Rejection is a pain – 10 ways to reduce it happening in intimate relationships.

 

To start this article, I want to begin with a simple premise: Physical pain and the pain from being rejected are the same. The human brain and the brain of other social animals reacts the same whether someone is dying from a chronic illness, being shocked, or being dumped by an intimate partner or being denied entry into a group. However, we for some reason like to separate the two, and place rejection within the realm of emotions (which as humans we falsely think are controllable) and physical injury in the domain of the uncontrollable (after all it was not their fault the sidewalk was there when they fell off their bike while trying to do a hand stand). What I mean by these statements is we tend to empathize with physical injury and forgive the reasons, but we tend to consider the suffering from reject as a sign of weakness and not being of hardy stalk. However, our world view of rejection is wrong, and by correcting this view, we can heal from the pain of rejection better, heal faster, and regain a sense of stability. To do this I think it is useful to use a common form of rejection and that is intimate partner rejection and I want to compare that to a more long-term physical disease such as cancer. I like this analogy because both rejection of an intimate partner and the development of cancer can occur very quickly or they both can sit dormant for years until an escalating moment. The second, is once cancer and the possibility of the loss of an intimate partner is made apparent both disease states tend to accelerate in their progression. Third, once the cancer is removed or the person leaves there is no guarantee of recovery or that one will not experience the disease ever again. Finally, I think this is a good analogy because we need to be honest both cancer and rejection from a close intimate partner can both lead to death. Indeed, the number one cause of homicide in the United States is intimate partner homicide, and over the past three decades cheating – the ultimate form of rejection – has become the number one reason for intimate partner homicide. Additionally, suicidal behavior is often followed by rejection, especially of a close intimate partner. With these four similarities in mind let us move on and explore how we can heal successfully.

I want to start our comparison by first stating a simple disease step model, I think by using this simple model it will be easier to come to understand how rejection occurs and the pain process:

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There are a few qualities of this comparison that I like to make. First is that it is a progression, while it may seem like it at times, when two people are truly intimately connected they do not just wake up one morning and say “I am leaving”. There is always a progression that continually erodes the relationship much like a cancer erodes and destroys a healthy body. A good example of this is research that interviewed divorced individuals and indicated that when the individual really starts to analyze their relationship, the relationship started to erode about two years before the individuals start to realize there is a problem.

The second thing that I hope the reader recognizes is that while this is a very general model, the processes are almost identical – BUT – the major difference is how the individual tends to respond, especially as both diseases progress. This is largely due to our belief systems that (1) a person should have control over their relationship, and (2) if there is a problem one should be able to fix it, if the couple ‘really’ loves each other. I think it is worth taking some time exploring these two faulty belief systems. The first is the illusion of control, the fact is, you and your partner, can do everything perfect. You can follow all the relationship advise, treat each other with complete respect, cherish one another completely, and guess what? – You can still end up being a divorce statistic. Please do not take this as a criticism of humans and our ability to have long lasting relationships. Remember the analogy between physical disease and rejection. A person can eat right, exercise, refrain from toxins and they can still end up having cancer or dying young of heart disease. This same principle applies to human relationships. With that being said, we should not end up be complete skeptics of our health or our relationships. The person who eats right and exercises will have a much better quality of life even if they still end up with a disease. The same goes with relationships, while all relationships may end, the more we invest healthily into them the higher the quality of experiences we have. The second illusion that if two people really love each other they should be able to fix it, I think comes from our overall illusion that we can also control our own fate.

