They say life is a journey, meant to be experienced, cherished, and enjoyed. However, what they often fail to mention is that life can hurt too, a lot. It does so often and with relish, and the biggest weapon at its disposal is rejection. We have all experienced it, in one form or another, and in all walks of life – and we all know that it can really, really hurt. It doesn’t just inflict emotional pain either, but affects our personality too, damaging our long term psychological well being.
Rejection comes in many shapes and sizes, and from a variety of sources. It can be social or professional, familial or romantic, and it can hit you at anytime, particularly when you least expect it. Some people are rejected by their very own families, others by colleagues at school, university, or at the workplace, and yet others by the people they’re attracted to or are in a relationship with. Rejection is so common in life, in fact, that all of us have developed our own systems of dealing with it, and we all understand it in our own unique ways.
However, for all that is known about rejection, there are lesser known facts too, particularly about its effects on our emotions and our behavior, and why it hurts us like it does.
1. The Relation to Physical Pain
Perhaps the biggest reason why rejection hurts so much is that it triggers the very same pathways in the brain as physical pain. Research through MRI studies has discovered that we respond so similarly to both physical pain and to rejection that the emotional pain induced by being rejected can be significantly soothed by Tylenol – am effective and popular pain reliever.
2. Human Evolution and the Past
Evolutionary psychologists are of the opinion that we developed our aversion to rejection as long ago as the age of hunting and gathering. In that era, people would often be ostracized from their tribes, for one reason or another, and such rejection was tantamount to a death penalty, for no single person could survive alone for any considerable period of time. Thus, the brains of our ancestors may have developed an alarm system, warning them through physical pain to behave properly, or else.
3. Relive the Pain and Agony
Even though we all do it, most of us don’t realize that when we relive the pain of social or romantic rejection, it is far more vivid compared to our re-experiences of physical pain. This phenomenon is perhaps also related to our evolutionary past, passed on down to us through our DNA by our ancestors, so that we remain social animals and continue to live together, on pain of rejection.
4. Inherent Human Need to Belong
If you have ever experienced rejection – and you’re extremely fortunate if you haven’t – but if you have, you will remember the ‘I don’t need anyone!’ moment. We all have one of these moments, rejecting the entirety of humanity in our defiance, yet we all know that we have just lied to ourselves. For we have an inherent need to belong, whether it is to a group, a community, or to a nation or ideology at large, and while rejection can destabilize this need for, and sense of, belonging, reconnecting with our loved ones can help alleviate the pain considerably.
5. The By-Products: Anger and Aggression
It is a favorite plot point in comic books, TV shows, and movies: a person experiences rejection, however slight or major, real or perceived, and goes on to become a villain, or even super villain, in order to exact revenge. Such plots are based on fact though, as rejection does cause a surge of anger, leading to targeted aggression towards responsible for hurting us.
6. Lower IQs and the Self Destruct Button
Anger, aggression, and intense emotional pain are not the only products of rejection though. It has been found through studies that experiencing or reliving rejection can cause our IQs to be lowered temporarily, as we are unable to think clearly during such moments. Furthermore, rejection seems to trigger the self destruct sequence built within our brains, as is evident in everyone who has continuously found fault in themselves and experienced low self esteem after being rejected by a romantic interest.
The pain of rejection isn’t always soothed by reason, yet fortunately, there are ways to deal with, and to treat, the wounds inflicted upon our psyche. To battle against rejection, and to conquer it, we must strive to stabilize the need to belong, defend our self esteem, combat our aggression, and alleviate our emotional pain.