Psychology of Social Connection

Don’t Let the Middle School Flashbacks Get You Down

October 10th, 2020 · 15 Comments

Picture this. You’re 13 years old, walking with a big group of friends down the street after school. Yes, YOU are part of that gaggle of kids taking up the whole sidewalk, babbling and guffawing, blind to everyone but each other. From an outsider’s perspective, you’re just part of an obnoxious group of kids. But your thoughts are racing. You’re not super close with these people, though you’d like to be. You’re listening intently to the comments flying around the group, trying to think of something witty that will send everyone howling with laughter. But it’s tough because you just so happen to be the straggler at the back of the group. You’re flanking the others, on the outskirts of the jumble of bodies and backpacks, nearly tripping on the heels of the kid in front of you as you lean your neck forward, trying to insert yourself into the ranks with little success. Tragic, we know. 

So now let’s check back in. How are you feeling after imagining that? How would you feel in that situation? Probably not so great. This is the dreadful feeling of social exclusion; everyone knows it and has felt it in some capacity. It’s that feeling when you get overlooked by others or just outright rejected, maybe you were the last kid chosen for dodgeball teams, maybe you asked someone out and they laughed, saying “With YOU??? Ew, no, never.” (we hope this has never actually happened). So how does rejection affect us anyway, and why? Why might our reactions to rejection differ? What can we do about that awful feeling rejection brings? Let’s talk about it.  

Affiliation, Withdrawal…Both? — Julie 

First of all, I think most of us can agree that rejection just downright sucks. No matter how it manifests itself, whether it’s just a little sting (like no one waiting for you as you’re tying your shoe) or a more substantial blow (like not getting into the school of your dreams), it still affects you. I mean think about it, your first reaction to rejection isn’t usually to rejoice, right? Damn, try saying that 5 times fast. 

Now, of course, everything in life varies from person to person and from situation to situation. Sometimes, a little sting feels like a colossal blow, and sometimes that colossal blow just blows right over your head and you stay vibing. So our reaction to rejection at any given moment often ~depends~. And science agrees. 

Sometimes you might be motivated by rejection to build relationships with others. Although this might sound like trying to patch up the wound with what caused it in the first place, we actually display some pretty helpful behaviors to make this endeavor easier. For example, feeling socially excluded can lead to enhanced memory of social information (Gardner, Picket, & Brewer, 2000). Researchers induced feelings of social exclusion in participants, then had them read a diary. After completing some unrelated tasks, participants were asked to recall details from the diary. Those that felt socially excluded remembered more events from the diary that were related to social events than did those who felt socially secure. Crazy.

But this makes sense because paying attention to and remembering social cues and information can help you build connections with others. Isn’t it rather nice when someone remembers something you told them last week and asks you about it? It makes you feel like they genuinely care about you, which is the basis for any kind of relationship. Other studies have found that people who feel socially excluded can even tell if a smile is real (a Duchenne smile, smiling with the eyes) or fake, and they (obviously) prefer the real smile (Bernstein et al., 2008). In essence, you basically become hyper-aware of signals around you telling you who might want to connect, and the evidence for this goes on and on. It seems like we unknowingly (until now) have these built-in tools to help us remedy rejection and stay socially secure. 

On the other hand, sometimes rejection might cause you to slip back into your shell, withdrawing from the world. You might just feel a sense of emotional numbness (Baumeister et al., 2007). You might even lose concern for others. People that were told they would end up all alone in life engaged in fewer acts of charity and to a lower degree, like donating less to student funds or even picking up fewer dropped pencils than the control group (Twenge et al., 2007). This withdrawal reaction serves to lessen the pain of the experience and act as buffers against further emotionally painful events. It’s like putting a shield over your emotions by closing the shutters and not letting anything in or out. 

These two conflicting responses don’t each have to be all or nothing though..they’re not action potentials;). It’s more likely that for most people, they play in tandem in varying doses. In other words, we can display flexible responses to rejection based on context, sometimes trying to affiliate with others if that seems like a viable option, and if not, then withdrawing to avoid further emotional pain (Powers & Heatherton, 2012). I feel as though this is almost like an immune system for our social needs, and it kicks in with multiple plans of action to treat rejection. 

I can definitely see this context-dependent response in myself. If I’m feeling secure in my other social relationships and in my abilities, rejection won’t hit me as hard, and I’ll maybe have a quick moment where I’m like oof that’s tough, but it be like that sometimes. And I usually try to joke about it with friends to remind myself that, whatever happened, it’s probably not that deep. Obviously, if it’s one of those colossal blows we were talking about earlier, or if rejection after rejection after rejection is being hurled at me, things become a bit tougher. That’s when it’s harder to be all nonchalant and positive. Plus, I tend to overthink this stuff during ungodly hours of the night when I’m trying to sleep, so overall it’s just a good time. I might first respond by withdrawing and allowing myself to wallow for a bit in sad girl hours because sometimes a passionate cry is all you need. But then, I’ll reach out to friends to either talk about it or just move on from it, and voila all becomes well again eventually. And in the end, most things work out. The hard times teach you lessons that make you wiser, kinder, and stronger. And sometimes they make for good stories, so when rejection knocks on your door, chin up my friend, you were born to handle this, and Andre can tell you why.

