by: Andre Gasiorowski
Experiences of social rejection, exclusion or loss are generally considered to be some of the most ‘painful’ experiences that we endure. Indeed, many of us go to great lengths to avoid situations that may engender these experiences.
Why is it that these negative social experiences have such a profound effect on our emotional well-being? Emerging evidence suggests that experiences of social pain – the painful feelings associated with social disconnection – rely on some of the same neurobiological substrates that underlie experiences of physical pain. Understanding the ways in which physical and social pain overlap may provide new insights into the surprising relationship between these two types of experiences.
(In Ancient Greece ostracism was voting into temporary exile) Victimized person is dealing with one of the most potent forms of social aggression. The effects of ostracism are far-reaching and can be severe, potentially even including suicide attempts in extreme cases. Ostracism holds great power because it attacks four of our core needs: self-esteem, control, belongingness and meaningful recognition. Studies show that if even one of those needs is threatened, we experience deep psychological pain.
Since ostracism has been shown to affect all four needs, it is particularly potent. Ostracism can potentially be so harmful that we have evolved an efficient warning system to immediately detect and respond to it. Ostracism uniquely poses a threat to four fundamental human needs; the need to belong, the need for control in social situations, the need to maintain high levels of self-esteem, and the need to have a sense of a meaningful existence. A threat to these needs produces psychological distress and profound pain.
Social rejection occurs when an individual is deliberately excluded from a social relationship or social interaction. A person can be rejected by an entire group of people. The experience of being rejected is subjective for the recipient, and it can be perceived when it is not actually present.
Rejection can become a problem when it is prolonged or consistent, when the relationship is important, or when the individual is highly sensitive to rejection. Rejection by an entire group of people can have especially negative effects, particularly when it results in social isolation.
The experience of rejection can lead to a number of adverse psychological consequences such as loneliness, low self-esteem, aggression, and depression. It can also lead to feelings of insecurity and a heightened sensitivity to future rejection. Rejection is emotionally painful because of the social nature of human beings and our basic need to be accepted in groups. The need for love and belongingness is a fundamental human motivation. All humans, even introverts, need to be able to give and receive affection to be psychologically healthy.
Simple contact or social interaction with others is not enough to fulfill this need. Instead, people have a strong motivational drive to form and maintain caring interpersonal relationships. People need both stable relationships and satisfying interactions with the people in those relationships. If either of these two ingredients is missing, people will begin to feel lonely and unhappy. Thus, rejection is a significant threat. In fact, the majority of human anxieties appear to reflect concerns over social exclusion. Being a member of a group is also important for social identity, which is a key component of the self-concept. The main purpose of self-esteem is to monitor social relations and detect social rejection. In this view, self-esteem is a sociometer which activates negative emotions when signs of exclusion appear. Social psychological research confirms the motivational basis of the need for acceptance. Specifically, fear of rejection leads to conformity to peer pressure (sometimes called normative influence), and compliance to the demands of others. Our need for affiliation and social interaction appears to be particularly strong when we are under stress.
Social rejection is one form of relational aggression. Social rejection seems to be experienced in stages. Social rejection stings at first, no matter its source or its cause. The longer the social rejection lasts and the more meaningful it is, the more damaging it tends to be. When social rejection first occurs, person usually feel sharp psychological pain. During this first stage, it doesn’t matter why the ostracism has occurred or who has done the rejecting, it’s still experienced as painful. Even a new acquaintance can cause psychological pain by acting in a rejecting manner. Williams calls this first stage the “reflexive” stage because we seem to be programmed to respond to social rejection. He theorizes that ostracism could have been dangerous for our distant ancestors since group protection was key to survival. Social rejection also seems to target four of our key needs: the needs for self esteem, belonging, meaningful existence and control. If any one of these needs are threatened, we tend to experience immediate pain. As a result, the initial experience of social rejection usually causes intense anger and/or sadness, regardless of the circumstances. If the rejected person decides that the social rejection is meaningful (that is, it’s being done by someone she cares about for sound reasons) and the ostracism continues, long-term pain may ensue. At this point, the rejected persons’s coping mechanisms begin to wear out from the long-term social stress. As a result, the most serious consequences of ostracism now begin to appear, including depression, antisocial behavior and perhaps even suicide attempts.
Laboratory research has found that even short-term rejection from strangers can have powerful (if temporary) effects on an individual. Rejection appears to lead very rapidly to self-defeating and antisocial behavior. These experiments also showed that the negative effects of rejection last longer in individuals who are high in social anxiety. Researchers have also investigated how the brain responds to social rejection. One study found that the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex is active when people are experiencing both physical pain and “social pain,” in response to social rejection. A subsequent experiment, also using MRI neuroimaging, found that three regions become active when people are exposed to images depicting rejection themes. These areas are the posterior cingulate, the parahippocampal gyrus, and the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex. Furthermore, individuals who are high in rejection sensitivity show less activity in the left prefrontal cortex and the right dorsal superior frontal gyrus, which may indicate less ability to regulate emotional responses to rejection.
Emotional pain of social rejection shares the same neural circuits of our brains as those of actual physical pain.Why is social estrangement so painful? The scientists suggest that because young mammals have a very long period of immaturity, because we need such an extended period of care until we mature, evolution found a solution to this “need for nurturance” by inserting into the hard drives of our brains a “lifelong need for social connection and a corresponding sense of distress when the social connections are broken.”
The actual part of the human brain that processes both physical and emotional pain is called the anterior cingulate cortex. Increased social support, which reduces social pain, is also associated with a reduction in pain from chronic ailments, during cancer, following heart surgery, and during childbirth.
Tears, depression, loneliness, disappointment, and insomnia; these all are symptoms of rejection.
