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What is Awkwardness? Overcome Your Awakwardness and Social Anxiety With this Simple Sonderness Technique

A girl is feeling awkward. A black and white shadow of three of her friends talking about her is seen.

A. Feeling Driven Decision Making

What is Feelings

Feelings are the change in the hormonal levels experienced by your brain. Change of different hormones produces different feelings. Such as Dopamine levels increasing from low to high gives us positive feelings, and when dopamine goes from high to low, it gives us negative feelings. When the hormone cortisol becomes very high from the low range, we experience high stress, and when the hormone cortisol level comes down from high to low, we experience relief. Similarly, the hormone Oxytocin provides us the feelings of social attachment, and social detachment when it becomes low to high, and high to low respectively. When Testosterone goes higher, we feel more courage, and when testosterone comes down we feel vulnerable.

You can read more about Feelings and emotions in the resource provided under the “further reading” section.

So far over 50 hormones have been identified in humans. Feelings are not explicit to each of the hormone levels, but there are complex feelings that are associated with the state of change of multiple different hormonal levels.

💡Important to remember here, experiencing any feeling means a contrasting change in the associated hormone levels; if the hormones stay at the same level for a long period of time, we don’t feel anything;

Why and when do we stop feeling?

Therefore, in order to feel positive, you have to first feel negative. Let’s say that you won a prize in your pursuit of life(say sports or target achievement). You will feel good because not having achievement to a sense of achievement gives you good feelings. However, if you win the prize daily, you won’t feel anything. This is because you will stay in the achievement state continuously and there is no change in the feelings.

Same way, when law enforcement agencies use third-degree at the time of interrogation, the interrogated suffers unprecedented pain every day. However, if the interrogation continues day in and day out for subsequent days, the interrogated doesn’t feel anything as there is no change in the state.

One can’t feel day if there was no night, and one can’t perceive night if there was no day; in the same way, there is no such thing called continuous bad feelings, or continuous happy feelings. In order to feel positive, you have to feel negative first. If there is no change in your state, you won’t feel anything, you won’t feel pain, and you won’t feel any pleasure too.

What is meant by decision making

Not everyone has sophisticated cognitive abilities like Einstein, Isaac Newton, Nichole Tesla, and them. We have to take thousands of decisions daily(some we are aware of and some we are not aware of).

For instance, drinking a glass of water is also a decision. Whether you should drink cold water or warm water? Should you drink spring water or filter water? Should you drink water now or should you drink water after an hour? Should you drink water from a glass, or should you drink water from a bottle?

It is not always possible for the brain to collect every single piece of data and information, and take decisions every second based on processing such a large volume of data. If our brain has to process the science of water every time we drank water, then we could do no other work other than making decisions, as the brain would have consumed all the energy. (Under that circumstance, the total decision would anyways reduce as we won’t be left with too much energy to do anything, and thus fewer decisions, and this way our brain balances the effort put into the decisions).

Decision-making is simply deciding on if certain actions that you plan to take should be taken or not.

What is feeling-based decision-making?

Because when you are about to take a decision about a certain action, the action hasn’t happened yet in real-time, you imagine that action. Our brain has evolved to feel exactly the same way in reality, as well as in imagination.

📖Imagine a drunk father coming back home. He is irritated and angry due to conflict in his work. He comes and sees his son playing with a toy. He expects his son to study when he comes back home. Now he gets angry. He takes out his belt and suddenly starts beating his 9-year-old son mercilessly. With each swing of the belt, the tender skin of the boy kept getting red. The boy started screaming, crying, and begging his father with folded hands. The father kept beating him high and dry. As the aggressive father kept beating his crying, screaming, begging son in pain, the mother stood near the kitchen door with a smirk face, saying “good, you deserve it, I was telling you to sit and study, you deserve this beating,” and the boy nearly passed out.

How did you feel while reading the above lines? Did you feel horrible? Try to analyze your current state. Do you feel sick? Did you actually see the scene in your imagination?

You are not experiencing the event of a father beating his son in reality, it was just your imagination. Now tell whether the father should have beaten his child or not.

All of you would unanimously say “No, hell no, absolutely no, the father must not beat the little child”

A feeling-based decision making is simply imagining a situation arising out of your decision in your imagination, experiencing the feeling, judging the event based on your feelings, and deciding on if that future event is good or bad depending upon the judgement

So, when someone says “I don’t judge people,” know for certain that he/she is not sure about his/her judgment, but judges all the time. Because the brain can not take a decision without judgment.