How it all started — Andre

Sometimes, it can be difficult to understand why we even have such strong reactions to social situations in the first place. Even when we know we can handle a rejection, it still often stings a lot. Even after spending tons of time cultivating our confidence we still find ourselves being super self-conscious. Why are we like this? 

Evolutionary psychology helps answer the question. In the state of nature, being alone or cast out from your group was among the biggest threats to your survival and reproduction (the foremost stuff we’re really “wired” for). If you weren’t around others, then you couldn’t share resources or labor and your chances of passing on your genes would dwindle. Human psychology and neurobiology adapted to make us want to be around others. And if we weren’t, our minds would sound all types of alarms telling ourselves to fix the situation. 

So if you feel caught up in your fear of rejection, give yourself a break. We’re wired to feel like our lives and future generations depend on it. 

On a similar note, many of us find it difficult not to dwell on negative experiences like rejection. We could have tons of stuff going for ourselves and positive news to be grateful for and yet we’re still drawn back to the stuff that didn’t go right. We ruminate over an awkward encounter, endlessly talk over a failed relationship, or micro-analyze our whole existence. While this tendency to seemingly prioritize the negative over the positive needs to be checked with more healthy habits, it’s quite natural. Threat detection or threat hypervigilance was an important trait when humans were evolving just like rejection sensitivity. Our failures or potential failures were bigger threats to our survival and reproduction than our successes so of course we should pay them more attention. Essentially, we develop to dwell on the negative or things we perceive as threats (Boyer & Bergstrom, 2011). We can correct for that with positive affirmations and gratitude when our negativity becomes too much, but ultimately it’s pretty useful for understanding, remembering and addressing our problems. 

So…What now? — Rachel

So if you’re like me, you’ve read all this about threat and rejection and exclusion, and honestly, you’re feeling pretty down. “What gives??” you may ask. “Isn’t there anything we can do about it??” you may plead to anyone who will listen. Good news! Yes, social rejection is a Thing, and as we’ve said, we really can’t help but react to it (shoutout to Andre, we’ve quite literally evolved to react to it!). But that doesn’t mean we just have to sit back and wait for the social blows to inevitably hit. It also doesn’t mean hiding away in your dorm room and avoiding all social situations out of fear of them going horribly wrong. So, what can we actually do about it? That’s where a fun thing called “self-regulation” comes into play. 

Self-regulation is basically the process of intentionally controlling and monitoring your inner thoughts and emotions, as well as your outer behaviors and impulses (Reed et al., 2020). Even if you didn’t know it, you’re probably already a self-regulating pro. Congrats! Remember mind perception week? When you purposely tried to shift between “imagine other” and “imagine self” in perspective taking, that was a form of self-regulation! Self-regulating is like a handy-dandy Swiss Army Knife on the imaginary tool belt of psychological processes. It’s helpful in all kinds of scenarios, from perspective-taking (like the tasks we’ve already tried) to promoting positive goals to seek pleasure or avoid pain (Higgins, 1997). For threat detection and rejection sensitivity especially, self-regulation can be really helpful in changing the way we think about potentially damaging social situations on a daily basis (Meehan et al., 2019). 

While there are likely many, many ways we each engage in self-regulatory behavior on an individual level (especially considering the wide range of rejection sensitivity we each possess even in this class alone), we’ve chosen two especially helpful behaviors for you to ponder as we figure out what the heck to do about all this rejection. First, one way of using self-regulation to help with rejection sensitivity is through intentional directing of your attention (Hanif et al., 2012). As we’ve already learned from the Gardner article, experiences of social exclusion can greatly impact what kind of social information you take in (Gardner, Picket, & Brewer, 2000). The same is true for attention – rather than keeping this tunnel vision of looking for rejection, self-regulation can involve directing your attentional focus towards a wider view of actually understanding the context of your situation, your own behavior, and the behavior of others. In doing so, you can actually start to look beyond your own rejection sensitivity towards what Hanif et al. call “goal-related representations,” or the things that are relevant to seeking your own positive goals (Hanif et al., 2012). 

This expansion in attention can especially be helpful with that literally never ending cycle of self-fulfilling prophecy in rejection (Downey et al., 1998). By taking the time to step back, reflect, and expand your attention, you can find yourself realizing that hey, maybe those kids you’re walking with aren’t actually trying to reject you when you’re the one stuck at the back of the pack. Maybe the sidewalk is just not wide enough, simple as that. 

