The definition of cringeworthy is something so embarrassing, awkward, or upsetting as to cause one to cringe. Imagine you are having a fine day, going about your business, when you are suddenly hit with a memory, and let out a gasp at the stupidity of the incident. Your body may have an immediate and involuntary physical squirm. That’s a cringe. And that is part of the human experience. None of us get through life without these moments.
It seems that not a day goes by that I don’t recall something that I have said, done, or thought that makes me cringe. How could I have said that? Done that? Or thought that way in the past? The memory may be decades behind us or have happened that day. But no matter how long ago the incident occurred, we still cringe with embarrassment, shame, remorse, and humiliation. How can we be less affected by these intrusive and sometimes painful memories?
I saw a Facebook post that said “If you ever find yourself cringing at something you did in the past, it means you have grown as a person.” This post made me chuckle, but it also gave me a sense of relief over my cringeworthy moments. When the memories return, I can appreciate them as signs of growth. The idea that these memories mark my growth as a person rings true. I have learned from these moments. They have taught me to do things differently.
Lia Kvavilasvili, a psychology researcher at the University of Herfordshire, studies what she calls “mind pops”. These are thoughts that seem to come out of nowhere. She finds that memories are often triggered by something in the environment that takes us back to an incident. She also finds that interrupted moments stick with us longer than those that feel completed. For example, if we don’t have an opportunity to explain or correct the initial incident. And, our emotions dictate what our brains decide to hang on to. The stronger the feeling, the stronger the memory. The brain is saying, “Something important happened. Make a strong memory.”
Pam Haag, Ph.D., encourages people to talk out the embarrassing moments. She wrote, “Embracing the cringe—for example, by sharing stories with friends of your biggest relationship failures or gaffes, or your worst professional moments—is a gift to your fellow humans. It sends a message that despite all of the imperfections and mortifications of the human condition, we survive. We’re flawed, and still worthy of care, love, consideration, and attention. This is a more humane, and humanist, way to think about personal failure than to try to spin it, (or) suppress it.”
I propose that any cringeworthy incident that occurred before the age of 21 is to be forgiven. Youth is about learning and making mistakes.
I also propose that anything that we have said, done, or thought that was taught and entrenched in a particular environment or ideology, and from which we had no other knowledge, should be forgiven. We are allowed to change over time.
And, I propose that we reflect on the things that make us cringe. Was anyone hurt? If so, we should make amends. Making amends is freeing.
We can never be free of our past selves, so it would be best to learn to be objective about the past and develop self-acceptance. Embrace your humanness.