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El término rechazo social hace referencia a la circunstancia en la cual un individuo es
excluido en forma deliberada de una relación social o interacción social. El tema incluye
tanto el rechazo interpersonal (o rechazo por los pares) como también el rechazo
romántico. Una persona puede ser rechazada por un individuo o por un grupo de
personas. Además, el rechazo puede ser activo, mediante bullying, teasing, o la
ridiculización, o pasivo, mediante ignorar a la persona, o darle un "tratamiento
silencioso." El receptor de la experiencia de ser rechazado la percibe de manera
subjetiva, y la misma puede ser percibida aún cuando no está presente.
Si bien los humanos son seres sociales, ciertos niveles de rechazo son una parte
inevitable de la vida. Sin embargo, el rechazo puede convertirse en un problema cuando
es prolongado o consistente, cuando la relación es importante, o cuando el individuo es
muy sensible al rechazo. El rechazo por todo un grupo de personas puede tener efectos
muy negativos, particularmente cuando da lugar a una aislación social.1
La experiencia del rechazo puede producir varias consecuencias psicológicas adversas
tales como soledad, baja autoestima, agresión, y depresión.2
También puede producir
sentimientos de inseguridad emocional y aumentar la sensibilidad ante rechazos
1 La necesidad de ser aceptado
2 Rechazo en la niñez
3 Rechazo en el laboratorio
4 Rechazo romántico
5 Véase también
8 Enlaces externos
La necesidad de ser aceptado
El rechazo es especialmente doloroso desde un punto de vista emocional a causa de la
naturaleza social de los seres humanos y nuestra necesidad básica de ser aceptados en
los grupos. Abraham Maslow y otros estudiosos han sugerido que la necesidad de amor
y pertenencia es una motivación humana fundamental.3
Según Maslow, todos los seres
humanos, aún los introvertidos, necesitan ser capaces de dar y recibir afecto para ser
Los psicólogos creen que el simple contacto o interacción social con otros no es
suficiente para satisfacer esta necesidad. De hecho, las personas poseen una fuerte
tendencia emocional a establecer y mantener relaciones interpersonales saludables. Las
personas necesitan tanto de relaciones estables como de interacciones satisfactorias con
las personas en esas relaciones. Si alguno de esos dos ingredientes se encuentra ausente,
las personas comienzan a sentirse solas e infelices.4
Por lo tanto, el rechazo es un tema
importante. En efecto, la mayoría de las ansiedades humanas parecen reflejar temas
vinculados con la exclusión social.5
Ser miembro de un grupo es importante también para la identidad social, que es un
componente clave de la autoestima. Mark Leary de la Universidad Wake Forest ha
sugerido que el propósito principal de la autoestima es vigilar a las relaciones sociales y
detectar rechazo social. Según esta interpretación, la autoestima es un indicador social
que activa emociones negativas cuando aparecen signos de exclusión social.6
Investigaciones en el ámbito de la psicología social confirman las bases motivacionales
de la necesidad de aceptación. De manera específica, el miedo al rechazo conduce a la
conformidad con la presión de los pares (a veces denominada influencia normativa), y
acatamiento frente a las demandas de otros. Nuestras necesidades de afiliación e
interacción social parecen ser particularmente fuertes cuando nos encontramos en
situaciones de estrés.
Rechazo en la niñez
El rechazo por los pares ha sido medido utilizando métodos de sociometría. Los
estudios por lo general indican que algunos niños son populares, y reciben altas
calificaciones, muchos niños se encuentran en la franja media, con calificaciones
promedio, y una cantidad reducida de niños son rechazados, presentando calificaciones
bajas. Una medida de rechazo se obtiene solicitando a los niños que indiquen cuales de
sus pares les gustan o no les gustan. Los niños rechazados reciben pocas "nominaciones
de gustar de ellos" y muchas "nominaciones de que no son gustados”. Los niños
clasificados como dejados de lado reciben pocas nominaciones de ambos tipos.
Según Karen Bierman de la Universidad del Estado de Pensilvania, la mayoría de los
niños que son rechazados por sus pares presentan uno o más de los siguientes patrones
1. Bajos niveles de comportamientos prosociales, por ejemplo: turnarse o
2. Altos niveles de comportamientos agresivos o disruptivos.
3. Altos niveles de comportamientos desatentos, inmaduros, o impulsivos.
4. Altos niveles de ansiedad social.
5. maltrato físico o psicológico bulling.
Bierman afirma que niños apreciados y de los cuales se gusta son socialmente
competentes y saben cuando y como integrarse a grupos de juegos. Los niños que
poseen el riesgo de ser rechazados son más proclives a insertarse de manera disruptiva,
o quedarse fuera sin incorporarse a los juegos. Los niños agresivos que son atléticos o
poseen buenas habilidades sociales es probable que sean aceptados por sus pares, y ellos
se pueden convertir en líderes de grupitos que acosan a niños menos hábiles. Los niños
provenientes de minorías sociales, niños con discapacidades, o niños que poseen
características o comportamientos poco usuales pueden tener un riesgo mayor de ser
rechazados. Dependiendo de las normas del grupo de pares, a veces diferencias
pequeñas entre los niños pueden dar lugar a rechazo o abandono. Es menos probable
que los niños que son menos extrovertidos o simplemente prefieren los juegos solitarios
sean rechazados, por el contrario los niños que son inhibidos a nivel social y presentan
signos de inseguridad emocional o ansiedad tienden a ser rechazados en mayor medida.7
Es más probable que los niños rechazados sean acosados o molestados en la escuela y
en los sitios de juego.