Another way of using self-regulation in the face of those 13 year old kids from the intro (*cue the terrifying middle school flashbacks*) goes hand in hand with directing attention: delayed gratification (Ayduk et al., 2000). Remember the marshmallow experiment, the one you’ve probably seen in every psych class ever (Mishel, 2014)? Surprise, it’s relevant here too! As we’ve already discussed, our ~general long-term goal as humans~ is to survive, and we’ve adapted to do that by being around others. By intentionally focusing on that pleasurable, long-term goal over more immediate impulsive reactions (aka, delayed gratification) through self-regulation, you can help keep all those negative emotions, gut reactions, and passive-aggressive texts to seemingly threatening social situations at bay (Ayduk et al., 2000). And when you don’t have to put as much effort into processing these short-term responses, it’s much easier to direct your attention towards other explanations in the situation and seek out solutions for keeping that long-term goal of #good social connections going. 

Like Julie said, these situations of social rejection can be really, really tough. Whether big or small, these situations can hurt a LOT, and our reactions to it can vary and be confusing in themselves. But, Andre showed you that you were literally born to handle these things! So don’t fret (for too long at least). Self-regulation, as Rachel demonstrated, takes some time and effort, but by putting that ~mental muscle~ to work you really can help shape your reactions in a healthy way. So just know that you got this!! We’re rooting for you always.

 

References

Ayduk, O., Mendoza-Denton, R., Mischel, W., Downey, G., Peake, P. K., & Rodriguez, M. (2000). Regulating the interpersonal self: strategic self-regulation for coping with rejection sensitivity. Journal of personality and social psychology, 79(5), 776–792. https://doi.org/10.1037//0022-3514.79.5.776 

Baumeister, R. F., Brewer, L. E., Tice, D. M., and Twenge, J. M. (2007). Thwarting the need to belong: understanding the interpersonal and inner effects of social exclusion. Soc. Pers. Psychol. Compass 1, 506–520.

Bernstein, M. J., Young, S. G., Brown, C. M., Sacco, D. F., and Claypool, H. M. (2008). Adaptive responses to social exclusion: social rejection improves detection of real and fake smiles. Psychol. Sci. 19, 981–983. 

Boyer, P., & Bergstrom, B. (2011). Threat-detection in child development: An evolutionary perspective. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, 35(4), 1034-1041.

Clarkson, K. (2011). Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You) Official Audio. [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=avYxiIRG4xQ&list=PL5tm17NdnbG_L24-LVnEN1-NgHkm4O67n

Downey, G., Freitas, A. L., Michaelis, B., & Khouri, H. (1998). The self-fulfilling prophecy in close relationships: Rejection sensitivity and rejection by romantic partners. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 75(2), 545–560. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-3514.75.2.545 

Gardner, W. L., Pickett, C. L., and Brewer, M. B. (2000). Social exclusion and selective memory: how the need to belong affects memory for social information. Pers. Soc. Psychol. Bull. 26, 486–496.

Higgins E. T. (1997). Beyond pleasure and pain. The American psychologist, 52(12), 1280–1300. https://doi.org/10.1037//0003-066x.52.12.1280

“I Can Fix That GIF”. (2020). Holes. [GIF]. Giphy. https://media.giphy.com/media/PrEUkNFD9pN2o/giphy.gif 

Literary Devices. Sarcasm – Definition and Examples of Sarcasm. (2017). Literary Devices. https://literarydevices.net/sarcasm/

Meehan, K.B., Cain, N.M., Roche, M.J. et al. (2019). Rejection Sensitivity and Self-Regulation of Daily Interpersonal Events. J Contemp Psychother 49, 223–233. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10879-019-09424-9 

Mischel, W. (2014). The marshmallow test: mastering self-control. First edition. New York: Little, Brown and Company.

Powers, K. E., Heatherton, T. F. (2012). Characterizing socially avoidant and affiliative responses to social exclusion. Frontiers in Integrative Neuroscience. 6,46.

Reed, R. G., Combs, H. L., & Segerstrom, S. C. (2020). The Structure of Self-Regulation and Its Psychological and Physical Health Correlates in Older Adults. Collabra: Psychology, 6(1), 23. http://doi.org/10.1525/collabra.297 

Saturday Night Live. (2020). Chris Redd Snl. [GIF]. Giphy. https://giphy.com/gifs/snl-saturday-night-live-season-45-LrLtEDxfBiM4KDSSYl?utm_source=media-link&utm_medium=landing&utm_campaign=Media%20Links&utm_term=

Twenge, J. M., Baumeister, R. F., DeWall, C. N., Ciarocco, N. J., and Bartels, J. M. (2007). Social exclusion decreases prosocial behavior. J. Pers. Soc. Psychol. 92. 56–66.