Feeling-based decision-making is impulsive and instinctive

📖When you answered “No the father must not have beaten the child,” you were not provided any background information. Is there a likelihood that the child steals all the time and was caught stealing in the school and that the father complained about his son in the workplace? What if many people complained father about his son’s stealing habits on his way home? What if the father had educated his son for several days that he must not steal? What if the father told hundreds of stories, and lovingly tried to convince his son not to steal? What if the father saw his son playing with the same toy that the toy shop owner on his way to home complained him about? What if people threatened the father that they would call the police the next time? What if the father thought “if I do not discipline him, he will be picked up by police and they will torture him more.”

Now, what would you say? The father was right in beating his son, or he was wrong?

You see, now you will have a hard time deciding. When you had less information, it was easy for you to process that information, visualize the situation in your imagination, and judge your feelings. Judgment is easier when a one-sided narrative is presented to the brain. When deeper information is provided, the brain experiences different types of feelings. It can not decide.

When the brain can not decide on a situation instantly, it becomes confused. Then the events are judged based on either your belief or your experience in life.

When brain can feel binary(positive/negative) while imagining any situation, it can take an instinct decision; such a decision making is called impulsive decision, which is based on the instinct of positive or negative feelings

B. Decisions Based on Social Proof

If the outcome of a decision has a social correlation, then we become more aware of our decisions, and we focus more on taking the right decision. A social correlation is where the outcome of a decision has either an effect on others’ life or has an effect on our life based on the judgment of others about the decision.

Due to the fact that we are social animals, it matters to us how people perceive and judge us. A lot of our behaviors and decisions are modeled by social norms and social conditioning.

For example, you may be shopping in a country-side mass market and suddenly may feel the urge to urinate. You may look around and may see an empty place near a closed shop. However, you would still prefer to hold on to your bladder, as you may feel that the act of urinating in a marketplace, in spite of the fact that no one is watching, and the shop is closed is not right. People may judge me as a bad person even if they don’t say anything.

When you choose a life partner, you are often inclined to make your relatives, friends, and neighbors like your potential future partner. You may do a lot of things, (for instance arranging a meeting), for this to happen. The very imagination that your life partner is not socially accepted and no one wants to have anything to do with you both in the future may make you feel afraid and devastated.

From the start of human civilization, and even before that, social cooperation has been a key to our survival as a species. We are a weak species. We can’t run as fast as panthers, can’t jump from one tree to another like monkeys, don’t have venom like snakes, don’t have jaws like crocodiles, don’t have thick skin like Turtles, can’t fly like birds. We have been vulnerable to drought, flood, wild animals, ice, volcano, and so many more adversities.

The way species have come this far is by dividing the labor and specializing skills and then cooperating. Peasants have produced food. Potters made utensials. Ironsmiths have made weapons. Warriors have fought. Doctors, teachers, rulers, construction workers, and we have divided all potential roles and coexisted as a species.

Therefore being socially rejected is a genetic fear that we all carry. Such a rejection is almost equivalent to death. You may not have a doctor when ill, no one will be teaching your children, and no plumber will come to your home.

Even though such social isolations are rare and society has become a self-sustainable machine, our genetic memory still generates immense fear even at the very thought of being socially rejected.

C. What is Awkwardness?

Awkwardness is the negative feeling and fear of social rejection, and being left as lonely. It is the feeling of near-death when we think about the future prospect of certain actions of ours.

For instance, in families that have produced musicians, if one decides to become a footballer, one would feel afraid of being rejected by the family. The imagination of the family staring at the future footballer and asking him to leave home because “How come you break the family tradition?”

📖Imagine a situation where you are out for dinner with your life partner. You suddenly see your first infatuation, the girl from your school whom you cared and loved for, your first love. Your entire brain will immediately pull up all the past memories from school. (You may actually experience flashing of your past school memory and the face of the girl you loved! That’s how powerful the brain is).
Now you want to get up, hug your first love, and talk to her. But you see her with her husband, and you are with your partner. You want to absolutely talk to her, your brain is pushing you to do so, and you feel great at the prospect of talking to her again.
But even though you feel so positive about this, you will feel awkward, because your imagination will not be able to comprehend how she will react, how her husband will react, how your partner will react, and when all these reactions happen, how others in the hotel will react? Will she recognize you? Does she even remember you?

