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Why Does Being Excluded From a Clique as an Adult Sting So Badly?



More than that, though, it’s how we’re wired. “We believe those who were sensitive to ostracism were at an evolutionary advantage,” Dr. Williams says. “If you were ousted, you were going to die. But if you could pick up on it quickly and change your behavior accordingly, your genes were going to continue on in the future.”

Adapting to avoid that fate might be why we still experience rejection like a punch to the gut—literally: “There’s overlap in the brain between physical pain and social pain,” Dr. Williams explains. “We use the same neural architecture to detect and experience both.” Even wilder, some research has shown that people feel better in the face of rejection when they pop acetaminophen first. (But Dr. Williams calls that more theoretically interesting than practically applicable—put down the Tylenol, please.)

Pain aside, the psychological effects of feeling excluded are no joke either. “It threatens the need to belong,” Dr. Williams says. “It threatens the need to maintain a reasonably high self-esteem. It threatens the need to feel that you have control over your social situation. And it threatens your sense of being acknowledged and worthy of attention.”

All of those things are the building blocks of what Dr. Williams calls “meaningful existence.” In other words, uh, why wouldn’t you care?

How to soothe the sting of rejection

So what can you do about this inconvenient and (literally) painful experience? To short-circuit the sting altogether, not much, according to Dr. Williams: It’s a natural reaction that’s hard to override, he says. But you can get better at responding to the negative feelings that inevitably pop up.

In the moment, you can focus on making yourself feel better—or at least stopping yourself from stewing. That can look like concentrating on your breathing until the initial pain passes, distracting yourself with a good song or funny video, or reaching out to people (or animals) who do make you feel supported, says Dr. Williams.

If the feeling sticks around, you might need to examine it more closely. Asking yourself “What am I feeling and why?” tends to be a good place to start. Sure, you may be hurt because you weren’t invited to that dinner party, but you may also feel sad because you want to be friends with those people; annoyed because you think they forgot about you; inadequate because you assume there’s a personal reason why they didn’t include you—or any number of emotions for any number of reasons.


Once you zero in on the specifics, you’ll have more information on how best to address the problem, or at least cope. Your feelings might be hinting at anything from “I assumed the host would’ve invited me—it’s probably time to check up on that friendship” to “Damn, I wish I knew more people who threw dinner parties. Maybe there’s a local group for that.”

Your overall mental health and coping skills make a big difference in how you weather the social pangs of daily life too. “While people’s first response to feeling excluded is pretty uniformly negative, we do see individual differences in how quickly some people recover compared to others,” Dr. Williams says. For example, if you deal with depression or anxiety, you may be more likely to ruminate, which can make you feel worse, he explains. For that reason, he recommends bolstering foundational mental health skills like mindfulness, self-affirmation, emotional regulation, and resilience.

As for what not to do, Dr. Williams warns against a common reaction: avoidance. It can be tempting to steer clear of social situations where you may feel left out, but that tends to make the problem worse. “What that means is you don’t put yourself out there,” Dr. Williams says. “You don’t allow others to reject you, so you become more reclusive, or at least less likely to be socially proactive.” And all that, in turn, can make you more sensitive to the whole feeling you were trying to avoid in the first place.

If all else fails, try finding solace in how universal it is to feel like the odd one out. “It’s a relief to know that we all find this painful,” Dr. Williams says. “It’s not a problem that you feel this way. It’s how you deal with it that makes a difference.”


Source: Self

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