Una vez que se produce el rechazo por los pares, el mismo tiende a permanecer estable
en el tiempo, y por lo tanto es difícil para el niño superarlo.8
Los investigadores han
descubierto que el rechazo activo es más estable, más dañino, y más probable que
continúe luego que un niño es transferido a otra escuela, que el niño que es simplemente
dejado de lado.7
Una razón es que los grupos de pares establecen sesgos de reputación
que actúan como un estereotipo e influyen sobre interacciones sociales posteriores.9
lo tanto, aún cuando niños rechazados y populares puedan presentar comportamientos y
logros similares, los niños populares son tratados de manera mucho más favorable.
Es probable que los niños rechazados tengan baja autoestima, y que posean un riesgo
mayor de internalizar los problemas por ejemplo en forma de depresión.2
rechazados presentan un comportamiento externalizador y muestran agresión en vez de
depresión. La investigación es en gran medida de carácter correlacional, pero existe
evidencia de efectos recíprocos. Esto significa que es más probable que los niños con
problemas sean rechazados, y este rechazo luego de lugar a mayores problemas para
ellos. El rechazo crónico por los pares puede originar un ciclo de desarrollo negativo
que empeora con el paso del tiempo.10
Es más probable que los niños rechazados sean acosados y tengan menos número de
amigos que los niños populares, pero no siempre se dan estas condiciones. Por ejemplo,
algunos niños populares no poseen amigos íntimos, mientras que algunos niños
rechazados si los poseen. Se cree que el rechazo por los pares es menos dañino en los
niños que poseen por lo menos un amigo íntimo.
Un análisis de 15 casos de incidentes con armas de fuego en escuelas entre 1995 y el
2001 mostró que en 13 casos (87%) había situaciones de rechazo por los pares. Las
experiencias documentadas de rechazo incluyeron tanto rechazo agudo como crónico y
muy frecuentemente consistían en situaciones de ostracismo, acoso, y rechazo
romántico. Los autores indicaron que si bien es probable que las experiencias de
rechazo contribuyeron a los incidentes con armas de fuego, otros factores también se
encontraban presentes, tales como depresión, pobre control de los impulsos, y otras
Existen programas para ayudar a niños que sufren rechazo social. Un análisis a gran
escala de 79 estudios controlados concluyeron que el aprendizaje de habilidades
sociales es muy efectivo (r =.40 magnitud del efecto), con una tasa de éxito del 70%,
comparado con una tasa de éxito del 30% en los grupos de control. Esto es un descenso
de la efectividad en el tiempo, sin embargo, algunos estudios de seguimiento posteriores
indicaron una magnitud del efecto algo menor (r =.35).12
Rechazo en el laboratorio
La investigación en el laboratorio ha permitido descubrir que aún el rechazo de corta
duración por parte de extraños puede tener efectos importantes (aunque temporarios) en
un individuo. En varios experimentos de psicología social, las personas elegidas en
forma aleatoria para recibir mensajes de exclusión social se tornan más agresivas, son
más propensas a hacer trampas, menos dispuestas a ayudar a otros, y es más probable
que persigan objetivos de corto plazo en lugar de objetivos a largo plazo. Parecería que
el rechazo muy rápidamente conduce a comportamientos de auto derrota y
Una técnica experimental común es el denominado paradigma de "arrojar la pelota",
que fuera desarrollado por Kip Williams y sus colegas en la Universidad de Purdue.14
En este procedimiento un grupo de tres personas se arrojan una pelota entre sí. Sin que
lo sepa el participante blanco, dos miembros del grupo trabajan para el experimentador
y según una rutina acordada previamente. En un experimento típico la mitad de los
individuos son excluidos de la actividad luego de unos pocos pases y nunca más
vuelven a recibir la pelota. Unos pocos minutos de este tratamiento son suficientes para
producir emociones negativas en el participante blanco, incluidas enojo y tristeza. Este
efecto se produce independientemente de los niveles de autoestima y otras diferencias
en la personalidad.
Se ha desarrollado una versión computarizada de la tarea denominada "pelota
cibernética" y la misma brinda resultados similares. En forma sorprendente, las personas
se sienten rechazadas aún cuando saben que están jugando contra la computadora. En un
grupo de experimentos recientes realizados utilizando la pelota cibernética indican que
el rechazo disminuye el poder de la voluntad o autoregulación. En forma específica, es
más probable que las personas que son rechazadas coman galletitas y menos probable
que beban una bebida de sabor desagradable que se les informa que es buena para ellos.
