Summary: At some point, we all face social rejection. Researchers say that while rejection affects us all differently, it’s how we react to setback that determines how rejection affects us.
Source: University of New South Wales
If there’s one thing that’s for sure, it’s that life doesn’t always go our way. Rejection, no matter the circumstance or size, can be painful, but it’s something we all experience at some point in our lives.
Dr. Kelsey Zimmermann, a researcher in the School of Psychology at UNSW Science, says that while rejection affects us all differently, it’s how we react to those setbacks that determines their impact on us.
“We all have our own experience of feeling rejected at some point, so it’s something we can all empathize with,” says Dr. Zimmermann. “But how we process what happened to us can be key in helping us move forward in a positive way.”
An innate and learned fear
Fear of rejection is something we are, at least in part, predisposed to. “Social rejection,” as it is called in psychology, is an innate fear that we are evolutionarily programmed to avoid.
We are a very social species, so we must show pro-social behaviors to be included in a group, and this has been essential for our survival throughout history, says Dr. Zimmermann.
“Anything that feels intuitively aversive to us is usually there for a reason: it’s the brain trying to protect us from perceived danger and keep us safe,” says Dr. Zimmermann. “Similarly, we naturally have an aversion to spiders and snakes – we don’t necessarily need to be bitten to know they’re something we shouldn’t touch.”
This is why many of us fear public speaking to some degree – for some people, more than death. The idea that we might stumble over our words is frightening, but more so the possibility of our peers avoiding us.
“Because of the part of our brain devoted to social interaction, it can be quite a profound experience to be socially rejected, so we want to avoid it. In fact, social rejection causes the same activation in regions of the associated with the processing of physical pain,” says Dr. Zimmermann.
But fears can also be learned through negative experiences that have hurt us in the past. In this case, past rejections can shape how we handle future setbacks and can worsen throughout life.
“Our learned experiences can reinforce that feeling of discomfort and anxiety about rejection, for example, if someone is being bullied. So if we’ve learned that people might hurt us, that’s where this fear activity in the brain kicks in,” says Dr. Zimmermann.
“If someone experiences an unexpected romantic rejection early in their life, it could cause them to develop trust issues if they don’t understand why it happened. They can carry that experience into the way they deal with future romantic prospects.
age of rejection
Some experiences of rejection may also be more important than others. Early childhood is vital for the development of our social brain, and our relationships with our parents have a huge impact.
“Experiencing rejection from a parent can have a profound impact on every future interpersonal relationship,” says Dr. Zimmermann. “It’s arguably the most crucial relationship in our lives that teaches us how all other connections are formed – how we can depend on people, form healthy attachments, and be independent.”
Rejection is also particularly formative at certain times in our lives. Social rejection during adolescence can be devastating and have lasting effects into adulthood.
“No doubt many people will have some of these fundamental memories of rejection during their teenage years. You are extremely sensitive to many types of stress, as the brain strengthens and refines its connections, so experiences of rejection can be especially pronounced” , explains Dr. Zimmermann.
Although it is natural to be afraid of rejection, it is always a possibility when we expose ourselves. We also live in a time when the possibility of rejection has never been more present in our daily lives.
“With our phones, we can be rejected at any time of the day or night. Every time we post something on social media, people have the opportunity to reject us so openly. Even the lack of feedback can be perceived as a rejection,” says Dr. Zimmermann.
“With an exponential number of opportunities for rejection, we might consider working more on our relationship with rejection.”
Although rejection is never pleasant, being too afraid of it can prevent us from pursuing what we want. The good news is that we can better deal with our fear of rejection through what psychologists call “cognitive reappraisal.”
“The key is to step back from the immediate pain and discomfort and consider reframing the situation,” says Dr. Zimmermann. “In many cases, it’s not about you as a person. It’s just about not being the right person for a friendship, relationship, or job.
In some cases, rejection can also be a learning experience or an opportunity to improve.
“If it’s something about our behavior – we’re acting antisocial or disrespectful – then the rejection can be a chance for us to think about what we can work on and how we could change that,” says Dr. Zimmermann. .
Dwelling only on the disappointment can also make the experience harder to get past. Instead, Dr. Zimmermann says leaning on others in our lives can be helpful.
“Dealing with rejection in any part of your life is much easier if you have social support and come from a place of safety, which can be much easier said than done,” explains Dr. Zimmermann.
“If you don’t have a strong family attachment or a supportive group of friends, rejection can be difficult to deal with on your own. So this is where a therapist can help you get to the root of some of your dealings with rejection.
Finally, we can choose to see that even though it hurts, rejection is an inevitable part of life. Dr. Zimmermann suggests that we can start as small as we want and invite rejection into our lives to increase our tolerance.
“Reassure yourself that no one lives a rejection-free life,” says Dr. Zimmermann. “If you can, put yourself forward a bit more, and let that repeated experience lessen the sting a bit.”
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