Especially in highly individualistic societies, like the one here in the United States, individuals tend to believe that everything good and bad that a person does OR that a person experiences is solely due to the actions and beliefs of that individual. In other words, we maintain bad beliefs such as “she broke up with you because you are a bad person”, or “If he can’t love you because of who you are, no one else is going to either”. Now we should qualify this, because for much of western society’s history we did this with physical diseases, so once we believed that people got cancer because the gods were punishing them for being a sinner, or a person has a mental illness because they had a weak mind that allowed them to be possessed by some demon. It was not until western medicine and science started to debunk these myths that we started to see physical diseases as we do today – Although there are still some people who believe that diseases are a punishment from god, but that a whole other article.  It is in this same tradition of science that I write this article, in that we know enough scientifically about human relationships, that placing the entire fault for rejection on a single person or a single occurrence or process is ridiculous. So, if it is not because one person changes, that ruins a relationship, then what is it? As you think about this question you probably thinking that it is an unsolvable question, but it is actually fairly simple, change is the culprit to eventual rejection. But before I explain this there is one more faulty belief system that we must first address. That faulty belief is that we as individuals do not change greatly over time, and that our personality, beliefs, and who we are at the core does not change. The fact is you will be a different person five years from now than you are today. Indeed, you probably been a different person several times today already. Let me provide a simple example, what if someone secretly recorded you alone in your bedroom, out with friends at night, playing with your kids, and let us say giving a big work presentation. I am willing to bet if I blurred your face and changed your voice in each scenario and played it back to you, you would report seeing and hearing four (amazing) but different individuals. The truth is we are who we are based on (a) the demands of the situation, (b) our skills and ability to respond to the situation, and (c) our ability to comprehend the situation. Additionally, each situation demands something different from us, and therefore we must respond to a situation differently. However, because it would make us crazy to think we have so many different selves, which would lead us to feeling very unstable, our mind and brain have developed the illusion that we are consistent and stable overtime. In fact, we have gotten so good at this that we can change memories going clear back into childhood to make them congruent with who we are today without even realizing it is happening. The problem is, if I am stable and that is core to who I am, then my relationships remain stable and the same, because they are also core to my own identity. Therefore, any time a person has relationship difficulties, they sadly try to reset the relationship to “how we use to be when we first fell in love”. As you can guess, this almost always ends up failing. Indeed, most successful couples when they reach a point of recognizing their relationship has eroded, recognize first how much they and their partner has changed, and instead of rekindling the old flame, they go through process of courting and falling in love with this new person and leave that old relationship behind. It is as Mignon McLaughlin stated, “A successful marriage requires falling in love many times, always with the same person” – but should add with the same person as they are today.

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So the question that remains is given that any relationship no matter of the healthy behaviors the couple engages in, how does one have a long lasting relationship and decrease the chances of eventual rejection and loss.

 

#1 – Engage in healthy relationship behaviors, say “I love you” daily, touch, communicate, be honest with feelings for each other, doing things together, etc. For this there are plenty of relationship books that can help couples learn exercises of a health relationship.

 

#2 – Self-awareness. The ability to recognize one’s own physical and mental state as it relates to one’s situation is what we call self-awareness. We often go through our day with a narrow window of self-awareness because that all we really need to get through the common roles we have in life. However, it is advised to at least once a week for at least 30 minutes a person becomes completely self-aware of their physical, social, and psychological world. After which, engaging in self-reflection about how one is doing, how one is changing, and how one is feeling about their current situation is an important and provides a person with a guide. This can be done through several mediums such as journaling, yoga, meditation, prayer (if your religious), or any form activity that allows you to be aware of where you are completely as a person.

 

#3 – Recognize and embrace change. Accept that change is going to happen and that means you will need to continually work at your relationship. Never assume that your relationship is like a rock and is unbendable or unbreakable.

 

#4 – Continually try new things. Stagnation is like stopping exercise or eating right when it comes to relationship health. Yes there are times in all our lives when we do the day-to-day grind. However, actively seeking ways to engage one’s interest, discover new things, and engage one’s world differently can provide great learning opportunities and relationship bonding moments.

 

#5 – This probably should be number 1 – but remember if you decide to live in a radioactive bucket – do not be surprised if you get cancer. In same vein, if you live your life with toxic people, do not be surprised if you always are experiencing rejection and loss. Sometimes the people we desire  – are reason for our disease – just like I know if I continue eating chocolate cake I will gain weight and run risk of heart disease.

 

#6 – Be human! Often, we think that the perfect relationship is a relationship without conflict and problems. We forget that relationships are made by imperfect people, and therefore are inherently not perfect. Be honest with feelings, do not hide your faults, and encourage your partner to do the same.

 

#7 – Do not ignore other social relationships. Sometimes we can get so caught up in the excitement of an intimate relationship we let other important relationships in our lives weaken or even completely abandoned. Remember that we are a social creators, and we all have a differing needs for both social connections and emotional connections. When we do not maintain the needed level for both, we can find ourselves in deep despair, loneliness, and possibly depression. While it is wonderful to fall in love, remember that you both need to fall in love with each other’s complete world.

 

#8 – Maintain connection through common beliefs. Interestingly the idea of opposite attracts is not true when it comes to long successful relationships. Indeed, individuals who are in long-term relationships – and are still in love – have the same or similar belief systems and attitudes. Identify these early on in a relationship and nurture them together.

