The Pain of Rejection is More Powerful Than We Think
'The human brain registers rejection much like physical pain.'
I caught this commentary on the Salon website a few days ago. Lucky for me. I had been thinking about the gaping blowholes that personal and professional rejection tear up through one's skin and bone, leaving vulnerable breaches here and there. Then this thought provoking writing appears on Salon.com without fanfare, rising up amidst other articles lined up above and below it. A key point comes through strikingly: the harsh karma of rejection gets mindfully registered in one's psyche a lot like physical pain and it sparks in the same wound zone of the human brain. Those bitter and wicked doses of rejection, well just about everybody experiences some of them -- and some people manifest them much more than others.
The idea source here is the book, Emotional First Aid, by Guy Winch, Ph.D. Rejections can cause four distinct psychological wounds, the severity of which depends on the situation and our emotional health at the time. Specifically, rejections elicit emotional pain so sharp
(1) it affects our thinking,
(2) floods us with anger,
(3) erodes our confidence and self-esteem, and
(4) destabilizes our (sense of) belonging.
Many rejections we experience are comparatively mild; our injuries heal with time. But when left untreated, even the wounds created by mild rejections can become “infected” and cause psychological complications that seriously impact our mental well-being. When the rejections we experience are substantial, the urgency of treating our wounds with emotional first aid is far greater. This . . . minimizes the risk of “infections” or complications but also accelerates our emotional healing process.
What characterizes rejection is the magnitude of the pain it elicits. We liken it to being punched in the stomach or stabbed in the chest. -- Some people equate it to the feelings of natural childbirth and cancer treatments! Other emotionally painful experiences, such as intense disappointment, frustration, or fear, while highly unpleasant, pale in comparison to rejection.
So, the rejection process often hurts much more than other emotional suffering? The (reason) lies in our evolutionary past. Humans are social animals; being rejected from the tribe or social group in the pre-civilized past would have meant losing access to food, protection, and mating partners, making it extremely difficult to survive. Being ostracized would have been akin to receiving a death sentence. Such consequences caused human brains to develop an early-warning system to alert humans about risk and terror, or being “voted off the island." Harsh pain was sensed when there was even a hint of social rejection.
. . . Brain scans show that the very same brain regions get activated when we feel rejection as when we experience physical pain. The two systems are (very) tightly linked . . . Sadly, other unpleasant emotions like embarrassment do not share these characteristics.
Emotional First Aid by Guy Winch, Ph.D. Hudson Street Press, a member of Penguin Group (USA) LLC, A Penguin Random House Company. Copyright © Guy Winch, Ph.D., 2013.