After coming back home, you will not be able to get rid of the vision of seeing your school love today. Even though you already have a partner, the very sight of your first love, the very excitement it brings in your brain and body will make you more restless. However, you will try to hide your current feelings from your partner, because in your imagination, you couldn’t resolve how your partner will react when she sees you getting up and talking to another girl.

So the feeling of awkwardness is the feeling you get when you are forced to act against your instinct and impulse due to fear of adverse social reaction and due to the fear of social rejection, and thereafter you are forced to mask your true feelings to not get into an adverse social situation, and then realizing in someone’s eyes that not everyone may be believing the way you are pretending.

Therefore awkwardness is not a binary positive or negative feeling, but rather a complex feeling that involves:

  1. Positive feeling about the prospect of a future action you plan to take. (Imagination resulting in positivity)
  2. Now when you evaluate the action from the social acceptance spectrum, and imagine the reactions of people who are in your life, you may get mixed feelings, some positive and some negative.
  3. So you judge an action right based on your instinct, but indecisive based on social acceptance.
  4. The more you try to think about social acceptance, the more your imagination runs wild, returning more and more negative feelings.
  5. You try to hide this negative feeling by putting up a poker face or positive face, and you feel the discomfort of pretending(which is equivalent to lying)
  6. You look around to find a confirmation in other’s eyes that they are not doubting you or judging you and are not detecting your confused state of feelings.
  7. You see questioning eyes which suggest that people are doubting the congruence of your expression.
  8. You still want to pursue your action, but you are unable to take action due to the never-ending imagination of people’s reactions.

For simplicity and ease of understanding, we can define awkwardness as

Awkwardness is a persistent negative feeling of social unacceptance in your imagination, for a potential future action that your instinct says right.

Awkwardness is an important feeling for survival. We can not always neglect others and do what we want to do. You may like a car that one has parked. You want to have that car. You see the keys still in the ignition. You can steal the car, but can’t due to the very awkwardness.

Why awkwardness is important?

You want to wear fashionable revealing cloth. But you are visiting a temple. You don’t want to draw the sexual attention of people towards you when they have come to the temple for spiritual purposes. You just can not say “It is my way or high way,” in which case you will be completely rejected by the social structure. Awkwardness helps you from not doing things that you may end up doing had there been no awkwardness.

If there was no awkwardness, one would roam around naked at home in front of the parents and say “They must keep their eyes closed.” If one did not feel awkward, one would be desiring children and may want to touch children sexually. Without awkwardness, you may copy someone else’s intellectual property and publish it with your name. Without awkwardness, you may drive from the wrong side. Without awkwardness, you may end up playing loud music at midnight when all your neighbors are sleeping.

Lack of care for the social norms, lack of sense of awkwardness is a hallmark of anti-social personality disorder(ASPD) and sociopathy

Don’t feel awkward if you feel awkward, as this proves that you do not have sociopathy and this proves that you care for others, and this eliminates your risk and threat to life by social rejection and eliminates any possibility of subjugation to legal and social punishments.

D. When Awkwardness becomes toxic?

The way lack of awkwardness becomes toxic and leads to dangerous actions that may put one’s life at risk, the same way feeling awkward about any action that you want to take will make you feel awkward about yourself, and that is toxic. Awkwardness about everything will make you so hollow and devastated from inside that after a certain age, you will stop accepting yourself.

How to judge whether awkwardness is valid or toxic?

Let us first create a framework for us to know if the awkwardness is valid awkwardness. If we can efficiently classify awkwardness, we can efficiently eliminate the awkwardness from the decisions where awkwardness is invalid.

For, this we will apply the following two laws to a situation:

  1. The primary objective of life is to survive, thrive, and reproduce. Any awkwardness about an action that may put someone’s life at risk, or ability to reproduce at risk, or safety and growth at risk is a valid awkwardness.
  2. The first law of morality: Everyone has an equal right to live the full potential of life.

That’s all, and that’s simple. Or is it? Here “someone” means you and anyone else, not only others. And everyone includes you.
Let us now take some real-life examples and see if the awkwardness is justified or not.

