Handling rejection: New study sheds light on why it hurts

Dec 09, 2008

(PhysOrg.com) -- Rejection is one of those universal experiences we can all relate to. Whether it's family or social, through business or a romantic rejection, that feeling of exclusion, or a lack of acceptance, is something we all dread.

Even though rejection in one form or another is a part of everyday life, the experience can be devastating and can have serious psychological consequences such as loneliness, reduced self-esteem, aggression and depression.

Now, a study done by Macquarie University psychology PhD candidate, Jonathan Gerber, into the behavioural effects of rejection sheds new light on precisely what it is about rejection that makes us feel so bad.

Gerber analysed 88 existing experimental rejection research studies. He found that while rejection moderately lowers mood and self-esteem, the loss of control felt by the person who has been rejected was found to be a major factor contributing further to their hurt and distress.

Rejection makes us realise that we are not as powerful and in control as we would like to be, Gerber says. As a result, one of the first things most people do when rejected is to look for opportunities to regain that lost sense of control.

"In a sense, rejection is another way of saying 'no', so when rejection is perceived, it is experienced as a barrier, an obstacle to be overcome," Gerber said.

"When the opportunity to regain control is present, people will tend to take this option, even if it means losing an opportunity to regain belonging."

He notes that attempts to regain control could also include a range of anti-social behaviours, such as increased aggression, harassment or even stalking - even though such behaviours would not serve to promote re-inclusion or lead to the restoration of a relationship, and would in fact work against it.

Given his findings, Gerber says that one way to help somebody who has been devastated by rejection is to highlight alternative ways for them to regain power that do not involve anti-social responses.

"We need to be mindful of avoiding putting rejected people into situations where the only way they can restore control is by being anti-social. Many of the anti-social reactions to rejection could be avoided if we could find ways of restoring control that also helped others."

Gerber says seeking ways to gain control over other areas of life can be a useful strategy. Likewise, when rejection occurs, it also helps when the person who is rejected can reframe the situation.

"Salespeople know that a certain amount of phone calls will end in rejection while others will follow through to sales, so it might be useful to realise that although rejection may have happened this time, it won't always happen," he says.

Provided by Macquarie University

Explore further: Subconscious learning shapes pain responses

Related Stories

Architects to hatch Ecocapsule as low-energy house

7 hours ago

Where people call home depends on varied factors, from poverty level to personal philosophy to vanity to community pressure. Ecocapsule appears to be the result of special factors, a team of architects applying ...

California farmers agree to drastically cut water use

11 hours ago

California farmers who hold some of the state's strongest water rights avoided the threat of deep mandatory cuts when the state accepted their proposal to voluntarily reduce consumption by 25 percent amid ...

Apple may deliver ways to rev up the iPad, report says

11 hours ago

MacRumors last month said that the latest numbers from market research firm IDC's Worldwide Quarterly Tablet Tracker revealed Apple stayed on as the largest vendor in a declining tablet market. The iPad ...

Recommended for you

Subconscious learning shapes pain responses

May 22, 2015

In a new study led from Sweden's Karolinska Institutet, researchers report that people can be conditioned to associate images with particular pain responses – such as improved tolerance to pain – even ...

All sounds made equal in melancholy

May 22, 2015

The room is loud with chatter. Glasses clink. Soft music, perhaps light jazz or strings, fills the air. Amidst all of these background sounds, it can be difficult to understand what an adjacent person is ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.