 

#9 – Intimate relationship that include sexuality, should be a vibrant sexuality. I often gross out my younger students when lecturing on long-term relationships, because I ask “how many have grandparents who were married for most of their lives and still really love each other?”. I then explain to these students that when it comes to sexuality, your grandparents were – and still probably are – freaks in the bedroom. Indeed, we find that individuals in long-term loving relationships tend to try new things, get adventurous with each other, and never let their sexually intimate life become stagnate. Now there are always those exceptions where one or both partners, usually due to health problems, lose interest in sex and we know that sex interests vary across the life span. We still find that individual who are going through a period of low sexuality or loss of their sexual life, tend to compensate in different ways such as increasing and diversifying other pleasurable couple activities.

 

#10 – Understand your own ‘life space’ and the life space of your partner. A famous social psychologist, Kirt Lewin, introduced the idea of life space, as a way to try and visually represent human behavior. If you can imagine a large bubble, that contains all of a person possibilities, then you understand visually what one’s life space is. But first what is meant by all of a person’s possibilities? Lewin recognized that every situation that we find our self in there is a range of possible reactions to that situation. All of one’s possible reactions is one’s life space. So, let me give an example, a school teacher who is making 40,000 a year, is at a car show where she is presented with the opportunity to purchase a $200,000 luxury car. Is this part of the teacher’s life space or range of possibilities? Given her income, cost of insurance, other financial obligations, the probability of buying the luxury car given the teacher’s current life space is very very small. Now the teacher recognizing that the car is not within her current life space can do things to add to it, life get a higher paying job, pay off lots of bills etc etc. But unfortunately, we do not live in a world of what we could do, we often live in the here and now, and understanding our current life space helps us understand our limits and abilities when it comes to actually engaging in a intimate relationship. Once we are aware of it, then and only then can we recognize how it will impact our current relationship, but also what we need to work at, so that the range of possibilities within a relationship can increase through the expansion of our own life space. The other reason for bring up the concept of life space is we often need to recognize the boundaries of our partner’s life space. If you are approaching a relationship with the intent on changing someone, you might as well start saving for the divorce now. For a person to change they must recognize the limitations of their own life space and have the tools and ability to expand their space. Now this does not mean if someone does not meet all your standards that you should not consider being in a relationship with them, but it does mean that you will need to sacrifice something to have that relationship – and sometimes sacrifice is okay.

Sources

Ang, C.S., Mansor, A.T., & Tan, K.A. (2014). Pange of loneliness breed material lifestyle but don’t power up life satisfaction of young people: The moderating effect of gender. Social Indicators Research, 117, 353-365

Cacioppo, J.T., Hawkley, L.C., Berntson, G.G., Ernst, J.M., Gibbs, A.C., Stickgold, R., & Hobson, J.A. (2002). Do lonely days invade the nights? Potential social modulation of sleep efficiency. Psychological Science, 13(4), 384-387

Cacioppo, J.T., Hawkley, L.C., & Preacher, K.J. (2010). Loneliness impairs daytime functioning but not sleep duration. Health Psychology, 29(2), 124-129

Cacioppo, J.T., Hawkley, L.C., & Thisted, R.A. (2009). Loneliness predicts reduced physical activity: Cross-sectional & longitudinal analyses. Health Psychology, 28(3), 354-363

Cyranowski, J.M., Zill, N., Bode, R., Butt, Z., Kelly, M.A.R., Pilkonis, P.A., Salesman, J.M., & Cella, D. (2013). Assessing social support, companionship, and distress: National Institute of Health (NIH) toolbox adult social relationship scales. Health Psychology 32(3), 293-301

Demir, M., Jaafar, J., Bilyk, N., Ariff, H.R.M. (2012). Social skills, friendship, and happiness: A cross-cultural investigation. The Journal of Social Psychology 152(3), 379-385

Gunn III, J.F., Lester, D., Haines, J., & Williams, C.L. (2012). Thwarted belongingness and perceived burdensomeness in suicide notes. Crisis 33(3) 178-181

Lieberman, M.D. (2013). Social: How our brains are wired to connect. New York, NY: Broadway Books

Olson, K.L., & Wong, E.H. (2001). Loneliness and Marriage, 28(2), 105-111

Segrin, C., & Domschke, T. (2011). Social support, loneliness, recuperative processes, and their direct and indirext effects on health. Health Communications, 26, 221-232

Segrin, C. & Passalacqua, S.A. (2010). Functions of  loneliness, social support, health behaviors, and stress association with poor health. Health Communications, 25, 312-322

Shankar, A., McMunn, A., Banks, J., & Steptoe, A. (2011). Loneliness, social isolation, and behavioral and biological health indicators in older adults. Health Psychology 30(4) 377-385