Estos experimentos también mostraron que los efectos negativos duran más tiempo en
individuos que poseen una ansiedad social elevada.15
Se han detectado diferencias de género en estos experimentos. En un estudio, las
mujeres mostraron tener mayor conexión no verbal mientras que los hombres se
desconectaban con mayor rapidez y utilizaban técnicas para “salvar la cara”, tales como
pretender que no estaban interesados. Los investigadores llegaron a la conclusión que
mientras que las mujeres buscan recuperar su sentido de pertenencia los hombres se
muestran más interesados en recuperar su autoestima.16
Los investigadores también han investigado como es que el cerebro responde frente al
rechazo social. Un estudio descubrió que el cortex del cíngulo anterior dorsal se
encuentra activo cuando las personas experimentan tanto dolor físico como "dolor
social," en respuesta a un rechazo social.17
En otro experimento, en el cual también se
utilizaron imágenes del cerebro por resonancia magnética MRI, se observó que tres
zonas del cerebro se encuentran activas cuando se les muestra a las personas imágenes
que presentan temas de rechazo. Estas zonas son la circunvolución del cíngulo posterior,
la circunvolución del parahipocampo, y el cortex del cíngulo anterior dorsal. No solo
eso, los individuos que poseen una sensibilidad al rechazo elevada (véase mas abajo)
poseen menos actividad en la corteza prefrontal izquierda y la circunvolución frontal
superior dorsal derecha, lo cual podría ser indicador de una menor habilidad para
regular las respuestas emocionales frente al rechazo.18
En un experimento realizado en la Universidad de California at Berkeley se descubrió
que es más probable que los individuos con una combinación de baja autoestima y bajo
control atencional presentan parpadeos típícos de una respuesta sobresaltada al observar
imágenes con temas de rechazo.19
Estos hallazgos indican que las personas que se
sienten mal consigo mismas son especialmente vulnerables al rechazo, pero también que
las personas pueden controlar y regular sus reacciones emocionales. Susto Un estudio
de la Universidad de Miami indica que los individuos que han experimentado
recientemente un rechazo social eran mejores en cuanto a su habilidad para discriminar
entre sonrisas reales y fingidas, que los participantes aceptados y los de control. Si bien
tanto los participantes aceptados como los de control tuvieron resultados mejores que el
aleatorio (no se observaron diferencias entre estos dos grupos), los participantes
rechazados fueron mucho mejores en esta tarea, con casi una tasa de éxito del 80%.20
Este estudio se destaca por ser uno de los pocos casos de una consecuencia positiva o
adaptativa del rechazo social.
En contraste con el estudio sobre rechazo en la niñez, que principalmente estudia el
rechazo por un grupo de pares, algunos investigadores se han dedicado a estudiar el
fenómeno de aquellos casos en que un individuo rechaza a otro en forma individual en
el contexto de una relación romántica. Tanto en adolescentes como en adultos, el
rechazo romántico ocurre cuando una persona se niega a los avances románticos de otra
persona o en forma unilateral finaliza una relación existente. La situación de amor no
correspondido es una experiencia común en la juventud, pero en la medida que las
personas son mayores el amor mutuo es mas frecuente.21
El rechazo romántico es una experiencia emocional dolorosa que parece disparar una
respuesta en el núcleo caudado del cerebro, y una actividad asociada de dopamina y
En forma subjetiva, los individuos rechazados experimentan un conjunto de
emociones negativas, incluyendo frustración, ira intensa, y eventualmente, resignación y
En comparación con lo que ocurre con las mujeres, es más probable que los hombres
reaccionen con ira y agresión al ser rechazados. Cada año más de un millón de mujeres
norteamericanas son acosadas físicamente, y la mayoría son acosadas por un ex -novio,
ex -esposo, o pareja con la que cohabitaba. El 80% de estas mujeres son atacadas
físicamente por el acosador.23
Investigadores de diversos países han demostrado que es
más probable que los acosadores sean hombres, y que los acosadores hombres se tornen
Una razón por la cual el rechazo romántico es tan común en la sociedad es la tendencia
a inclinarse hacia arriba. Las personas por lo general desean formar pareja con
individuos que poseen características más elevadas que las que poseen ellos mismos en
elementos tales como status y atractivo físico, y no con aquellos que poseen
Cuando alguien se enamora de una persona que posee
aspiraciones que son superiores, es poco probable que dicho amor sea correspondido,
por lo que puede conducir a un rechazo.
"Silent treatment" redirects here. For other uses, see Silent treatment (disambiguation).
This scene of the Admonitions Scroll shows an emperor turning away from his consort, his
hand raised in a gesture of rejection and with a look of disdain on his face.
Social rejection occurs when an individual is deliberately excluded from a social
relationship or social interaction for social rather than practical reasons. The topic
includes both interpersonal rejection (or peer rejection) and romantic rejection. A
person can be rejected on an individual basis or by an entire group of people.
Furthermore, rejection can be either active, by bullying, teasing, or ridiculing, or
passive, by ignoring a person, or giving the "silent treatment." The experience of being
rejected is subjective for the recipient, and it can be perceived when it is not actually
present. The word ostracism is often used for the process (in Ancient Greece ostracism
was voting into temporary exile).
Although humans are social beings, some level of rejection is an inevitable part of life.
Nevertheless, rejection can become a problem when it is prolonged or consistent, when
the relationship is important, or when the individual is highly sensitive to rejection.
Rejection by an entire group of people can have especially negative effects, particularly
when it results in social isolation.
The experience of rejection can lead to a number of adverse psychological
consequences such as loneliness, low self-esteem, aggression, and depression.
also lead to feelings of insecurity and a heightened sensitivity to future rejection.[citation
Need for acceptance
Rejection may be emotionally painful because of the social nature of human beings and
the need of social interaction between other humans is essential. Abraham Maslow and
other theorists have suggested that the need for love and belongingness is a fundamental
According to Maslow, all humans, even introverts, need to be able
to give and receive affection to be psychologically healthy.
Psychologists believe that simple contact or social interaction with others is not enough
to fulfill this need. Instead, people have a strong motivational drive to form and
maintain caring interpersonal relationships. People need both stable relationships and
satisfying interactions with the people in those relationships. If either of these two
ingredients is missing, people will begin to feel lonely and unhappy.