  1. You two are in mutual love, your parents want you to marry someone else, and you are feeling awkward about marrying your love. This awkwardness is bad because this puts your chance of reproduction at risk, and puts you at risk of emotional turmoil which might affect your survival. Also, this is awkward because your parents are not going to have your partner, and so the choice of your partner will not affect the reproduction of the parents. The purpose of the marriage is to pair bond and give birth and raise a healthy child.
  2. You want to pursue an uncommon carrier(say shoe polish). You are feeling awkward about what will parents and society say. You are good at shoe polish, it is a skill. You are passionate about this skill. You can do this without money for hours. besides you get to meet many top people and have conversations with them while polishing their shoes. So, you may get knowledge, money, passion, emotion, and a future possibility of starting a shoe polish subscription company. After the age of 18, arranging livelihood is everyone’s responsibility. Any human being who doesn’t do it suffers from the disease. Your shoe polish will not affect your parent’s livelihood. (yes people may mock them but even that wouldn’t affect their livelihood. No doctor will say he won’t see your parents because their son polishes his shoes). So the awkwardness of pursuing your passion is wrong.
  3. You saw your childhood love. You want to talk to her. We are social animals and relationships are not always about sex and lust. We want good social interactions too. Meeting an old acquaintance gives a good positive vibe and experience in life. So if you go and talk to her when your partner is around is not awkward as you are doing the social duty of conversation. If your partner behaves aggressively, then that is awkward, because she may be suffering from morbid jealousy.
  4. You may be drunk and want to drive fast. But you are feeling awkward. This is right awkwardness because fast driving under drunk conditions may put other’s life in danger.
  5. You are pregnant and you want to abort but are feeling awkward about it. This awkwardness is right, because every being has a right of living the full potential of life, and the zygote in your womb is a life. Whenever we deny someone their full potential of life, our brain starts hating us and harming us and short our life too.
  6. You have a prospective child from a relationship that has no social name. You want to abort because the child gives you an awkward feeling about how people will judge you. This awkwardness is unjustified, because a child is a property of the state and society, and will grow up to serve the society. Bringing and raising this child will not put anyone’s life at risk.
  7. You are an entrepreneur and want to give an exit to some of your employees as the economy is struggling. This awkwardness is wrong, as our survival is our first goal. If your employees were competent they would have brought profit even under a struggling economy. If the company dies, you may not survive, your family may not survive, and your chance of providing future employment when the economy is better diminishes. So you give exit today to survive one more day. If they are good, they will find their livelihood.
  8. You don’t have enough money to buy a home. But your parents want to see you have your own home before they die. You are eligible for a loan. But you are not sure of the economy and thus don’t know if you can pay the EMI every month for the rest of your life. Taking a loan feels awkward. This awkwardness is right. That is because it threatens your survival, puts you under economic burden, and may prevent your growth. So your stress-free life is more important than your parent’s desire.
  9. You like call girls and want to run a brothel business. But you feel awkward about it. This awkwardness is right because a brothel may spread sexually transmitted diseases, and that may put many life in danger as well as threaten the healthy reproduction of males in society.
  10. You bought a new dress thinking it would look good on you. But when you wear this for a function, it looks odd to you. You feel awkward going to the function in this dress. This awkwardness is wrong because what you wear will not threaten anyone else’s livelihood in the function, anyone else’s reproduction and function is an event in life, not a pursuit, and so won’t threaten anyone’s thriving.
  11. You have small breasts and you are thin(or very fat) and you feel awkward about your body: This awkwardness is right as your brain perceives this as a threat to potential quality reproduction in the future. You can always put up hard work through exercise, a good lifestyle, and good reading to improve your body.

When you study the above situations closely, you will see that feelings and imagination are kept aside while dealing with the awkward feelings, and instead rule-based is applied.

Remember, awkwardness itself is not unhealthy, but what you do about it determines the toxicity of the awkwardness. Most people remain struck in their imagination, and does no hard work in researching the situation, but rather look for easy and quick solution(or validation).

Acknowledge your Awkwardness, Accept the indecisiveness about a situation, detatch your feelings, break away from imagination, research about the situation, device a plan to overcome the awkwardness and take action.

E. How to use Sonderness to resolve Awkwardness?


Sonderness is a relatively new dictionary word coined by John Koenig in 2012 to come up with emotional words that are presently missing from the dictionary. The word sonder comes from the French word “sonder” which means “to probe.”

Sonderness refers to understanding the intricacies of a situation through the lens of multiple dimensions such as science, philosophy, history, psychology, mathematics, and so on and so forth. I offer you a simple framework of sonderness that doesn’t require too much technical knowledge, but at the same time adds multidimensionality to a situation. The more dimension you add to a situation, the lesser you will run wild in your imagination.

A simple sonderness model to resolve awkward situations of life

  1. History: Look for at least three historical events where your situation occurred and look for a validation of your decision in at least three historical events that resulted in favorable outcomes.
  2. Law: Search for the law in your constitution and see if there is a punishment in the law for your situation or not.
  3. Mythology: Look for your situation in Bhagwat Geeta, Mahabharata, Ramayana, Old Testament, Quran, etc. Our ancestors understood life like no one because their very survival was dependent upon understanding humans. All such wisdom is encoded into these religious and mythological texts(though laterally).
  4. Evolution: Look for your situation throughout human evolution. If what you are planning to do has a correlation to negative outcomes in the evolution, then be careful.
  5. Observe in the animal kingdom: Almost 80% of our genes are the same as that of mice and elephants. So if your situation is normal, you will find proof in the animal kingdom. Remember, we are socially conditioned to behave in certain ways, but that doesn’t take away the animal inside us.
  6. Prevent your imagination and prediction: You are not going to think about a situation in your brain, but would rather write down every thought and feelings associated with it. Any prediction your brain makes has to be crushed. No one can predict an unpredictable life. Anything that has happened in the past may repeat in the future, but anything that is to happen in the future can no way be known at the present.
  7. How people think, feel, and what people say is their choice, not your responsibility: As you might have already noticed while reading this article that we can change the way we see at life by bringing more depth into the events. When anyone applies the above theory about an event, one can never react impulsively. If anyone is reacting impulsively about a situation, it means that one is unaware of the event processing methodologies and lazy enough not to process information in depth. Someone’s laziness(whomsoever it may be including your partner, parents, friends, or relatives) and resulting thoughts, feelings and words are not your responsibilities. No one cares, because everyone has their own awkwardness to deal with.

So, you have to write down a situation, apply the two laws with careful assessment, and then apply assessment based on the above model. The key is unloading the thoughts from the brain into a paper and writing them down. The key idea behind overcoming awkwardness is coming out of the imaginary brain.

⛔Most people who have this tendency of getting into an infinite loop of awkwardness and imagination, often try to seek easy answers to their problems, and seek opinion and support from a trusted person in life, or on the internet. Please be cautious that the way you couldn’t judge the father beating his son properly when there were more depth and information in the event, the exact same way, no one else can judge your life situation without going through the process I elaborated in this article. No one has the time, energy, experties, deep study, methods, and discipline to sit with other’s problems and solve them.

So, you must absolutely not involve too many people in your situation as their lazy judgement may harm and hurt you in long-run of life even if they validate your current choices, as they will lose or gain nothing out of your decisions.

F. Conclusion

In this article, we understood feelings and the role it plays in our decision-making. We understood the fine correlation of our feelings with the social norms and the feelings of people around us. We understood why we feel awkward and why awkwardness is good.

We also understood when awkwardness becomes toxic and how to determine if the awkwardness is valid or not. We understood the role of imagination in the feeling of awkwardness. We also learned laws to be applied to an awkward situation to isolate feelings from the situation. We also learned a practical model to handle awkward situations in life.

Does that mean that reading this article solves all your life problems and awkwardness at once? No. But you would agree that by this point you would be able to accept yourself better. Isn’t self-acceptance a gift in itself?

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If you feel awkward about this proposition, then evaluate using the model given here. Think if this article has helped you to clear many self-doubts. Search on the internet for better clarity about this topic. Then judge if something that attributes to your better survival, and thriving by empowering you with clarity of thoughts, decision tool, and self-acceptance is valuable or not. And think if you want to keep adding such values in your life or not. And if the price is even close to that value or not. Then you decide the validity of your awkwardness.
That will also be a test about your learning from the article.

Either way, prefer to keep a hard-bound copy of this article’s eBook.

Additional Reading

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