Evolution of the “Cancel Culture”

Evolution of the "Cancel Culture" - Paradigm Treatment Centers


As our world becomes more and more interconnected, and as traditional approaches to social control have diminished, younger generations are left to devise new ways of getting along with others. In a culture where it is no longer acceptable to squelch disagreements with physical altercations or hateful words, teens and young adults are actively developing alternative tactics toward controlling their environments. Cancel culture has evolved as the latest addition to their social rule book, and it is has spread like wildfire through social media.


Setting Boundaries

The importance of setting limits and guidelines for healthy interactions with others came into focus during the 1980’s. The term of “boundaries” evolved to describe the idea that we are responsible for who we allow into our lives, and to whom we give the ability to affect our thoughts and emotions. This concept has been widely applied in the concept of codependency. An individual who is codependent on another person gives too much of his or her own power away. Erecting healthy boundaries is a tactic to regain control over the self.

People with healthy boundaries are able to be assertive about their needs. They choose which friends to allow into their lives based on how much positive, or negative, experience the relationship brings. They do not allow someone with ill intent to influence their thoughts or emotions, and they refuse to be manipulated into doing things they do not want to do. Setting boundaries is a healthy practice to use within all relationships, and only the most disregarding of individuals will fail to respond.



The gray rock tactic came into popularity after a post made by a social media blogger in 2015. It was initially applied toward inescapable relationships with those who were defined, usually by laypeople, as being psychopathic, sociopathic, or narcissistic. These types of people are identified by a lack of empathy for the feelings and needs of others. They are known to be utterly selfish, and their high level of self interest means that it does not work to reason with them toward honoring boundaries.

The technique of gray rocking works by cutting off the antisocial person’s need for manipulative gratification. A person who is protecting from such an offender becomes as bland and boring as possible. Any interactions are kept to a minimum, and initiations of contact are met with unemotional, simple, responses.

Gray-rocking involves the person concealing his or her real self from the manipulator, and putting up a defense of amicable facade. As with any regular practice of putting up a false front, there is a danger of becoming detached from one’s true thoughts and emotions while practicing this extreme form of self-protection.


Cancel Culture Community

Fast forward to our current times, and the social tactic of canceling is becoming a norm. It is unlike boundary setting, as there are not attempts to make sure that another person actually understands our personal limits. It is unlike gray-rocking, as there are no facades of politeness involved. Cancel culture participants practice dismissing the existence of another person, entirely.

It is acting as though the offending person is erased. Canceling someone is the most severe indication possible that such person’s attitudes and behaviors are not going to be tolerated by the group. It can happen to someone after being warned, or can come as a surprise. It happens to celebrities, and it happens on the school campus.

The cancel culture community has a lot in common with an ancient social practice known as shunning. Traditionally, a person is shunned by a group for dissenting from the commonly accepted norms. In societies where a person’s physical survival is dependent on belonging to the group, shunning can result in starvation and death from exposure to the elements. In our western culture – where we are largely able to meet our physical needs independently – the act of being shunned is more likely to result in emotional and psychological distress.

Extreme social rejection is one of the leading factors in suicide attempts for young people. Though the long-term social effects of young people practicing the cancel culture approach are yet unknown, the short-term effects of such blatant ostracization can be devastating for those experiencing it. If you are experiencing the pain of being canceled, reach out for help. If you are the one practicing the canceling, think twice.