Rejection Hurts, But Does It Also Help?: A Look At The Latest Research

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What does it mean to belong? While each person may have his or her own associations with this term, one of the most popular visual representations of belonging comes from Blind Melon’s 1992 music video “No Rain.” In the video, a  little girl dresses up as the cutest little bee, and, after a series of rejections, finally finds her people.

As therapists, we know, all too well the repercussions of feeling rejected or excluded. We are often called upon, by our clients, to help them through these kinds of situations. However, where we once may have categorized this type of “injury,” as mental, new research suggests that being ostracized produces similar responses in the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex, as does, say, being punched. What’s more, further research suggests that taking Acetaminophin (Tylenol) for three weeks can reduce feelings of social rejection.

Now, of course, we know that psychological pain is just as valid, if not more traumatizing, than physical pain, but the research we just cited can help us explain the negative effects of social rejection to those clients who may still be in the early stages of talking about their emotions. You don’t have any of those clients do you? Everyone just LOVES talking about their feelings, right?

Don’t worry, we know you will help your clients get on board the feelings train. And when you do, you can also help them understand that being ostracized hurts psychologically as well. In fact, feelings of social rejection can lead to low self-esteem, a feeling of powerlessness, and, even, a lack of meaningfulness in life.

As awful as all of these effects sound, it does seem that there is a learning curve that happens when our clients experience social rejection. For example, one study placed participants in a chat room and had them experience either rejection or acceptance. Participants were then shown a diary containing both individual and social events to see which ones they remembered the most. Results showed that people who were rejected developed a selective memory for social events, suggesting that the experience of rejection makes people more attuned to social information in the future. In this case, the researchers used a metaphor of “social hunger,” which appears as a result of social rejection, similar to physical hunger, which arises in the absence of food.

We believe that the implications of this research can extend into the therapy room, by giving us, as therapists, a way to reframe the negative experience of rejection. After letting our client’s explore their feelings and validating how uncomfortable they are, we can let our clients know that what they have experienced will help them grow in the area of socialization. We can remind our clients that growth, although not always pleasant, will always keep us moving in the right direction, like a bee, headed toward a flower.

Here at Therapy Hive, we want to help you help your clients feel connected! Contact us, for more information!

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