Having to deal with the emotions that go along with social rejection is enough and now we have to deal with a physical one as well. Not only do we emotionally get down but our hearts are getting down too! Social acceptance is very important in our society, whether it’s being liked from friends, teachers, family, or especially a significant other. We all want to gain approval. When we don’t get that feeling of acceptance we feel bad about ourselves. We can all relate to feeling the pain of being left out, rejected, or isolation sometime in our lives. The term “heartbroken” is usually thought as a figure of speech. But what if our hearts really do have a role in this whole rejection process?
A study conducted by University of Amsterdam found that when rejected heart rate actually slows down. In this study, scientists discovered that the autonomic nervous system responds to emotional pain by slowing the heart rate. In this study the researchers wanted to see if social pain could cause physical reactions. They found out it was true. The emotional feelings of being socially rejected caused physical reactions to the heart. The physical reactions to the heart are what we think of as our “hearting breaking.”
George Salvich, from a different study found social rejection to lead to inflammation. The participants had to do certain tasks in front of an audience and they were sensitive to being judged. They had an increase in two proteins associated with inflammation, interleukin-6 6 (IL-6) and tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha). This suggests that social rejection, or stress, triggers activity in the brain, which then triggers the inflammation in the body. Like with an injury inflammation occurs to repair it, in the case of social rejection the inflammation is activated in response to the pain of rejection.
Social support is a huge part of our well-being. It affects not only emotional, and psychological aspects but also physical ones. I agree with the findings because if you’ve ever felt rejected you’ve experience the low energy and lack of motivation. This can relate to the decrease in heart rate you get from being socially rejected. Social rejection can cause many other problems in a person’s life. But all in all, this study shows that our hearts really do physically play a part in heartbreak and rejection. It also shows how important social support influences our self-esteem. I guess the old saying was wrong; maybe you can die from a broken heart.
With regard to relationships and human behavior, social exclusion refers to the act of rejecting someone from interpersonal interactions. Social exclusion may or may not be intentionally harmful. When it is intentional, social exclusion is considered to be a form of relational aggression or social aggression. Intentionally harmful social exclusion may be subtle, such as by spreading rumors about a person so that she gradually becomes rejected. In public life, social exclusion is most often performed by media, or state officials, especially when they’re threatened with being rejected themselves.
Social aggression of a person by Media
Social aggression refers to intentionally harming someone using nonphysical means. It is a nearly synonymous term to relational aggression. Social exclusion can be verbal or nonverbal. Verbal social exclusion typically involves attempts to actively turn others against someone. Reputation attacking tends to be a particularly overt form of social aggression. It can be done subtly, such as by spreading rumors and concealing their source. This may especially occur online since it’s easier to remain anonymous in cyberspace than in person.
Social stress is stress that stems from one’s relationships with others and from the social environment in general. A person experiences stress when he or she does not have the ability or resources to cope when confronted with an external stimulus (stressor), or when they fear they do not have the ability or resources. An event which exceeds the ability to cope does not necessarily have to occur in order for one to experience stress, as the threat of such an event occurring can be sufficient. This can lead to emotional, behavioral and physiological changes that can put one under greater risk for developing mental disorderand physical illness.
Humans are social beings by nature, as they typically have a fundamental need and desire to maintain positive social relationships. Thus, they usually find maintaining positive social ties to be beneficial. In particular, social relationships can offer nurturance, foster feelings of social inclusion, and even lead to reproductive success. As a result, anything that disrupts or threatens to disrupt their relationships with others can result in social stress. This can include low social status in society or in particular groups.
Social stress leads to a number of physiological changes that mediate its relationship to physical health. In the short term, the physiological changes outlined below are adaptive, as they enable the stressed organism to cope better. However, dysregulation of these systems or repeated activation of them over the long-term can be detrimental to health.
Sympathetic adrenomedullary system (SAM)
The sympathetic adrenomedullary system becomes activated in response to stress. Sympathetic arousal stimulates the medulla of the adrenal glands to secrete epinephrine and norepinephrine into the blood stream, which facilitates the fight or flight response. Blood pressure, heart rate, and sweating increase, veins constrict to allow the heart to beat with more force, arteries leading to muscles dilate, and blood flow to parts of the body not essential for the fight or flight response decreases. If stress persists in the long run, then blood pressure remains elevated, leading to hypertension and atherosclerosis, both precursors to cardiovascular disease.
Social stress causes hypertension and atherosclerosis, clogs arteries. Negative social interactions characterized by conflict lead to increases in blood pressure and heart rate. Social stress stemming from perceived daily discrimination is also associated with elevated levels of blood pressure during the day and a lack of blood pressure dipping at night.
Hypothalamic-pituitary adrenocortical axis (HPA)
The HPA axis also gets activated in response to stress. The hypothalamus releases corticotrophin-releasing hormone (CRH), stimulating the pituitary to release adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH). ACTH then stimulates the adrenal cortex to secrete glucocorticoids, including cortisol. The levels of cortisol in the bloodstream then signal to the hypothalamus to stop secreting CRH so as to stop the cascade of events leading to increased production of cortisol. It is thought that social stress can lead to adverse health outcomes by chronically and/or repeatedly activating the HPA axis or disrupting the HPA system. In humans, abused women exhibit a prolonged elevation in cortisol following a standardized psychosocial laboratory stressor compared to those without an abuse history. A dysfunctional HPA response to stress is thought to increase risk for developing or exacerbating diseases such as diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular disease, and hypertension.
Inflammation is an immune response that is critical to fighting infections and repairing injured tissue. Although acute inflammation is adaptive, chronic inflammatory activity can contribute to adverse health outcomes, such as hypertension, atherosclerosis, coronary heart disease, depression, diabetes and some cancers.