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15 responses so far ↓

  • suyeonlee // Oct 11th 2020 at 4:58 am

    Hello Julie, Andre, and Rachel!

    It is very interesting to see how you guys each wrote about the rejection in different aspects. I agree with Julie that the amount of effect one gets from being rejected is fairly relative since an individual who went through a single rejection after going through multiple acceptances might be less affected by the rejection than the one who was rejected after multiple rejections in the past. Therefore, rejection could definitely be explained as a context-dependent response. There is no objective standard of how rejection would affect an individual, since it could vary based on a person’s age, value, and past experience.

    Rejection could also be explained from an evolutionary perspective as Andre mentioned since people are social animals who have had a need to be affiliated with others in order to share resources and survive. Thus, our genes could explain our desire to affiliate with others.

    Since it is almost impossible to avoid any kind of rejection in one’s life, and rejection does evoke negative feelings although its level could vary. Therefore, as Rachel mentioned, self-regulation becomes necessary in order for one to overcome these negative effects on an individual followed by rejection. I like how Rachel brought up the marshmallow experiment as a way of self-regulation. Instead of focusing an instant, short-term negative feelings caused by rejection, we would want to focus on long-term goals — which, in this case, would be forming a better social connection that could minimize the risk of being rejected in the future.

  • christinelee // Oct 12th 2020 at 2:47 am

    Hey y’all!

    I thought the intro was a great way to situate us in threat detection. I think middle school is a time when everyone is hyperaware and self conscious about what others think of them and how that might affect the rest of their social lives (even though it doesn’t – no one remembers middle school it is such a blur).

    The self-regulation topic in the conclusion was really interesting and well explained. While I understand the value of threat detection and why we have adapted to react in certain ways to social situations, I think learning how to appropriately response and still be in control of ourselves and our emotions is super important. Nowadays, I think people understand its normal to feel rejection once in a while, but no one ever teaches you coping mechanisms and ways to properly process it (and eating a pint of ice cream while binge watching Netflix doesn’t count). I honestly wish this was apart of middle school education! But, intentional attention and delaying gratification seem like difficult skills to hone and employ when in a fragile, emotional state of rejection. I wonder if there are ways to practice self-regulation before you enter situations when you get rejected – that way, you’ve already mastered them and the overwhelming state of rejection will not impact your ability to utilize these skills.

  • gracerotondo // Oct 12th 2020 at 1:44 pm

    Great post – I really appreciated how you guys each tackled a different aspect of rejection – dealing with it, showing how we were evolutionarily made to handle it, and suggesting practical behaviors to engage in to handle it.

    I especially resonated with the way Julie talked about dealing with rejection. I am definitely someone who becomes more detached in the face of rejection – at least from the person who rejected me. In these instances, I usually detach during the moment, but then circle back with the person later on to try and remedy the relationship. This behavior goes back to the second self-regulating mechanism Rachel suggested of focusing on the long-term goal of maintaining the relationship.

    Another behavior I often engage in after facing rejection, though, is looking elsewhere to attach – whether that be by making new friends or focusing on other relationships. However, this self-regulating behavior involves re-directing attention compared to directing attention toward delayed gratification.

    Overall, great post post! Really made me think about my own behaviors and ways I can protect myself from feeling the negative aspects of rejection.

  • Anonymous // Oct 12th 2020 at 2:12 pm

    This post was really insightful/well thought out and so easy and enjoyable to read!

    I found the intro especially captivating because it allowed for me, as the reader, to draw from personal experience (seems like we all had similar childhoods lol) and easily insert myself into this scenario that you all have presented and simulate the feelings that you are planning to address in your blog post. It was such an effective way of getting the reader to buy into your narrative and helped to establish stakes for why discussing rejection sensitivity is relevant. I also thought Rachel did a great job with adding a clear “so what” to the topic, in which she presents clear tips+tricks (corroborated by scientific evidence) for getting through those uncomfy feelings of rejection when they come up.

    I thought that Julie’s discussion of affiliative and detached behaviors in the face of rejection was not only a great way to start off the content portion of the blog post but also a nice way to jump off from points from our discussions in class. I think something that’s come up a lot in class is a frustration with the lack of consensus in the literature regarding the origins/motivations for our behaviors, in this case the conflicting nature of studies having found either affiliative and/or detached behaviors present post-rejection. But, as Julie explains, there isn’t just one way to react to rejection, and context most likely plays a big role in this variation. I wonder, then, if some studies have focused on testing context as a variable in rejection scenarios by modifying things such as a participant’s age, gender, rejection location and number of people who witness, relationship history, etc.

