Most of us have experienced social rejection, whether romantic or otherwise and most of us, at one time or another, might agree that the experience caused us emotional pain.
Fascinating neuroscientific evidence obtained by Naomi Eisenberger at UCLA, using fMRI brain scans, found that being socially rejected involves the activation of many of the same parts of the brain that are involved in our response to physical pain. In fact, further interesting research found evidence to suggest that taking a normal dose of pain killer also helps to reduce our experience of emotional pain.
Reviewing the literature, Eisenberger goes on to suggest that this connection between physical pain and the emotional pain of social rejection makes evolutionary sense, in that experiencing hurt feelings when rejected would have helped ancestral man to nurture a secure connection with their care-giver and increase chances of survival.
So, what explanation can we offer then, in the face of the evidence even at our basic neural level, for the reason why it appears that some individuals seem to have more resilience to the experience of both physical pain and emotional pain including being rejected?
One explanation suggested by psychological research into our experience of physical pain, has proposed that there are two components of pain; first the sensory part which makes us aware of the location and severity of the injury, and secondly an emotional reaction to the pain, in other words our own subjective assessment of how distressing the pain is.
These differences in the extent of our individual experience of pain, whether physical and/or emotional, are therefore arguably determined by our unique perception of the pain and the prevailing thoughts and feelings underlying that perception.
Whilst I am not suggesting that we should deny our emotional responses to pain, including the emotional pain of rejection, it is certainly useful to understand, what resilient people know already, that if we alter our thoughts about rejection, our feelings and perception will be similarly changed.
This leads me to the point of my blog…..by raising awareness about the potential benefits of rejection, the list below aims to offer the reader new information to help change existing beliefs and, rather than fearing rejection, we can decide instead to think about rejection in a more positive light and use our rejection experiences to develop personally and help achieve our goals.
- Rejection hurts, we are programmed to feel it but by developing patience you will find it is not forever…we are also programmed to recover …
- Let things go, do not languish in self-pity and self-doubt instead accept that there was a reason why this experience was not meant to be for you and use it to move on with your life.
- Use rejection to motivate you to develop resilience, and you will be rewarded with increased confidence and optimism
- Rejection can be seen as an opportunity to alter your path; assess your needs, develop your goals and start to make positive, realistic, achievable plans to meet those goals.
- Live courageously and kindly, believe in yourself and do not allow your self worth to be determined by the view of others.
 Eisenberger, N. I., Lieberman, M. D., & Williams, K. D. (2003). Does rejection hurt: An fMRI study of social exclusion. Science, 302, 290–292.
 DeWall, C. N., MacDonald, G., Webster, G. D., Masten, C. L., Baumeister, R. F., Powell, C., . . . Eisenberger, N. I. (2010). Tylenol reduces social pain: Behavioral and neural evidence. Psychological Science, 21, 931–937.
 Eisenberger, N. I. (2012). Broken hearts and broken bones: A neural perspective on the similarities between social and physical pain. Current Directions in Psychological Science 21, 42–47