Thus, rejection is
a significant threat. In fact, the majority of human anxieties appear to reflect concerns
over social exclusion.
Being a member of a group is also important for social identity, which is a key
component of the self-concept. Mark Leary of Duke University has suggested that the
main purpose of self-esteem is to monitor social relations and detect social rejection. In
this view, self-esteem is a sociometer which activates negative emotions when signs of
Social psychological research confirms the motivational basis of the need for
acceptance. Specifically, fear of rejection leads to conformity to peer pressure
(sometimes called normative influence), and compliance to the demands of others. Our
need for affiliation and social interaction appears to be particularly strong when we are
under stress.
Rejection in childhood
Peer rejection has been measured using sociometry and other rating methods. Studies
typically show that some children are popular, receiving generally high ratings, many
children are in the middle, with moderate ratings, and a minority of children are
rejected, showing generally low ratings. One measure of rejection asks children to list
peers they like and dislike. Rejected children receive few "like" nominations and many
"dislike" nominations. Children classified as neglected receive few nominations of
either type.
According to Karen Bierman of Pennsylvania State University, most children who are
rejected by their peers display one or more of the following behavior patterns:
1. Low rates of prosocial behavior, e.g. taking turns, sharing.
2. High rates of aggressive or disruptive behavior.
3. High rates of inattentive, immature, or impulsive behavior.
4. High rates of social anxiety.
Bierman states that well-liked children show social savvy and know when and how to
join play groups. Children who are at risk for rejection are more likely to barge in
disruptively, or hang back without joining at all. Aggressive children who are athletic or
have good social skills are likely to be accepted by peers, and they may become
ringleaders in the harassment of less skilled children. Minority children, children with
disabilities, or children who have unusual characteristics or behavior may face greater
risks of rejection. Depending on the norms of the peer group, sometimes even minor
differences among children lead to rejection or neglect. Children who are less outgoing
or simply prefer solitary play are less likely to be rejected than children who are socially
inhibited and show signs of insecurity or anxiety.
Rejected children are more likely to be bullied at school and on playgrounds.
Peer rejection, once established, tends to be stable over time, and thus difficult for a
child to overcome.
Researchers have found that active rejection is more stable, more
harmful, and more likely to persist after a child transfers to another school, than simple
One reason for this is that peer groups establish reputational biases that act as
stereotypes and influence subsequent social interaction.
Thus, even when rejected
and popular children show similar behavior and accomplishments, popular children are
treated much more favorably.
Rejected children are likely to have lower self-esteem, and to be at greater risk for
internalizing problems like depression.
Some rejected children display externalizing
behavior and show aggression rather than depression. The research is largely
correlational, but there is evidence of reciprocal effects. This means that children with
problems are more likely to be rejected, and this rejection then leads to even greater
problems for them. Chronic peer rejection may lead to a negative developmental cycle
that worsens with time.
Rejected children are more likely to be bullied and to have fewer friends than popular
children, but these conditions are not always present. For example, some popular
children do not have close friends, whereas some rejected children do. Peer rejection is
believed to be less damaging for children with at least one close friend.
An analysis of 15 school shootings between 1995 and 2001 found that peer rejection
was present in all but two of the cases (87%). The documented rejection experiences
included both acute and chronic rejection and frequently took the form of ostracism,
bullying, and romantic rejection. The authors stated that although it is likely that the
rejection experiences contributed to the school shootings, other factors were also
present, such as depression, poor impulse control, and other psychopathology.
There are programs available for helping children who suffer from social rejection. One
large scale review of 79 controlled studies found that social skills training is very
effective (r = .40 effect size), with a 70% success rate, compared to 30% success in
control groups. There was a decline in effectiveness over time, however, with follow-up
studies showing a somewhat smaller effect size (r = .35).
Rejection in the laboratory
Laboratory research has found that even short-term rejection from strangers can have
powerful (if temporary) effects on an individual. In several social psychology
experiments, people chosen at random to receive messages of social exclusion become
more aggressive, more willing to cheat, less willing to help others, and more likely to
pursue short-term over long-term goals. Rejection appears to lead very rapidly to self-
defeating and antisocial behavior.
Researchers have also investigated how the brain responds to social rejection. One study
found that the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex is active when people are experiencing
both physical pain and "social pain," in response to social rejection.
experiment, also using fMRI neuroimaging, found that three regions become active
when people are exposed to images depicting rejection themes. These areas are the
posterior cingulate, the parahippocampal gyrus, and the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex.
Furthermore, individuals who are high in rejection sensitivity (see below) show less
activity in the left prefrontal cortex and the right dorsal superior frontal gyrus, which
may indicate less ability to regulate emotional responses to rejection.
A recent experiment at the University of California at Berkeley found that individuals
with a combination of low self-esteem and low attentional control are more likely to
exhibit eye-blink startle responses while viewing rejection themed images.
findings indicate that people who feel bad about themselves are especially vulnerable to
rejection, but that people can also control and regulate their emotional reactions.
A study at Miami University indicated that individuals who recently experienced social
rejection were better than both accepted and control participants in their ability to
discriminate between real and fake smiles. Though both accepted and control
participants were better than chance (they did not differ from each other), rejected
participants were much better at this task, nearing 80% accuracy.
This study is
noteworthy in that it is one of the few cases of a positive or adaptive consequence of
Ball Toss / Cyberball Experiments
A common experimental technique is the "ball toss" paradigm, which was developed by
Kip Williams and his colleagues at Purdue University.