    I also thought Andre’s point on the fact that we dwell more on negative experiences/interactions than positive ones was so relatable and a great addition of evolutionary perspective to the conversation. Given our primary evolutionary motivation to not die so as to reproduce, it makes sense that we would be hard wired to first prioritize avoiding death, through threat detection in this case, followed by a secondary goal of seeking for and appreciating group acceptance.

    Again, a wonderful read that gave me some straightforward takeaways! Thanks y’all 🙂

  • gabymunoz // Oct 12th 2020 at 2:16 pm

    This post was really insightful/well thought out and so easy and enjoyable to read!

    I found the intro especially captivating because it allowed for me, as the reader, to draw from personal experience (seems like we all had similar childhoods lol) and easily insert myself into this scenario that you all have presented and simulate the feelings that you are planning to address in your blog post. It was such an effective way of getting the reader to buy into your narrative and helped to establish stakes for why discussing rejection sensitivity is relevant. I also thought Rachel did a great job with adding a clear “so what” to the topic, in which she presents clear tips+tricks (corroborated by scientific evidence) for getting through those uncomfy feelings of rejection when they come up.

    I thought that Julie’s discussion of affiliative and detached behaviors in the face of rejection was not only a great way to start off the content portion of the blog post but also a nice way to jump off from points from our discussions in class. I think something that’s come up a lot in class is a frustration with the lack of consensus in the literature regarding the origins/motivations for our behaviors, in this case the conflicting nature of studies having found either affiliative and/or detached behaviors present post-rejection. But, as Julie explains, there isn’t just one way to react to rejection, and context most likely plays a big role in this variation. I wonder, then, if some studies have focused on testing context as a variable in rejection scenarios by modifying things such as a participant’s age, gender, rejection location and number of people who witness, relationship history, etc.

    I also thought Andre’s point on the fact that we dwell more on negative experiences/interactions than positive ones was so relatable and a great addition of evolutionary perspective to the conversation. Given our primary evolutionary motivation to not die so as to reproduce, it makes sense that we would be hard wired to first prioritize avoiding death, through threat detection in this case, followed by a secondary goal of seeking for and appreciating group acceptance.

    Again, a wonderful read that gave me some straightforward takeaways! Thanks y’all 🙂

  • gracethawley // Oct 12th 2020 at 4:16 pm

    Julie, Andre, and Rachel!

    You guys killed it! Like Rachel said, rejection is definitely a Thing™, and all of us feel it all the time. As lame as it was for evolution to be like “oh let’s make humans feel terrible about their nature as social beings,” at least it had the decency to give us a few tools to deal with this junk. And I LOVE that Rachel took the time to mention such tools.

    I thought one of the most important things mentioned was that focusing attention on things that are advantageous to us socially is a solution to social rejection. We all have that gut feeling that sometimes, certain opportunities, social interactions, and just general moments in life will go really well. I wonder if this is simply a product of directing our attention to things that are just well suited for us. It’s quite a distinct feeling, and I resonate with what was said about it being a remedy for both healing from and avoiding social rejection.

    Additionally, I love that Andre took a moment to address that we are LITERALLY wired to feel social threats. This is how our phylogenetic ancestors learned to solve problems or find solutions to issues of social connection and group belonging that were extremely NEW territory once upon the evolutionary timeline. Moral of Andre’s story: if you ever feel like crap, blame it on natural selection. I love this! It’s crazy how our emotions, psychology, and physical responses are all so connected, but seemingly so out of sync at some moments. And sometimes, it’s just a case of paying attention to your body and its cues. Social rejection in the modern world is less a sign of physical danger, and more a sign of emotional dissatisfaction. In a sense, threat detection is our body and emotions telling us that we don’t like to be treated or feel like we are being treated in certain ways. And attention is the solution of us searching for something better for ourselves.

    Well done you guys!

  • Anonymous // Oct 12th 2020 at 6:27 pm

    I love the way you guys started this post because I can visualize myself in that situation straggling behind a group and tripping on the heels of the person in front of me! It really helped me get drawn into this post.

    Julie’s comparison to rejection response as an immune system is such a great one. Just as our immune system learns to fight off germs again and again, our body learns to fight off rejection with withdrawal or affiliation. How rejection is handled really varies depending on the situation. I also find that the mood that I am in at the moment plays a role in how I handle rejection. If I’m in a good mood, feeling like nothing can stop me then maybe rejection won’t hurt so bad, but facing rejection when I’m already down is a different story.

    As Andre mentions, it’s nice to know that it’s natural to fear rejection! I think that sometimes we try super hard to prepare ourselves for rejection and convince ourselves we will be okay, but once rejection happens, we can’t help but react.