Zimmer-Gembeck, M.J., Trevaskis, S., Nesdale, D., & Downey, G.A. (2014). Relational victimization, loneliness and depressive symptoms: Indirect associations via self and peer reports of rejection sensitivity. Journal of Youth Adolescents. 43, 568-582

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Responding to Criticism on my notion of loneliness

By: Curtis Peterson ©

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Recently I have been criticized for my views on loneliness, even though these views are deeply seated in current research on the topic of loneliness. I would like to respond to some of the criticisms I have received. For this blog, I want to take on one of the most salient criticisms I have received

Criticism 1: Loneliness is not a product of an individual’s social world, but rather a disposition of a person and psychological disorders.

This criticism mostly comes from individuals who work in the mental health field, and work with individuals who report being extremely lonely. In this view, many of the individuals who are upset with my notion that loneliness is deeply seated within one’s social experiences, claim that loneliness is part of one’s psychological disorder and therefore should be treated on the individual level.

However, there are fundemental problems with this argument. The first comes from science dating back to the 1940s and is supported by current research, and that is loneliness is not a symptom of psychological disorders, but are a consequence of the social allienation most individuals with psychological disorders experience.

There is only one exception to this rule, and that is for individuals who experience depression. But, loneliness, when someone is in a bout of depression, is qualitatively different than the normative loneliness that everyone experiences. Loneliness during depression drives us away from seeking social and emotional connections, while normative loneliness drives us to seek out a social and emotional connection to alleviate the negative emotional state associated with the experience of loneliness. For me, there is another very important reason to separate loneliness from depression, and that comes from recent research conducted with individuals who have made serious suicide attempts and individuals who display suicidal thoughts. According to this research, individuals who are diagnosed with depression seem to only have suicidal ideation and attempts when they also score high on scales of normative loneliness – such as the UCLA Loneliness Scale. This is important because it provides a window into what drives individuals who are experiencing depression and when they are at risk for suicidal thoughts and attempts.

The second fundamental problem with loneliness only being a feature of psychological disorders that are self-driven is that everyone can experience loneliness regardless of their mental state. In fact, loneliness is a fact of being human. One reason that some individuals may argue that it is not is we all have varying degrees of the need to have social and emotional connections with other individuals. Indeed, most of the individuals that disagree with me have very low needs for social and emotional relationships. Loneliness and social connection as a drive system are very much like our system for hunger and thirst. Some individuals need for more food intake – and make sure they get three meals a day -and some individuals only have the desire to eat maybe once during the day. Loneliness is the same way, some individuals need a constant stream of socialization and emotional connection, whereas others need very little. Unfortunately the high-level person – especially in American culture – are considered needy, dependent, and weak – whereas individuals who have very little need are seen as strong and independent. While I would argue that being at either extreme can lead to dysfunction – just like too much food can lead to obesity, and too little food can lead to anorexia – the assumption that low social need people are stronger than high need individuals is just empirically false. There is no evidence in the empirical literature to suggest that individuals differ on how “strong” and “independent” they are based on their need for social and emotional connections.

My main goal for refuting the claim that loneliness is a feature of one’s disposition is in our modern world individuals are becoming more and more disconnected from each other. Evidence indicates that loneliness and the negative physical and psychological consequences of continued chronic loneliness are on the increase especially among at risk populations such as teens, elderly, and individuals who are members of stigmatized groups. Therefore, loneliness as an increasing epidemic in our society needs to be addressed on the social and cultural level, and we should let go of old unsupported notions that loneliness is a feature of one’s disposition. I make this plea that we should look at loneliness as a disease of society because the only long-term solution and “cure” for loneliness are for one to meet their social and emotional connections with others, through engaging in their social life.

 

What is loneliness?


This article is dedicated to my mom (Becky) my daughter (Latasha), my two sons (Taylor and Klinton) my niece (Katie) and my beautiful grandchild (Erin). Also to my wonderful friends (Ashley, Nathan, Rachael, Wendy, Lori, Shayla, Jose, Ramona, Dez, and Jamie) who bring sense of meaning and belongingness to my life everyday.


loneliness

In a previous blog I compared the pain state of rejection with the negative motivational state of loneliness. In this blog I will delve in deeper into the negative motivational state we call loneliness. Loneliness as a motivational state was first described by Psychiatrist Harry Sullivan in 1953, who stated that like many emotional states loneliness motivates us to fulfill one of our basic human drives which in this case is affiliation and the socialization with others. This motivational need he believed first develops in infancy when the infant has complete depends on his or her caregiver. Like the pains of hunger the pain of loneliness motivates us to seek out others who we can have a mutually beneficial relationships with. Indeed, current research supports this early development in loneliness, as we see loneliness in early childhood predicts poor socialization in middle childhood, and loneliness in middle childhood predicts depression and high risk behaviors in adolescence. This is to say, just like eating habits – good or poor – in one period predicts continued poor eating habits in another unless there is some type of intervention.