This procedure involves a
group of three people tossing a ball back and forth. Unbeknownst to the actual
participant, two members of the group are working for the experimenter and following a
pre-arranged script. In a typical experiment, half of the subjects will be excluded from
the activity after a few tosses and never get the ball again. Only a few minutes of this
treatment are sufficient to produce negative emotions in the target, including anger and
sadness. This effect occurs regardless of self-esteem and other personality differences.
Gender differences have been found in these experiments. In one study, women showed
greater nonverbal engagement whereas men disengaged faster and showed face-saving
techniques, such as pretending to be uninterested. The researchers concluded that
women seek to regain a sense of belonging whereas men are more interested in
A computerized version of the task known as "cyberball" has also been developed and
leads to similar results.
Cyberball is a virtual ball toss game where the participant is
led to believe they are playing with two other participants sitting at computers
elsewhere who can toss the ball to either player. The participant is included in the game
for the first few minutes, but then excluded by the other players for the remaining three
minutes. This simple and short time period of ostracism has been found to produce
significant increases to self-reported levels of anger and sadness, as well as lowering
levels of the four needs. These effects have been found even when the participant is
ostracised by out-group members,
when the out-group member is a despised
person such as someone in the Ku Klux Klan,
when they know the source of the
ostracism is just a computer,
and even when being ostracised means they will be
financially rewarded and being included would incur a financial cost.
Surprisingly, people feel rejected even when they know they are only playing against
the computer. A recent set of experiments using cyberball demonstrated that rejection
impairs will power or self-regulation. Specifically, people who are rejected are more
likely to eat cookies and less likely to drink an unpleasant tasting beverage that they are
told is good for them. These experiments also showed that the negative effects of
rejection last longer in individuals who are high in social anxiety.
The psychology of ostracism
Most of the research on the psychology of ostracism has been conducted by the social
psychologist Kip Williams. He and his colleagues have devised a model of ostracism
which provides a framework to show the complexity in the varieties of ostracism and
the processes of its effects. There he theorises that ostracism can potentially be so
harmful that we have evolved an efficient warning system to immediately detect and
respond to it.
In the animal kingdom as well as in primitive human societies, ostracism can lead to
death due to the lack of protection benefits and access to sufficient food resources from
Living apart from the whole of society also means not having a mate, so
being able to detect ostracism would be a highly adaptive response to ensure survival
and continuation of the genetic line.
It is proposed that ostracism uniquely poses a threat to four fundamental human needs;
the need to belong, the need for control in social situations, the need to maintain high
levels of self-esteem, and the need to have a sense of a meaningful existence.
threat to these needs produces psychological distress and pain. Thus, people are
motivated to remove this pain with behaviours aimed at reducing the likelihood of
others ostracising them any further and increasing their inclusionary status.
In contrast to the study of childhood rejection, which primarily examines rejection by a
group of peers, some researchers focus on the phenomenon of a single individual
rejecting another in the context of a romantic relationship. In both teenagers and adults,
romantic rejection occurs when a person refuses the romantic advances of another,
ignores/avoids or is repulsed by someone who is romantically interested in them, or
unilaterally ends an existing relationship. The state of unrequited love is a common
experience in youth, but mutual love becomes more typical as people get older.
Romantic rejection is a painful, emotional experience that appears to trigger a response
in the caudate nucleus of the brain, and associated dopamine and cortisol activity.
Subjectively, rejected individuals experience a range of negative emotions, including
frustration, intense anger, jealousy, and eventually, resignation, and despair.
Men are significantly more likely than women to react with rage and aggression when
rejected. Every year, over a million American women are stalked, and the majority are
stalked by a former boyfriend, husband, or live-in partner. 80% of these women are
physically attacked by their stalker.
Researchers in a variety of countries have
demonstrated that stalkers are more likely to be male, and that male stalkers are more
likely to become violent.
One reason why romantic rejection is so common in society is a tendency called falling
upward. People generally desire mates that are higher than themselves on such
characteristics as status and physical attractiveness, and are usually unattracted to and
even repulsed by ones who are lower.
When someone falls in love with a person who
has aspirations, qualities, achievements, etc., that are higher than their own, that love is
less likely to be reciprocated, potentially leading to rejection.
Karen Horney was the first theorist to discuss the phenomenon of rejection
She suggested that it is a component of the neurotic personality, and that
it is a tendency to feel deep anxiety and humiliation at the slightest rebuff. Simply being
made to wait, for example, could be viewed as a rejection and met with extreme anger
Albert Mehrabian developed an early questionnaire measure of rejection sensitivity.
Mehrabian suggested that sensitive individuals are reluctant to express opinions, tend to
avoid arguments or controversial discussions, are reluctant to make requests or impose
on others, are easily hurt by negative feedback from others, and tend to rely too much
on familiar others and situations so as to avoid rejection.
A more recent (1996) definition of rejection sensitivity is the tendency to "anxiously
expect, readily perceive, and overreact" to social rejection.
People differ in their
readiness to perceive and react to rejection.
The causes of individual differences in
rejection sensitivity are not well understood. Because of the association between
rejection sensitivity and neuroticism, there is a likely a genetic predisposition.
posit that rejection sensitivity stems from early attachment relationships and parental
also peer rejection is thought to play a role.
Bullying, an extreme
form of peer rejection, is likely connected to later rejection sensitivity.
there is no conclusive evidence for any of these theories.