    Rachel’s points about self-regulation around situations involving rejection is something that I will definitely think about in the future. Although I probably self-regulate more than I think, I loved the tip about delaying immediate impulsive reactions and focusing on the long term instead.

    Awesome job!

  • hannahpearce // Oct 12th 2020 at 8:41 pm

    Hey Julie, Andre and Rachel 🙂

    I think this article is well written and easy to read. The introduction paragraph was very clever as I think most people could reflect and connect on a personal level. I like how each section address the what we do, why we do it and how do we fix it when it comes to rejection. I liked the point Julie made about how we handle rejection is like an immune system for our social needs. I completely agree that it is dependent on the context and person. I find that I lean towards withdrawal when facing rejection but will then pay more attention and be motivated by it. I also enjoyed Andre’s section about the evolutionary side. It was a good reminder that we a born this way and are made to deal with threats.

    I enjoyed the self-regulation section and points made by Rachel. It adds on to what we were speaking about during our discussions this week. Dealing with rejection is tough and certain situations will be tougher than others. It is important that we find a way to deal with them. Reading about the delayed gratification reminded me of this thing I remind myself of every now and then which is that we can’t control our initial thought that gut feeling but we can control the second and the ones that follow which means we can then control how we want to react.

    Overall, this was a great post and it really carries over nicely from the discussions in lectures this week. It is also really got me thinking about what behaviors and tendencies I have when facing social threats.

  • Anna Pacheco // Oct 13th 2020 at 12:54 am

    I love this article! It was really easy to read and the overall message is great! I like how you talk about stepping back and reflecting on situations in order to re-wire your brain from feeling threatened to being reasonable with yourself. It’s true that we’re literally wired to feel socially threatened and retreat to the negative emotions when around exclusion. But, once we realize that it is usually not done on purpose, like when someone forgets to answer or text, we can stop stressing out and let life go on.

    I think a lot about the ways I’ve grown from high school to college, and it has a lot to do with social acceptance & simply no longer feeling the need to excessively search for the social norm. In high school, I was a lot more obsessed with doing what everyone else was doing and feeling anxiety when I was criticized. But, since I’ve been in college, I realized that everyone’s doing their own thing, following their own passions, and thriving in their own personalities. So, I felt that I could do the same–and love doing it. But, coming to that realization really required me to step back and reflect on why I was anxious about this kind of stuff in the first place. I had to re-wire my brain from feeling anxious for being different to feeling proud of it.

    It also made me think of my favorite emotion psychologist, Lisa Feldman. She talks a lot about the ways in which emotion is actually just a subjective guess that our brain makes based on our past experiences with that emotion. So, we have much more control over our emotions, perceptions, and intentions than we might’ve previously thought.

  • James Kirkpatrick // Oct 13th 2020 at 1:45 am

    Julie, Andre, and Rachel,

    Your blog post was thoroughly entertaining, as well as informative! Immediately, the introduction hooked me because of how relatable and honest it was. I have been excluded numerous times, and also have likely unintentionally excluded others from time to time. The relatability of this post gave me sufficient information to conclude that the feelings I have felt in the past, post-rejection, are not uncommon. In fact, as Andre explained, we were born to react to rejection, and the unsettling feelings we endure after rejection are actually justified by the way human psychology and neurobiology has shaped our behavior. It is always relieving to hear that your intense feelings are normal!

    Also, I really liked how Rachel compared our reactions to rejection to a Swiss army knife. I can remember plenty of different ways I have dealt with rejection in the past which was dependent on my situation at the time. I had never thought about the different ways I deal with rejection, but after reading this blog post I feel much more clarity surrounding my behavior. Thank you!

    I completely agree that your reaction to rejection is dependent on the confidence you have in your current situation. Julie expertly described how different intensities of rejection can effect people differently. My teammates and I make jabs at each other all the time and the insults bounce off of me easily, however there has been many other instances in my life where insults have stung much more and lasted much longer. So I completely agree it always depends on the situation, and it really do be like that sometimes!

    Thanks for y’all’s work on this blog post, I had a great time reading it, and feel like I have a much better understanding on our different behaviors following rejection.

  • James Kirkpatrick // Oct 13th 2020 at 2:18 am

    Andre, Rachel, and Julie,

    This blog post was thoroughly entertaining, as well as informative. While reading the introduction, I was immediately hooked by the relatability and honesty of this post. Although nobody likes to talk about it, we have all faced rejection in some form or fashion and it was comforting to realize that we do not go through these emotions alone.

    Personally, I do not like to share too much about my emotions regarding rejection because recalling these events upset me and make me feel embarrassed about how I have reacted to rejection. But, what was really interesting about what Andre explained, is that we react to rejection in this way because of how human psychology and neurobiology have shaped our behavior. As Andre said, we are literally born to react to rejection. It is nice to know that our feelings and emotions are justified by evolutionary psychology!

