Originally published at The Homepage of Michael John Bertrand. You can comment here or there.
I had a really good idea for what to blog about tonight, but I didn’t write it down, and so now it is gonna like the summer dew.
Oh well, I am trying to adjust to my absentmindedness and learn to go with the flow. Be who I am and just deal with it.
Oh wait, now I remember something I was going to blog about. It’s not the thing I forgot today, it’s one I forgot last week. But what the heck, it’s a good one.
The subject is what I am calling the inner cringe. It’s that tendency to present oneself submissively by always being ready to withdraw and blame oneself for any negative emotional input one receives. The slightest bit of negativity and the victims of this maladjustment shrink away like the leaves of the mimosa.
Hmmm. They have berries. I wonder what they taste like. Probably shyness.
This shrinking away is what I call the cringe. The reaction’s (mal)function is to remove the cringer from the scene of the danger and ready them for flight.
In absentia, this can be a healthy response. But all maladaptive responses start as perfectly adaptive responses then get horrible distorted by being overused to the point where they dominate all other responses and become the cringer’s only coping strategy.
Not this cute little guy. But a lot like him.
That scaredy cat has clearly adopted the life strategy of “assume everything is dangerous unless otherwise proven safe. Hence the exaggerated startle response.
And that’s just how the cringers of the human world cope. They go into absolutely every encounter with the unconscious underlying assumption that it will probably go wrong and they should be ready to submit to the superior power as a means of placating them into letting them flee.
This assumption creates a person who starts social interactions from a position of apology. They are, with their body language and reaction patterns, apologizing for being alive. This is, on a primal level, intended to placate people, but instead it only arouses their contempt. Our social hardware dictates that groveling and other exaggerated submission poses disgust us because they make someone seem so socially inferior as to violate basic equality and arouse in us the desire to drive these people away.
This means that this inner cringe is not just maladaptive, it’s paradoxical. It elicits the exact opposite of the desired reaction. And yet, in a sick sort of way, it resolves the problem of the tension created by situation by causing the cringer to either be driven away or to go away themselves, thus eliminating the fear stimulus.
What makes it maladaptive is that the cost for this escape is far too high. It requires one to jettison one’s self-worth, dignity, social standing, and ultimately, one’s mental health if the pathology proceeds far enough.
One of the ways this cringe harms the cringer’s goals is that it creates uncertainty in social interactions. People can sense the cringer’s hesitation and vacillation and it makes them nervous. They don’t know whether the person is going to freak out like they have just seen a monster or not.
And people, in general, do not like being treated as if they were monsters when, as far as they are concerned, all they did was try to interact with the cringer in a perfectly normal way that works for everyone else.
It’s like saying hello to someone and having them react by screaming “MURDERER!” and running away like the hounds of hell were on their heels.
I’ve been on both sides of that. Not pretty.
The bitter truth is that people punish a lack of confidence far more harshly than overconfidence because the low confidence is a lot more unpleasant to be around. Sure, the cocky person might be obnoxious, offensive, or even delusional, but they will not trigger a response of disgust and contempt from people.
Hence the Trump presidency.
This life of cringing is a dark and terrible one. So how does one escape it? The secret is to make friends with one of the demons of timid people : risk.
Being confident in social interactions means being willing to risk being wrong. And not just factually wrong, but actually in the wrong.
It means being willing to back your own play instead of constantly looking for the way out. It means defending your position in the face of social disapproval. And not just in a noble, being true to one’s beliefs kind of sense.
In the down and dirty sense of passionately defending your self worth in the marketplace of status, even at the risk of coming across like an asshole sense. That doesn’t mean throwing away all restraint and actually becoming a total asshole, it just means that you have to move in that direction and accept the consequences if you want to get to a healthy middle ground between self-loathing and delusions of grandeur.
This is a very difficult transition for us sensitive types. We are all too aware of the emotional impact of our actions, being highly empathic, and in general we have significant self-worth tied up in our idea of ourselves as gentle, kind, and easy to get along with. Thus we are reluctant to risk that for anything.
It also means being willing to act illogically. To defend an emotion without concern about being factual, reasonable, or even fair. This can be even harder than risking one’s self-image as a nice person.
Because it means possibly acting in a way that just isn’t….. justified.
And the thing is, healthy people know this, unconsciously. They know deep down that there’s more at stake than simply winning an argument or being liked. They get that their self-worth is something worth defending against all challengers, at least in certain circumstances. They get that sometimes, you have to be unreasonable.
Sometimes, in order to be healthy, you have to act on emotion without restraint.
And for me at least, that’s a very scary thing to do.
I will talk to you nice people again tomorrow.