In furthering our understanding of loneliness Sociologist Robert S. Weiss wrote a seminal book entitled “Loneliness: The experience of emotional and social isolation”. In this book Weiss argued that loneliness can come in two forms. The first form is created when an individuals feels socially isolated from others and subjectively experience less than desirable social interaction. The second type is subjectively lacking any significantly emotionally close relationships and attachments with someone else. Indeed, research since Weiss has indicated that there are two types of loneliness and the intensity of our experience depends on how these two are experienced (i.e. together or separate, loneliness following rejection, or meaning one places on close emotional relationships versus social connection). Additionally, we see the role of each of these based on the age of the individual. Research suggests that through adolescence into early adulthood having several social contacts and friends is important, because this allows someone to experience various types of individuals. These experiences and skills then allows an individual in middle to late adulthood to focus in on just a few emotionally meaningful social relationships. Therefore, it seems social loneliness has more impact on adolescents and young adults whereas emotional loneliness tends to have more of an impact on middle to late aged adults. In my model of social identity – currently being tested – I argue that social loneliness drives us to identify with individuals like us (our in-group social identity) and then through the assimilation and relationship building with those in our in-group we avoid  emotional loneliness, which in turn motivates us to maintain connections and enhance our social identity. Next I want to pause before continuing our discussion on specifically loneliness to discuss the difference between loneliness and depression.

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Loneliness VS Depression

Many individuals who are experiencing bouts of depression often describe themselves as “lonely” and “isolated”. However, for our sake I want to make a clear difference between the loneliness an individual says they are experiencing when depressed and the negative motivational state we have been discussing here. As stated earlier loneliness is a motivational state much like hunger and thirst, it drives us to seek out social relationships. Depression on the other hand, drives us away from seeking social relationships through avoidance and the lack of desire to socialize with others. I make this distinction because people can at times mislabel depression as just being lonely. However, depression is a much more serious negative state. Therefore the reader is advised to always look at their motivational state when he or she feels lonely, and ask them self whether they feel the need to have social connection or the need to isolate away from others. If the later it is advised to seek help, as this maybe a more serious condition of depression.

Additionally, we should recognize the relationship between loneliness and later depression. In reviewing the depression literature over the past 15 years, there has been many predicting variables that increase the probability of someone experiencing depression. With the exception of social rejection or loss of a loved one, there in my experience has not been a stronger predictor variable than the experience of chronic loneliness. There is strong evidence that even early long past loneliness can predict later development of depression. For example, the chronic experience of loneliness in one’s thirties, predicts with strong confidence the development of depression in one’s fifties. Additionally it should be stated here that the chronic experience of loneliness is also one of the strongest predictors of obesity, mortality, and morbidity. That is to say the less socially and emotionally connected we are with others leads to unhealthy lifestyles both physically and psychologically.

Loneliness across the lifespan

We have noted throughout this blog about how loneliness influences other states of well-being across the lifespan. The question that comes to mind is, when do we experience the most loneliness and why? First we should say we do experience loneliness across the lifespan just like we experience any other motivational state. However, if we were to determine which groups experience the most loneliness it would be the elderly and individuals who are not well suited for living in rural locations.

Later adults are especially susceptible to loneliness, because as we age our social circles and social connections start to shrink and get smaller, as we disengage from work, social activities, and those who are older or of the same age start to pass away. This shrinkage of social circles along with the increased of loneliness and loss of identity has lead a lot of scientists to believe that this is why we see a stark increase in suicide with men starting at around the age of 50, and has been a increasing concern for women. However, we should note that there are many older individuals who do not experience large amounts of loneliness and the question becomes who? Research is clear that older adults who live in social communities and maintain close friendships – and can develop new ones – are less likely to experience loneliness.