    Also, I love how Rachel compared our reactions to exclusion with a Swiss army knife. Personally, I can certainly recall many different ways in which I have coped with rejection. After Rachel described self regulation, I realized that each time I feel excluded or rejected, my attentiveness heightens as a way of avoiding another instance of rejection. I found it intriguing that without even realizing it our bodies naturally search for social belonging.

    I strongly agree with what Julie brought up about the differences in reactions to exclusion based on the situation. My teammates and I are constantly jabbing at each other in a lighthearted manner, and these insults bounce off of me without causing any harm at all. However, there are many other situations I can recall in which the effects of insults like those have stung much more and lasted much longer. I feel much more clarity surrounding my reactions to rejection, after reading this post. Although I wish I was unaffected by rejection or exclusion, Julie is right, it really do be like that sometimes.

    Thank y’all for the work you put in on this blog post. It was evident that each of you had sufficiently researched each topic, and y’all did a great job explaining everything in a relatable and concise manner. I walk away from this blog post with a much better understanding of our behavior and reactions surrounding exclusion or rejection.

  • Patrick Adolphus // Oct 13th 2020 at 2:47 am

    Everyone who lives where there are sidewalks has had to deal with that awkward moment when they are walking behind the rest of the group trying to keep up and fit in. That was a fantastic segue into social exclusion and the threat it poses to our sense of belongingness for its capturing of the subject matter, but, more importantly, its relatability and universality.

    @Julie, I agree with you wholeheartedly on how so much of our reactions to rejection depend, not only on our dispositions, but also on context. I wonder if our decision to seek out social connections in order to comfort ourselves that way or turn numb is affected by our own extraversion, but also the perceived level of openness and agreeableness in those around us. It seems to me that I would be far more apt to pursue a new relationship if I were 1) a more outgoing/social being 2) not of the belief that the new subjects of my relationship are likely to impose those same feelings of rejection upon me.

    @Andre, I found the argument for the greater salience of negative events extremely interesting. It seems obvious that we would be wired to things that ensure/encourage our survival, but those things can be either positive or negative. Your argument was great in elucidating that negative events can effectively terminate our chances of survival rendering further successes redundant anyway and that definitely opened my eyes as to why we seem to focus on the bad even though there may still be a lot of good.

    @Rachel, I think the perspective-taking exercise is great in coming to terms with a rejection. It allows for us to understand why another would act in a certain way, and although we may not excuse it, it allows for closure. I believe people have a certain insatiable desire to know and understand, so a lot of rumination is done by those reeling from a rejection (e.g. “what did I do wrong?”), but this tactic can be very useful in preventing an endless circle of self-questioning by laying a groundwork to answer all of those burning questions about why things resulted the way they did without excessively inculpating one’s self, which serves a heavy blow to one’s own ego. The other exercise I find difficult to comprehend though. When I myself am reeling from negative thoughts, I find it almost impossible to concentrate. A lot of times I will try to pick up a book or something, but the thought keeps coming back. I wonder if there are limitations as to what sorts of activity confer the most benefit though because my mind does go blank while playing tennis for instance. Would it be best to focus our attention on pursuits that personally bring us the most pleasure? Physical exertion as opposed to mental exercise?

    This was a great read and thank you all for preparing it. It was extremely professional & interesting, and seems like something I would have read in a published magazine. 11/10

    -Pat

  • Anonymous // Oct 13th 2020 at 4:24 am

    I love it!!! This is awesome. What really struck me is actually something that y’all implicitly mentioned throughout the post–simply imagining rejection is so potent and drives behaviour.

    It makes me think a lot about mask-wearing. Of course there are those who don’t want to wear masks. But even just considering those who believe in masks and want to wear masks, in places where masks are mandatory, they’re all very willing to do so. But in a place where masks are optional, if there is any ambiguity about whether others would wear masks, I’ve seen perfectly reasonable people not feel comfortable doing so and not like being confronted on it.

    Even if it is likely that you won’t be rejected for wearing a mask, it only takes a small amount of uncertainty to be driven by the fear of rejection. It makes me reflect on the immense importance our brain places on not being rejected, as y’all mention.

    But I wonder what is a practical solution for COVID mask-wearing…. self-regulation is a good strategy for individuals, but is there a group level solution to remove the fear of rejection for wearing a mask (besides mandating masks)?

  • kat // Oct 13th 2020 at 4:25 am

    I love it!!! This is awesome. What really struck me is actually something that y’all implicitly mentioned throughout the post–simply imagining rejection is so potent and drives behaviour.

