Have you ever dated anyone who broke off with you? Did you ever work at a place where your co-workers seldom asked you to be a part of their team? Did you ever discover that some of your friends met together several times and never invited you?
Many people would feel rejected and experience a number of negative feelings and thoughts in the situations described above. Why? What is it about not being included in a social relationship that arouses these reactions?
Human connection and social relationships have been conceptualized as an evolutionary need for survival in a harsh world; being part of a group enhances one’s chances of surviving. As we have evolved from sheer physical survival, positive social relationships have been found to contribute to an individual’s psychological well-being. Any threat or rejection from developing and maintaining social bonds can result in loneliness, sadness, anxiety, fear, and jealousy. It may also cause physical pain (a psychic injury that manifests somatically). For some people, rejection from others may trigger anger and hostility, and in some cases lead to aggression and antisocial behavior.
There are various forms of rejection. Sometimes people actually say that they do not want to form a relationship with the individual, or they may do or say things that are hurtful to the individual (for example, being rude, abusive, insulting). Other forms of rejection are less direct; instead, they are implied—as in situations when the individual is ignored.
Rejection connotes that the individual is not valued by the other person or group. This can be an assault to one’s self-esteem where the individual may not only feel hurt and angry; but, may question whether the rejecting party actually knows the “true me.” In an effort to preserve one’s belief in oneself as well as one’s self-worth, the rejected individual may try to establish or re-establish a social connection by
- Claiming that “the person/group who rejected me doesn’t have enough information to really know me; therefore, their judgment of me is inaccurate.”
- Claiming that “the person’s/group’s perception of me is inaccurate because they don’t have the ability to be a good judge.”
The motivation of the individual to correct an “inaccurate perception” by the rejecting party illustrates the individual’s desire to affiliate with others. For some, however, the negative impact of rejection is so great that the individual may not want to risk exclusion again. Therefore, the individual may
- Refrain from re-attempting a social connection with the rejecting party.
- Seek social connections with different, and hopefully, more promising others.
These individuals may be described as “optimistic” in their hope for social relationships with others.
Yet, many people are not optimistic and may withdraw from social connection. They may want to protect themselves from further negative experiences. Other individuals react to rejection with anger and antisocial behavior. They do not “let it go and walk away.” They may want to hurt the person or group who hurt them, or they may direct their anger to others who played no part in the rejection.
Research has also found that an individual’s reaction to another’s rejection is related to whether there ever was a positive connection between them as opposed to being rejected by someone where there was no history of a positive relationship. Being rejected by someone who was initially positive can result in far more anger, confusion, hurt, and sadness than from someone who never demonstrated a positive inclination.
It is important to note that there are people who do not have a need to belong or to maintain many social relationships because they are comfortable being separate from others. Often, these people have an independent self-concept and do not need others to define them or to help them meet their personal goals. Consequently, these individuals tend to be less sensitive to social rejection. Some have stated that creative people may fall into this category. Rather than rejection having a negative effect on them, rejection may very well stimulate greater creativity. However, even for the most creative individual or one with high self-esteem, not caring about whether people accept them can have tangible consequences. For example, an artist who is not well received and doesn’t care about this may struggle financially.
As long as people live among others, social relationships have an important impact on our lives. Not everyone will like us, no matter how hard we try to win their approval. Understanding the reasons for the rejection helps us determine whether we can or want to seek an affiliation with the rejecting party. It takes “two to tango.” The question is, do you really want to dance with this partner?