Rejection in fiction, film, and art
Artistic depictions of rejection occur in a variety of art forms. One example of rejection
in art is Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s sculpture of the Greek deity, Apollo. In this work, the
mythical nymph, Daphne depicts the act of rejection. Apollo had been filled with
passion for Daphne, but she repeatedly rejected his advances. The sculpture portrays the
moment when Daphne cries out for safety from Apollo and as a result is transformed
into a laurel tree. Apollo has been defeated and turns away, rejected.
Depictions of rejection also occur in film. One genre of film that most frequently
depicts rejection is romantic comedies. In the film He's Just Not That Into You the main
characters deal with the challenges of reading and misreading human behavior. This
presents a fear of rejection in romantic relationships as reflected in this quote by the
character Mary, “And now you have to go around checking all these different portals
just to get rejected by seven different technologies. It’s exhausting.” 
Social rejection is also depicted in theatrical plays and musicals. For example, the film
Hairspray shares the story of Tracy Turnblad, an overweight 15 year old dancer set in
the 1960s. Tracy and her mother are faced with overcoming society’s expectations
regarding weight and physical appearances.
Handling Social Rejection, Mistakes, and Setbacks
An obstacle that prevents many people improving their social skills and going after the
life they want is that they fear rejection. They fear being embarrassed in the process of
getting turned down. They fear getting the message that they're not good enough. They
fear having to feel worse about themselves. They fear making a mistake or experiencing
a setback that will bring about those feelings of discouragement and unworthiness.
It's something that everyone needs to work on. If you remain too afraid of rejection your
life will stagnate. Too many of the things you need to do to improve your social success
have an element of risk to them. Starting conversations with people, expressing your
opinions, and inviting people to hang out are just a few.
This won't be some unrealistic article that will try to tell you that rejection and mistakes
are no big deal and that you can learn to completely get over them. It hurts to be
rejected or suffer a setback. We all get nervous when we have to take a social risk. No
one is totally able not to care. However, some people are much better able to handle
rejection than others. They can bounce back from it quicker, are able to frame it more
constructively, and don't let it affect their self-image as much.
This article will cover three sub-topics:
How you'll naturally become more able to handle rejection as you have more success
Dealing with your fear of rejection
Ways to recover from a rejection once one happens to you
Traits of people who aren't great at dealing with rejection
People who have a hard time with social rejection tend to have a lot of the following
apply to them:
They haven't had much objective social success yet.
They've decided their self-esteem hinges on becoming more socially successful.
Every rejection, mistake, or setback rocks them to the core and makes them feel flawed
They feel they've already been rejected many times in the past, and think they can't
take much more.
They feel all rejection is horrible, and that ideally they shouldn't ever be rejected by
anybody. They feel they have to make everyone they meet like and accept them.
They feel like getting rejected or making a gaffe will be really embarrassing and
painful in the moment it happens.
They think their rejections will haunt them forever and hinder their future efforts.
They think they'll be humiliated in the moment, everyone will know what happened,
and that they'll never be able to live it down.
They have a scarcity mentality. They think social opportunities are rare, and that if
they blow a chance they've really set themselves back.
They think one or a handful of rejections are a sign that their situation is hopeless and
they should give up.
They may get resentful and bitter the more they're rejected, and overgeneralize and
develop a negative attitude towards the entire category of people they see as having
shunned them ("A handful of particular artists don't want to hang out with me" vs. "All
artists don't want to be with me.") They may develop an attitude of, "Well, I don't really
want to be friends with them after all" as a defense mechanism.
Additionally, some people may be hardwired to be more sensitive to rejection.
As you have more social success and gain experience with rejection, your attitude to it
will tend to change
People who have an easier time with rejection fit the description below. Their resistance
to rejection comes from them actually having had some real-world success:
They're not totally immune to the sting of rejection. They may still hesitate to face it,
and they may still feel down if someone isn't interested in them. Their confidence and
comfort with facing rejection will still have its ups and downs. However, overall they
have more internal resources for dealing with it.
They're not necessarily the world's most popular people, but they've had success in
the social world. They have friends. They know they're well-liked by at least some
people. They've received direct evidence that they're not irreparably flawed. They
'know' they're worthy and feel they no longer have anything to prove. If someone rejects
them they've had the life experience where they can truly think, "Whatever, I've already
had friends who are way better than this person. I'm not going to lose sleep over them
not wanting to hang out."
They've been rejected and made mistakes before many times and have seen firsthand
that they can survive it, and that it doesn't ultimately get in the way of their having the
social life they want. Past experience has told them that if they keep at it, they'll hit their
They have an abundance mentality. If one group or person turns them down, they can
truly say they've got other prospects or existing friends to fall back on.
Constructive attitudes towards rejection and slip ups
People who handle rejection better also develop more healthy attitudes towards it. These
also tend to come about as a side effect of their positive experiences. The typical
productive attitudes are:
They know when someone doesn't want to talk to them or hang out it's often not a
true rejection at all. The person was just distracted or had other plans, and has nothing
against them as a person.
When they are rejected for real, they know it's not always a reflection on them and
may be because the other person was having a bad day.
They know they can't be a good match for everyone they meet.
They know that rejection is just part of the process of trying to do things like form a
social life. They realize making friends is partially a numbers game. They think long
term, and focus on what their end goal is, rather than worrying how any one interaction
They realize everyone gets rejected at times, even self-assured, good looking people
who seem to have it easy.