Ever think about leaving the hassle and busyness of the city life for the peacefulness of country living? – you may want to think again. Living in rural areas takes a certain adaptive mindset, that allows individuals to cherish the times they spend with others, and accept that there are periods where one will be alone. This tends to be a native trait, that is a trait of someone who has always or mostly lived in rural locations. We find that when individuals leave larger populated areas for the quiet and peace of rural living they often run the risk of experiencing severe bouts of loneliness and can lead to heighten risk of depression and suicidal behaviors. Indeed, individuals not raised in a rural area are at 4x risk of attempting suicide than native rural livers. For those coming from larger more populated areas where there is always the opportunity for social connection, moving to a place in which one has to work and plan maintaining social relationships, can be lonely, stressful, and depressing endeavor. These combined experiences can lead an individuals to experience the hell and chaos of depression and suicidal thoughts rather than the peace and quiet that they wanted to seek out by escaping from city life.

How does loneliness influence other psychological states?

My colleague Barbara Eastom and I recently surveyed 60 college students on measure of loneliness, happiness, quality of life, meaning in life, and social support. We found when statistical dividing individuals into low, moderate, and high loneliness, that individuals who were in the high lonely group had a significantly lower quality of life, meaning in life, and social support, included a thwarted sense of identity. The following figures and graphs illustrate these stark differences.

Why are these findings meaningful? These findings indicate that loneliness does not only influence our social well-being it also influences many other indicators of well-being. Which means that one experiences loneliness, it important not to continue the cycle of loneliness and to seek out meaningful social connections.

Eliminating loneliness through fulfilling the need of belonging.

Social Psychologist Susan Fiske in 2013 offered a model of social belonging that provides a road map for one to combat loneliness in his or her life. This social cognitive model is based on the premise that individuals are motivated by five social processes: The need to belong, the need for understanding, the need for control, self-enhancement, and the need to trust others. When all of these five needs are met they become a buffer to the experience of loneliness.

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The need to belonging according to Fiske is the need for strong and stable relationships, and over arch the four other needs that can be divided into cognitive needs and affective needs. The two cognitive needs are the need for understanding and control. Understanding is the ability to maintain shared meaning that makes life more stable and predictable. When we engage in conversation with others we often engage in talking about things that are not only important to us but also to reinforce that our beliefs are stable and predictable through shared meaning with others. This is why it is a very lonely place for individuals who are on the fringe of most communities such as LGTBQ individuals, minority groups, the homeless, and many who suffer from mental illness. Because the majority of the community does not share these group’s qualities and challenges it is hard to create shared meaning and thereby making it harder to full fill the need for understanding. However, even within these fringe groups, when we find others that share our ideas, beliefs, and values our level of loneliness become reduced. The second cognitive need that Fiske mentions is the need for control. By her definition, control is knowing the perceived contingency between one’s behaviors today and some later outcome. As for example, showing up at work on time, will reduce the chance of being fired. What controlling is all about really is understanding that, in a given situation, what behaviors will lead to the best outcome. To figure this out we often look towards our social network and those individuals around us. Being able to access individuals who can help us have control and predictability in our world is important and without this it can lead us to feeling lonely, isolated, and ineffective in what we do.

The last two needs Fiske talks about she refers to as affective needs, this means they are less thought driven and more emotionally driven. The first need is the need for self-enhancement. Self-enhancement is our basic need to feel worthy and improvable. In order to feel worthy and improvable this means we must engage others for feedback and support. The second affective need is the need for trust. For Fiske trust means seeing others as benign and harmless. This means feeling little threat by the company we keep, and to seek out individuals that help us feel safe and secure. It should be noted that trust in Fiske terms is an emotional evaluation, and unfortunately in many social setting such as work, school, and public establishments the form of building trust comes in a cognitive form through rules, regulations, procedures, and policies. However, the best policy in the world does not matter unless an individual is affectively made to feel safe and that others are in essence benign. We do this not by reading policies and procedures but by asking others how they ‘feel’ about the situation. therefore, feeling safe trumps even the best written organizational or public policy or procedure. This may explain why cities who have tough on crime policies and militarize their police force actually feel less safe and there are increases and not decreases in criminal behavior, because a militarized police officer is seen emotionally as a threat and not as a form of trust and protection. This in turn increases the propensity for individuals to enter into self preservation behaviors.

Conclusion

This last section has offered four ways in which loneliness can be thwarted. By engaging in social situations that provide a sense of control and understanding and that establish trust and the ability of engage in self-enhancement we are more likely not to experience loneliness and the negative consequences with continued a chronic loneliness. Most important is we need to find ways to engage each other on emotional and meaningful levels, which may mean setting down the smartphone at dinner or at coffee with friends. It means building communities of inclusiveness where everyone has the ability to engage in the community and opportunities. It means centering policies that protect the community by not creating threat through policy but understanding and trust. It means answering the phone, answering the text message even when we don’t feel like it. But probably most important it means when someone has experienced rejection, feels lonely, expresses sadness, that we actually pay attention, not tell them to ‘just get over it’, and give them the same treatment that we seek when we experience those same emotions. Finally hug someone, tell them you love them, tell them you think about them, and thank them for being a part of your life!!!

