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  • Writer's pictureArtem Gonchakov

Social Debt Culture



I’m 60% introverted according to the Big 5 personality assessment. People who know me will attest that it swings from 0% to 100% based on my current mood. I have a direct personality and sometimes I find it hard to read the social cues around me, annoying those in my company. After many years of making others “suffer” my attitude I finally became motivated to find ways to have better control over it.

Digging through psychology materials I have found a lot of information about emotional control with practical application strategies. Things like meditation or self-conscious assessment work nicely, but really only help recognize the behavior in the moment — hence, it just wasn’t enough. What I was looking for was understanding of the underlying causes, so I could prevent harmful behavior in the first place. It became a long and challenging exploration that led me to the concept of Social Debt, which, as I learned, can significantly impact communication patterns and influence feelings regulation.

Social Debt is an emotional meta state which accumulates guilt from unpleasant social interactions. This guilt is abusively used by the subconscious mind and globally influenced by social judgment. It manifests in uncontrolled behavior to generate relief from artificial self-fulfillment.

What was surprising is that ideation around Social Debt has extremely limited body of knowledge and represented in only three interconnected elements:

  • Human Expected Behavior

  • Personal Attention Deprivation

  • Group Interaction Maturity

Culturally each of the above can explain the difference in the behavioral outcomes of particular individuals and become a defining contribution to success in any relationship.

Ability to combine and adopt knowledge of all three elements within one person creates a strong “Street Smart” character and helps prevent unexpected socially awkward situations.

Social Debt in Expected Behavior

Throughout history, in every single culture, society has come up with behavioral rules. Some, of course, disappeared, while others evolved. Regardless of the latest adaptation, when we don’t follow it, for whatever reason, we feel subconsciously in debt against that particular social scenario. For instance, when you were invited to someone’s house for dinner and didn’t have a chance to get a bottle of wine you might feel an uncomfortable state of guilt. Eventually you will find a way to compensate for that social debt, just to feel better, egocentrically.

There are hundreds if not thousand little rules like that, hence it is almost guaranteed that you are going to be pressured to behave in a certain way every single day, even if you don’t realize it. When you have gaps in understanding of certain rules, people might laugh at you for the lack of manners or humiliate you for gaps in education. Such psychological treatment creates nothing but unnecessary stress; but on the positive side sometimes creates rebellious movements, which can be transformative for the world.

Human Expected Behavior creates healthy interaction patterns, but can cause people to rebel when they fit outside the defined box.

Social Debt in Attention Deprivation

Deep isolation creates a need for attention. There are, of course, extreme examples which break the rule. Outside of that, on average, people are actively looking for attention via verbal or non-verbal communication channels. That is why social media is so popular and can produce strong dopamine reactions. Even introverts who feel more at ease in their own company, over a certain period of time will feel a drive and need to interact with other people, in the most comfortable way for them. It can manifest in interaction that might not be welcomed or not understood by extraverted individuals, nevertheless, social debt pushes all of us to socialize.

Without tribal connection — attention debt leads us to the state of loneliness and extreme negative behavior. We become envy of other people’s friendships or relationships and eventually tend to make stupid compensatory mistakes.

Personal Attention Deprivation is the modern cause for loneliness.

Social Debt in Interaction Maturity

Social efficiency of the individual, group, company or even country highly depends on the quality of the communication system and interaction framework that should exist to support the dominance hierarchy — mechanisms that help everyone navigate complex social structures by identifying paths from current to potential future states.

Most commonly represented in two below areas:

  • Interaction maturity in the business world defines whether a company stays in survival mode, exists in mediocrity without creating much value or leads the industry. Transition from one state to another happens slowly, hence very dangerous, catching many executives off guard.

  • Interaction maturity in families represents the health of relationships, the ability to build meaningful experience and create positive memories for generations.

The biggest challenge in both scenarios is lack of engagement which makes a tremendous negative influence on people’s desire to listen to each other and participate in solving issues.