They realize that trying to avoid all rejection would mean embracing a safe, boring,
They see rejected as a way to screen out people who wouldn't have been a good
match for them anyway. They almost see getting rejected by someone as a favor, since
they've been given a clear message that they should put their energy into pursuing other
They realize some rejections are a good thing, like if a bigot rejects them for being
They realize no one else cares all that much if they get rejected. They may even
admire them for having the guts to risk going for what they want.
They see every 'no' as one step forward towards them getting a 'yes'.
They see rejection as an opportunity to gain feedback and learn from their mistakes.
Getting past the Catch-22
I totally realize the Catch-22 inherent in what I've described above: To get to a point
where a fear of rejection doesn't hinder your having social success... you have to already
have had some social success. Yeah, really actionable advice there. Here are my
thoughts on how you can bridge the gap:
Get that first little taste of success and let things snowball from there
The good thing about having the mentality where you're good at facing rejection is that
once it takes hold it tends to build on itself. It subjectively feels better to have, and it
propels you towards even more success in the future, which reinforces your new
attitudes further. Don't base your self-esteem on whether you can become the most
popular, charismatic person in the world overnight. If you can get some small,
achievable amount of social success, that will build your confidence and give you the
momentum to make bigger gains. This can be a gradual process. It's not like you'll get
one friend and suddenly become fearless, but like I said, once the ball starts rolling it
tends to keep going.
Getting that first bit of success and handling that first batch of rejections is the hardest
Like with working on other social issues, the trickiest party is often right at the
beginning when you're trying to get those initial positive results. The first few times you
purposefully stick your neck out and get rejected are the toughest. Those first few
friends may be the hardest ones to make. After you're over the hump the rest of the way
can be a lot smoother.
Try to adopt the healthy attitudes towards rejection
Above I listed many of the more productive, healthy views towards rejection. For the
most part you'll start to develop them as you become more successful. However,
sometimes just reading about an alternative attitude can help instill it in you. If that
happens for you, great. However, don't try and force yourself to have a different
mentality too much. Like I said, the majority of your attitude change will come as you
have new experiences.
Facing your fear of rejection
Like with other types of fears, the best way to get past a fear of rejection is to face it and
learn firsthand that you can handle it. This article and this article go into more detail.
Put yourself in situations where there's a risk of rejection, starting with ones that feel
easier and more manageable and working your way up. No one ever fully kills off their
discomfort with getting rejected, but they can get much better at facing it.
When you confront your fear of rejection, by definition that means you're going to be
getting rejected more. Farther down I talk about some approaches to feeling better after
that happens. You'll need to use those strategies. You've got to get yourself used to
being in situations where you risk rejection, but you've also got to be able to have a
healthy, ultimately beneficial response to it when it happens. If you don't, and you still
take a negative message from being turned down, all the additional rejections can just
make you feel worse about yourself.
Your attitude towards being rejected can change once you purposefully start working on
Some people might have read the point above and thought, "I've already been rejected a
ton of times. I haven't gotten used to it. If anything, I hate it more now." What I've
found is that there can be a big difference between when you have information about
what you need to do, and you're deliberately and systematically working on an issue,
compared to before when you had no idea and were more bumbling along as best you
In the past someone may have just tried to make friends, with no real plan behind it, and
when they got rejected they were completely thrown for a loop. After reading more
about social skills and how to face their fear of rejection, they could come in with a
totally different approach. They'd know, "Okay, here's what I need to try and do. It's
possible I may be rejected. That's okay. If it happens I'll do x,y,z. If not I'll do..." The
whole exercise feels more like a detached project, and the outcome doesn't feel as much
like a core reflection of their worthiness as a person.
Expect rejection and prepare for it ahead of time
Some people find they have less fear of rejection if they acknowledge it's a possibility
going into a situation, and they have a plan in place to prepare for it. It's easier to ask
someone if they want to hang out if you've already partially made peace with the fact
that they may say no. Some readers may be thinking, "No, expecting rejection ahead of
time is my whole problem. And anticipating it makes me feel worse, not more in
control." This suggestion may not apply to everyone. Again, going back to the previous
point, once some people start actively addressing their fear, and not working in a
reactive, moment-to-moment way, their response to it may change.
Rejection often isn't as bad as you imagine it will be
Don't get me wrong, I totally realize some rejections are hard to take, and right below
this point I give several suggestions for dealing with that. Sometimes though we'll dread
a possible rejection ahead of time, but in the moment when it actually happens, it
doesn't hit us as hard as we thought it would. Our response is more, "...Oh...oh, okay
then. I guess they don't want to be friends", rather than, "Agh, this is horrible. I can't
stand it!" You may also find your attitude toward the other person quickly morphs to an
annoyed or indifferent one, instead of your feeling dejected; "Well, if they don't want to
hang out with me, then I don't want to hang out with them."
Again, some readers may reply, "No, rejection is as bad as I imagine it is. And I've had
it happen to me so many times that it's even worse now." This is another point that may
not be the perfect fit for everyone. And again, the idea that your mentality may change
if you start proactively tackling your rejection issues may apply here too.