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Sources for this article

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Cacioppo, J.T., Hawkley, L.C., Berntson, G.G., Ernst, J.M., Gibbs, A.C., Stickgold, R., & Hobson, J.A. (2002). Do lonely days invade the nights? Potential social modulation of sleep efficiency. Psychological Science, 13(4), 384-387

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Loneliness VS social rejection

rejection-main  – VERSUS –  Lonely-Woman

Understanding the fundamental difference between emotions of social rejection and the emotions associated with loneliness is vital in understanding the experiences of individuals. First lets start with a definition of loneliness, it is important from the outset to understand there are two different types of loneliness: social loneliness which is the perceived lack of social connection; and emotional loneliness which is the perceived lack of emotionally and cognitively close relationships. In later posts, we will delve into these further, for the moment lets look at how we define social rejection which is the negative state due to the withdraw of another individual (or group of individuals) in our life. Emotionally the feelings we have when we experience loneliness and social rejection can be very similar, however, they differ on their motivational purpose.

Loneliness while it may be seen as purely an negative affective state, is better characterized as a motivational state. When one is experiencing loneliness the negative emotional state motivates the individual to seek out missing social connections. This state is more associated with the motivational areas of the brain rather than the emotional pain  states of the brain. Rejection however, is directly associated with the pain centers of the brain. That is to say social rejection is more analogous to a physical injury, like a cut or broken leg, versus the negative motivational states of loneliness. So the question becomes, what should we do when we experience rejection? (further blogs will focus on loneliness)

Letting go of bad information

If you have ever been told “get over it, and move on” you will understand the title of this section very well. The problem with rejection is we have been “treating” it wrong all our lives, by treating it as an emotion rather than what it is – physical pain. Like physical pain, rejection needs to be cared for in an appropriate way (1) emergency care, (2) continued maintenance of the wound, and (3)  time to heal. In the following sections we will look at all three of these in detail.

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Emergency Care

Think back to the last time you hurt yourself physically – what did you do? – how did you respond? – what was your first action? If like me, it probably included, verbal cries of pain, coddling of the injured area, and search for an immediate pain reducing activity or agent. I think in many ways this maybe the basic responses of most individuals. First we need appreciate this process, because what are we doing when we are engaging in these behaviors, (1) we are verbal to alert others of our injury and draw attention to the possible hazard, (2) we try to reduce the immediate severe wound by assessing the wound and apply some method to reduce the pain that the injury is causing, and (3) we start the process of long-term healing by stopping any bleeding, splinting the broken bone, and stabilize the body to prevent any further damage.

How can this same process be applied to the pain of social rejection? First we need to recognize that social rejection is an internal injury that is caused immediate external environment – the rejector. Therefore diagnosis of this pain can be similar to being poisoned by a potent chemical. The first thing we do when we are poisoned (hopefully) is identify the poison, seek help, and attempt to purge the poison out of the body. The poison in this case is usually the rejector, however, sometimes it can also include what the rejector represents and not just who the person is. This can help us determine the severity of the poison, that is the more the person represents (intimate partner versus a stranger) will determine the potency of the poison, and the amount of injury care the person will need to engage in. Purging can occur in many forms include emotional, physical, and cognitive purging. But the immediate response should start with making sure the poison can no longer be ingested, this can take form of changing ones situation and removing traces of the rejector.

Purging can especially difficult because sometimes the poison was something we were attached to. for example looking at the intimacy literature, the beginning phases of an intimate relationship is very similar to addiction with the same brain regions in full operation during both processes. Therefore, being rejected by an intimate partner can be like being addicted to a drug, but that drug has become toxic for us, and despite our desire to continue using it, it has rejected us. Therefore, going with the analogy of a drug overdoes or the beginning phases of addiction recovery the first purging process is to go through the pains of withdrawal and purging the toxin out of our bodies. This should include feeling the pain of the rejection and understanding what the rejection object meant to the individual. By understanding the poison we can learn how to avoid it in the future, but we can tell the difference between future poisons and future healthy individuals. It only when we avoid the pain and understanding of rejection that it can lead us to relapse in the future with similar poisonous people. But just like withdrawing from drugs and the pains associated with drug withdraws needs to be done in a safe and controlled environment with supportive individuals. It is important to recognize that severe pain can lead us to further self-injury if not done in a healthy environment with healthy non-toxic individuals. If you have difficulty finding healthy individuals, your community can be a great resource, such as professionals such as counseling services, or online support system can help, and these individuals and groups can provide the healthy support to help recover from severe rejection.

