Frequently Unasked Question: Why do we get hit with sudden moments of cringe?

So, you’re sitting there, reading that new Murakami, sipping on some lassi from the Lassi Shop, when suddenly, you’re hit with a memory. A memory that, for all intent and purposes, you had banished to the recesses of your mind, where it was to languish for all eternity. Yet, against all odds, it has come back to haunt you. This memory, of course, is of the One Direction fan fic that you wrote on Wattpad. As a result, your body convulses, and you wish to drop off the face of the planet. 

Such incidents are ubiquitous, and you, the reader, must have come across them from time to time. These memories are the other side of nostalgia, which we shall be referring to as anti-nostalgia. These are the weird, embarrassing and downright cringey moments of your childhood that give you the wrong kind of goosebumps when you stumble over them in the alleys of your mind. They themselves are the questions you don’t really want answers to. 

Yet, why do they turn up? Why must our own brain betray us so? Why should we relive such events, and how do they even show up? All are valid questions, but first, remember the time you composed a poem for your crush?

To begin, it is necessary that we go back to the evolution of humankind, also known as the Great Mistake. Before humans started living in gated communities and invented ice cream, air conditioners and global warming, we were a hunter-gatherer species. While on the hunt for others, we too were being hunted for our fleshy, juicy meat. Out in the wild, nature- like the sadistic mother that she is- had a wide assortment of ways to harm us. From unusual movements in the bush nearby to a weird taste of an ingested plant, humans have gradually evolved to search for something, anything, which signals that something is off. That something’s  wrong, something’s awry. As such, our neurons are hardwired to be averse to loss, of limb and otherwise, and to recognize danger when we feel it.

Our brains are more receptive to learning, and remembering, a negative experience as compared to a positive one. This is perhaps why Machiavelli writes,“It is better to be feared than to be loved”, and why many believe the fear that Batman instills in  criminals makes him a better superhero than Superman, who infuses hope to the commoners.

How does it matter here? Because ultimately, embarrassing memories of our lives point towards incidents that we wouldn’t like to be repeated, is it not? Rhetorical question, but if you answered “yes” I’d suggest you seek a doctor.

These seemingly random appearances actually come from the triggers associated with that particular memory. For instance, in the memory mentioned at the beginning, the set up of reading a book would have likely triggered the recollection, considering it was a book-related incident earlier.

Such memories remain ingrained in us better than positive experiences. Try remembering the last time something just popped up in your mind, straight from your subconscious, that was a positive memory. Chances are, you aren’t going to find any.

Ultimately, it is for a good reason: so that we remember the lessons we learnt from our mistakes of social faux pas that we committed. With Christmas fast approaching, be thankful for this anti-nostalgia, that have helped you keep yourself on your feet.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

Umar Ali Khan

I do what I do.

One thought on “Frequently Unasked Question: Why do we get hit with sudden moments of cringe?

  • December 24, 2019 at 10:00 pm

    Nicely written.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *