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The Psychology of Cancel Culture

In today’s digital landscape, cancel culture has morphed into a prevalent force, wielding swift judgments and public denouncements with ease. As I observe this trend, I find myself increasingly concerned about its implications. It’s not just the act of cancelling someone that troubles me, but rather the psychological underpinnings driving this behaviour. I believe that it is a complex interplay of projection and the fear of social exclusion that seems to be propelling this phenomenon forward, and I wanted to shed some light on these dynamics in this article.


What is Cancel Culture?

Cancel culture is a contemporary phenomenon where individuals are swiftly and often publicly shunned or ostracised for their perceived transgressions, whether real or imagined. It’s a form of social boycott that can have profound consequences on an individual’s reputation, livelihood, and mental well-being. While it’s often framed as a means of holding people accountable for their actions, the execution of cancel culture can sometimes feel more like a modern-day witch hunt, fuelled by mob mentality and righteous indignation.

Psychological Projection: Unveiling the Inner Mirror

Psychological projection operates largely outside of conscious awareness. It’s a defence mechanism that allows individuals to avoid confronting uncomfortable truths about themselves by projecting those traits onto others. In the context of cancel culture, this phenomenon becomes particularly insidious. People may not realise that they are projecting their own insecurities, fears, and unresolved issues onto the targets of public criticism. It’s as if their minds, seeking to protect their self-image, deflect attention away from their own shortcomings by focusing on the perceived faults of others. This process can happen subtly, without individuals fully recognising their own motivations or the impact of their actions. Consequently, what starts as a well-intentioned act of holding others accountable can quickly devolve into a destructive cycle and empathy is drowned out by the clamour of condemnation.

Fear of Social Exclusion

Another driving force behind cancel culture is the fear of social exclusion. In today’s interconnected world, our sense of belonging and worth is heavily influenced by our online interactions. The fear of being ostracised or marginalised by our social circles can drive us to conform to prevailing norms, even if deep down, we may harbour doubts or reservations. Within the echo chambers of social media, where dissenting opinions are often silenced, the pressure to join the chorus of public condemnation can be overwhelming. It’s a fear of being labelled as complicit or outcast that pushes us to prioritise conformity over critical thinking, perpetuating a culture of intolerance and conformity.

Navigating the Path Forward

Recognising the role that projection and the fear of social exclusion play in driving this trend is crucial for fostering empathy and understanding within society. Instead of succumbing to the impulse to judge and condemn, we must strive to cultivate compassion and curiosity towards others’ experiences and perspectives.

By acknowledging our own vulnerabilities and insecurities, we can resist the temptation to project them onto others and instead engage in constructive dialogue and mutual support. Building resilience against the fear of social exclusion requires fostering a sense of belonging and acceptance rooted in genuine connection and empathy.


By understanding the psychological dynamics at play in cancel culture, the hope is that we can stop and catch ourselves before succumbing to the impulse to condemn. If we are able to move past fear-driven behaviour in order to embrace empathy and compassion, then we can go on to build a more inclusive society where individuals can learn, grow and thrive. This journey starts with introspection and leads to connection – a journey that I believe is essential and worthwhile.

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