The final phase of first aid is to start the process of long-term care, by dressing and cleaning the wound. This can start during the withdraw phase when one understand the pain associated with the poison, and can include protecting the individual from further injury by cleaning and dressing the wound. This can look like surrounding oneself with friends and family, changing the environment by getting rid of environmental triggers such as gifts and pictures (cleaning the wound and reducing continued infection). Finally, one must start a plan for further recovery.

The final note I want to make in this section is to remind the reader that social rejection is a physical injury, and research has shown that the same medicines that reduce physical pain can reduce the pain associated with social rejection. This also means, more dangerous substances such as alcohol and other drugs can also numb the pain. The reader should be careful of engaging in these vices to manage their pain. Taking prescribed doses of acetaminophen maybe a safer pain reducing alternative to alcohol or elicit drugs.

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Continued Maintenance of the Wound and Time to Heal

The main goal of the continued maintenance phase is the continued protection of the wound until it is fully healed. This means making sure no further injury occurs by not allowing further toxins into one’s life. This maybe the most risky point of recovery from rejection, because the more one feels better, the increased chance of engaging in the same habits and behaviors that resulted in the injury in the first place increases. When it comes to social rejection this can look like trying the engage the rejector back into one’s life or engaging individuals who are just if not more toxic than the original rejector.

During the maintenance phase, the analogy of a leg cast is good because the cast stabilizes the wound and protects it from further injury as it heals. This also means committing to a set of time to allow for healing, and surrounding one self with individuals, activities, and places that can act as the cast. Note that this is an active process just like a leg will not heal or will not heal correctly if it is ignored or one cuts the cast off too soon, the same goes with being rejected.

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Learning to Walk Again

I named this section learning to walk again to emphasize the final phase of recovery, which is to re-engage in the the social world from a healed perspective. Just like it takes time to walk normally after a broken leg it may take time to feel like one can engage in the social world the same after being rejected. However, there are some features of being recovered that we should discuss (1) just because the wound is healed, doesn’t mean the memory is still not painful, and (2) learning from experience.

Just because we know the causes and the situation in which caused rejection in our life, does not mean that the memory of the rejection will not hurt. This also includes good memories, if someone injures their leg skiing this does not mean they will have all bad memories of skiing. The same goes for social rejection, the problem is the combination of bad and good memories could lead us to engaging in risky behaviors that could lead us to being injured a second time. For addiction we call  this relapse, for broken leg we call this not learning our lesson the first time, either way it is during this phase that we can be at most risk of injury again. This is why learning from our experience and having reminders of the pain that it caused is important.

Literature on the difference between knowledge and actual behavior is very clear in that we can know better, but it doesn’t mean we will behave in a healthy way. I know for example a second helping of chocolate cake is not healthy, but sometimes given the opportunity my behavior will be different then my knowledge. This is a common mistake individuals experience when rejected is assuming they now know better, so they trust themselves not to engage in the same behaviors. Therefore, to truly heal from rejection we must engage in the hard work of training one’s self to engage in new behaviors and not assume we know better.Just like learning to walk after a serious leg injury this can take time and hard work. One needs to be committed to changing and assuring they do not get re-injured. This means engaging in new activities, learning different socialization skills (AND practicing them), finding new groups, and surrounding one’s self with healthy friends and family. Additionally, remember that this may not feel good and normal in the beginning, developing new habits consciously never does.

Before concluding this blog, I want to close with one last thing we need to know about social rejection. A person can remove all the knives in their kitchen, but this does not mean one will never cut their finger ever again. The same goes with rejection, we can go through the healing processes, and remove the current toxin in our life, but this does not mean we will never experience rejection ever again. Rejection like physical injury is part of life and is the amazing part of life that includes taking risks and sometimes receiving rewards and sometimes feeling pain and loss. But unless we take those chances and risks we never fully live as individuals and we live life with no meaning.

At this final point you may ask Curtis most of this article was on rejection and not loneliness as well. I wanted to start this article by differentiating the two because they are often mistaken for one another. Further blogs will focus solely on loneliness as we learn how to create a social connected and meaningful world for ourselves and the people we love.