Excellent systems start on an individual level with mastering communication skills, which means speaking, reading, writing, thinking and most importantly listening. Getting all five built could be beyond imaginable for many, so normally there are only a few areas that we are good at. Imagine a group of people where everyone is only good at one communication trait. Without a communication framework and people’s willingness to get better there would be a consistent flow of negative interaction and misunderstanding.

Group Interaction Maturity builds social debt slowly and eventually destroys families, friendship and large businesses — everyone will stay in virtual social isolation for the rest of the times.

Boiling Pressure Point

Any debt has a tendency to grow and it is really easy to imagine the consequences of individual psychological challenges resulting from collecting debt points from each of three elements for a long period of time.

Unbalanced social situations combined in a never ending flow of unhealthy human interactions can make you question normality. Add on top of that health issues, financial problems, family difficulties and you will get a dangerous potion for personal crisis.

Just for the sake of argument, let’s imagine that you didn’t see your very close friend for 6 month, and you were invited to their birthday party. However, you’ve been super busy at work dealing with tight deadlines, constant pressure from your boss, team misunderstandings, and fights with contradicting priorities. With all of this on your plate, you are late to the party and had no chance to pick up a gift. In this scenario all three debt elements play a role and combine into one ugly situation in which, unless you are an absolutely ignorant person, you will feel a lot of negative emotions. Let’s say a situation like this or of similar magnitude happens once a week, hence you’d have fifty two pressure points collected annually, with potentially no or minimal mitigation strategy.

It would be more manageable if you had to deal with only your social debt, however it won’t be that simple. There are people around who carry their own debt that influences you and only stimulate another chain of reactions.

It might feel like walking through the swamp at night with no visible escape, where anything can happen unexpectedly and a constant sense of danger keeps tightening your chest.

Life is heavy.

Absolute Acceptance Predictable behavior in such situations is — reality escapism as described in The Heavy Emptiness of Life.


While it is common for people, myself included, to want to avoid the obvious impacts of social debt in the three areas, I believe that there is a big opportunity to optimize how people perceive each other, eventually providing necessary relief from being in painful debt.


From my experience, it seems reasonable to assume that the very first thing that needs to happen on an individual level is to accept the world’s weight and learn to take no personal responsibility for its complexities and unknowns. I believe it should be radical acceptance that creates a unique response to new and existing debt scenarios. Controlled reaction with maximized positive attitude toward the situation.

Acceptance is not ignorance, so accountability for the results stays with you.

Meaningful Investment

Apart from acceptance, naturally, each of us can optimize the social debt environment:

  1. When it comes to debt of expected behavior — find a mentor who can teach you to participate and engage better. Learn as many different social interaction scenarios as possible and stay open minded to new experiences. Positive attitude will go a long way. Each moment is a learning opportunity to make you feel great and also eventually become a mentor for someone else in the future- be part of ongoing knowledge sharing.

  2. Extraverts and Introverts will feel attention deprivation in different ways. I’m not going to claim that a 50/50 introvert/extravert personality is ideal, but there are positive traits when we learn other perspectives. Take time to understand how extraverts interact with the world if you’re an introvert and vice versa.This will give you a better view on how other people might feel and also improve your ability to communicate without damage.

  3. Group interaction is the toughest among three debt elements. It will require psychological as well as financial investments in order to address larger gaps. At the beginning of this journey, you may be overwhelmed with all the obstacles you need to navigate. Group interaction Maturity is most popular among professionals, hence that would be the very first area of improvement — work environment. Leaders of companies as well as countries need to find a way to address implicit and explicit conflicts, some of which are rooted in culture and history.

Clear personal definition of social debt is a significant step forward to less egocentric life and potentially stress free environment.

Social Debt is complex and wired unpredictably in many layers of life. It will take some time to figure out what to do in each area and there are no guarantees of success. Should you embark on this challenge is totally up to you, but the game in my opinion is definitely exciting and worth it, unless you want to isolate yourself on the jungle island.


(c) Artem Gonchakov

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