    It makes me think a lot about mask-wearing. Of course there are those who don’t want to wear masks. But even just considering those who believe in masks and want to wear masks, in places where masks are mandatory, they’re all very willing to do so. But in a place where masks are optional, if there is any ambiguity about whether others would wear masks, I’ve seen perfectly reasonable people not feel comfortable doing so and not like being confronted on it.

    Even if it is likely that you won’t be rejected for wearing a mask, it only takes a small amount of uncertainty to be driven by the fear of rejection. It makes me reflect on the immense importance our brain places on not being rejected, as y’all mention.

    But I wonder what is a practical solution for COVID mask-wearing…. self-regulation is a good strategy for individuals, but is there a group level solution to remove the fear of rejection for wearing a mask (besides mandating masks)?

  • @jenniferperry // Oct 21st 2020 at 1:48 am

    @kat Such a good question. From a social psychological standpoint, I think the top thing would be to change the social norm, even if the government doesn’t mandate it. Think of how recycling became the norm in a lot of areas, despite it not ever being legally forced upon us. So even if most people in a certain region don’t wear masks, if you could it at least make it SEEM like the norm has changed, then people will start to feel safe to wear them without fear of rejection. But I can’t think right now off the top of my head how to do that. You would need structural changes, like how cities provide recycling bins, but it would take more than that. If the norm can’t change, then people would have to feel okay about going against the norm. That’s much harder to instill. What do you think?

    @pat “I believe people have a certain insatiable desire to know and understand, so a lot of rumination is done by those reeling from a rejection (e.g. “what did I do wrong?”)”

    Yes totally— in psych this is called the “need for cognition”, which people differ on of course. But isn’t it interesting that something that can benefit us in many other situations (e.g, school & work) could be detrimental in other aspects of our lives (e.g., getting over a rejection).

    @james “After Rachel described self regulation, I realized that each time I feel excluded or rejected, my attentiveness heightens as a way of avoiding another instance of rejection. I found it intriguing that without even realizing it our bodies naturally search for social belonging.”

    Isn’t this super interesting? I always like to think back to how this is exactly how it works with our basic visual attention. Once we see a spider, even if it goes away, we are on heightened alert. It’s so crazy that this pattern carries on up into our complex social environments.

    @anna I think a lot about the ways I’ve grown from high school to college, and it has a lot to do with social acceptance & simply no longer feeling the need to excessively search for the social norm.

    Oh I really like how you put that: excessively search for the social norm. It’s so true that we do that in each situation we come across and how easy it could be to even project a social norm onto our world that isn’t even there! How accurate are we at detecting more ambiguous social norms?
    And yes, LFB’s emotion model is super fascinating! If you ever want to do research, you should try out her lab!

    @hannah “Reading about the delayed gratification reminded me of this thing I remind myself of every now and then which is that we can’t control our initial thought that gut feeling but we can control the second and the ones that follow which means we can then control how we want to react.”

    This is *such* a good thing to remember. Sometimes it feels like our initial reactions must inform our subsequent behavior. It almost feels like a revelation sometimes that we actually have some control over what we do!

    @camerin (i think?): Great point about mood. It’s as though, keeping up the immune metaphor, that our defenses aren’t up and ready to deal with rejection on bad days because they are deployed taking care of all the other stuff that make us unhappy.

    @gracie “I wonder if this is simply a product of directing our attention to things that are just well suited for us.”

    That’s a really interesting hypothesis! I could see this going smoothly if you are sure of the path ahead, but if there’s some uncertainty, it would probably be harder to tell what is advantageous to pay attention to.

    @gaby Re: the beginning example, right?? I can *totally* picture myself in that sidewalk situation. Relatability = scary.

    “I wonder, then, if some studies have focused on testing context as a variable in rejection scenarios by modifying things such as a participant’s age, gender, rejection location and number of people who witness, relationship history, etc.”

    Ohh very interesting. There’s definitely work out there on age (Leah Somerville) and gender, but location and number of people who witness… I don’t know! I’d have to look into it, but those are really interesting potential moderators.

    @grace r: I really enjoyed your reflection of how you utilize these different self-regulatory techniques and how it affects your behavior! Helped me understand how, within one person, all these processes can take place, somewhat simultaneously! Thanks for the explanation.

    @christi “I wonder if there are ways to practice self-regulation before you enter situations when you get rejected – that way, you’ve already mastered them and the overwhelming state of rejection will not impact your ability to utilize these skills.”

    Such a good question— we’ll talk about this in Loss week! And I *totally* agree this should be in middle school education. What a different high school experience I would have had….

    @suyeon: …”since an individual who went through a single rejection after going through multiple acceptances might be less affected by the rejection than the one who was rejected after multiple rejections in the past.”

    This is interesting! I wonder it could even be more nuanced. Some people, after going on a streak of acceptances, might crash HARD when they get that first rejection in awhile. Interesting to think about what would predict which direction people go.

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