Rejection hurts, but it also hurts the rejector

What’s your rejection story? Being left out of a work meeting? Not getting that promotion you applied for? Being dumped? Not being invited to lunch with friends and finding out everyone else was there? Being snubbed by strangers? Being unfriended on Facebook? Having family not include you? Your business idea was ridiculed? Your services were declined? Investing time and energy in a friendship only to find out the other person wouldn’t make the same investment in you?

The pain of rejection has always been a part of life, and it always will be. But did you know that as far as the brain is concerned, your rejected heart may not be so different from a physical injury? This link between the physical and social pain circuits in your brain might sound surprising, but it makes biological sense. Instead of creating an entirely new system to respond to socially painful events, evolution simply co-opted the system for physical pain. Given the shared overlap, it follows that if you numb people to one type of pain, it should also numb them to the other type of pain. That’s why taking a pain killer can make you feel better if your heart’s been broken. It’s why telling yourself rejection doesn’t matter and numbing yourself emotionally works too. Just a pity that emotional numbing also numbs joy. Own your pain. Tell people when they’ve hurt you.

Social acceptance spreads its fingers into almost everything we do. Social rejection influences emotion, cognition and even physical health. Ostracised people sometimes become aggressive and can turn to violence – most school shooters suffered from ongoing social rejection.

Human beings have a fundamental need to belong. Just as we need food and water, we also need positive and lasting relationships.

Popping two paracetamol tablets isn’t the most effective way to deal with a painful episode of rejection. Instead, the rejected should seek out healthy, positive connections with other friends and different family members. Exercise also helps.

Not all excluded people become violent; some become more sensitive to potential signs of connection, and they may tailor their behavior accordingly. They’ll pay more attention to social cues, be more likable, be more likely to conform to other people’s points of view, and be more likely to comply with other people’s requests. This is good when it leads to increased social intelligence, but not when a person loses their authentic selves just to fit in.

Inclusivity really does matter. Rejection is the opposite of this. In and out groups or ‘us and them’ mentalities are dangerous in the long run. Look at racism or any other form of oppression. When one group is rejected or ostracised they will eventually retaliate. The problem then is they become the new rejector. This can be a never-ending spiral of increasing hatred and violence.

Last question: When you snub or reject someone, or a whole group of people, how do you feel about doing that?

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