pleasurable?
In life, it is inevitable that we will experience things that are awkward, embarrassing, and perhaps even cringey in our own personal life. We will mess up or not be as good as we thought we were in something and we will do something weird out of nervousness.
We will learn how to improve the moment and realize how little we knew about the world only a short time before. We will feel like we have no idea what’s going on in certain situations and that we were strange and attached.
But we hate all of this and we will fear it and in order to combat it, we will live our life trying to prove to the world that we were good, composed and not weird at all.
We will perform for others who will study and examine the various social contexts that we pass through, building our knowledge and understanding of how to best perform so that we fit smoothly into the various templates of normality.
But we will know deep down that even if we are successful in our performances for the world, we will be lying to ourselves that the things that society might deem embarrassing or wrong, we sometimes do.
Sometimes we don’t really know who we are or how to act that we might know what we are good at but are never really sure of how good and if people really like us or what we do that sometimes we feel lost, like an infant being put in the center of a corn maze and told to find their way out. When we watch someone else try to perform and impress others, only to end up doing something that is so far off and weird, something that is so lacking in social and self-awareness, we realize that one’s own weirdness and uncertainty is, relatively speaking, pretty normal. Thank you for reading. If you found enjoyment and value in this article, please share it with the world. We are constantly coming out with new articles to help you experience life with clarity and wonder.
Sunday, March 14th, 2021, 01:00 [IST]
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