Ways to feel better following a tough rejection or mistake
In the long run rejection will start to affect you less. Plus, at any stage in the process
there are going be plenty of rejections that we get over very easily. Like if we ask a
bunch of co-workers if they want to meet up for drinks in the evening, and four of them
say they can't make it, we many not give it a second thought. Or we may not care if we
unsuccessfully try to chat to two people at a party before we end up hitting it off with a
However, if you're used to it or not, there are still times where a particular setback may
hit us hard and we need to try and make ourselves feel better. Here are some
Give yourself time to feel down about it
A lot of rejections won't affect you much, but if one does hit you harder that's okay. It's
totally normal to sometimes feel down about this kind of thing. It doesn't help to try and
force yourself to feel completely differently, or tell yourself you 'shouldn't' care as much
as you do. If it bothers you, it bothers you. One day down the road you likely won't let it
get to you as much, but for now it does. It goes without saying though that you don't
want to dwell on the rejection for too long or let it totally paralyze you from doing other
things. Depending on how much the rejection stings, give yourself anywhere from a few
days to a few weeks to feel bummed out, then take more active steps to put it behind
If the rejection was fairly run-of-the-mill then you may just need a day or two to get it
out of your system. With the exception of extreme traumas, our minds are good at
getting things back to business as usual and not letting us feel the same emotion for too
long. What you'll probably also find is that the more experience you have with rejection,
the quicker you'll naturally recover from it. At first getting turned down may knock you
out for a solid few days. With time you'll still feel it, but the worst of the emotions may
pass in a day and half instead. You may even start to get over minor, routine rejections
Use general approaches to making yourself feel better
This is standard advice. Allow yourself to feel bad for a bit right after the rejection, but
after that start doing things that will help pick up your mood and remind you that you've
got a lot of other good things going on in your life. Go do something really fun.
Exercise. Talk to someone about how you feel and get it off your chest.
Watch how you think about and explain the rejection
This is an essential point. When you get rejected you don't want to create a takeaway
message from it that reinforce feelings of helplessness and low self-esteem. Catching
and challenging your self-critical, unrealistic thoughts can help prevent that. This isn't to
contradict the earlier point. If you feel bad, that's okay, and this isn't about trying to
force your thinking to be perfect so you won't feel a normal response. It's more about
being on guard for thoughts that may make things even worse. This article gives an
overview of disputing negative thoughts.
One thing you want to look for in particular is the explanation you give yourself for
why the rejection happened. You may tend to blame it all on your supposed personal
flaws and generalize the one setback to mean no one could ever like you and your social
issues will never get better. You might also unquestionably assume people have a
negative opinion of you.
Take the time to consider more innocuous explanations. First, question whether you
even experienced a true rejection, or something that just felt like one. Maybe someone
didn't answer a question of yours and you assumed it was because they were offended
and hated you, when they just couldn't think of an answer, or their mind momentarily
went elsewhere. Some other examples:
"She didn't want to talk to me because we just didn't have much in common. Oh well,
can't hit it off with everyone. Maybe the next person will be different." vs. "She didn't
want to talk to me because I'm so awkward. No one will ever like me."
"He didn't invite me to the party because he didn't have my phone number" vs. "He
didn't invite me to the party because he thinks I'm totally boring, which I am."
"That conversation didn't go well because he was obviously distracted by the paper
he has due tomorrow." vs. "That conversation didn't go well because people think I'm
lame and I never can think of anything to say."
"He didn't return my call because of a mix up. He thought I knew he was out of town
this week." vs. "He didn't return my call because he hates me and is just making
Put the rejection in perspective
Sometimes it can also help to take a step back and think about how important the
rejection really was in the grand scheme of things. Right in the aftermath of being
rejected someone's thoughts may be a bit overblown and they'll think things like, "That
was my only chance to make friends. Now that they've turned me down I'll be alone all
year" or "They seemed like they'd be the perfect friend for me. My social life will never
be the same without them." If they think more realistically and put things in perspective
they may realize the classmate who didn't want to be friends with them was just one
prospect of dozens, or that they actually didn't have that much in common with the
person who turned down their invitation. The rejections were hardly 'make or break' for
their social lives. Don't go too far and totally trash the people who rejected you. Just
think about the impact of their rejection in more balanced terms.
Keep pursuing other prospects
Rejection is a lot harder to take if you thought you blew the one good chance you had
going on at the moment. Ideally at the time you got rejected you were also pursuing
other social opportunities. Just knowing that can take a lot of the rejection's impact
away. If not, then take steps to cultivate some new prospects. Send your mind the
message that the recent rejection was just a hiccup, and that you've got a lot of things
coming down the pipeline that may turn out better.
Re-frame the rejection and see what value you can get from it
This isn't to say that if you look for a silver lining in a rejection that it will instantly cut
off any negative emotions you're experiencing, but it can provide some relief. Think
about what learning opportunities and lessons the rejection provided. Maybe the pain
you're going through now will give you information that will help you avoid further
mistakes down the road. If you can figure out a gaffe you made, it can also take some of
the sting away because you can tell yourself it was a correctable error that caused the
rejection, not your core personality.
There are tons of examples I could come up with. One might be someone who got the
cold shoulder at a party from a group of people they tried to talk to. In hindsight they
may have realized the group was giving clear signs that they were having a private,
personal conversation, and that they barged in and tried to argue with everyone about
politics. A different kind of example may be a guy who unsuccessfully tried to make
friends with two co-workers. After thinking about it more, he may decide that he didn't
really have anything in common with them, and just automatically felt they should try
and be buddies because they seemed popular with everyone else in the office.
Give yourself credit for trying, and having the guts to take a risk
You're actively working on your issues. You're making progress. You were able to take
a chance and put yourself out there. Not everyone is able to do that. Maybe that sounds
a bit schmaltzy and 'Rah Rah Rah!', but I think it is important and not an
accomplishment you should just brush off.
Try to get outside feedback if you keep getting rejected and you don't know why
Some people feel like they're constantly being rejected, even when they try and correct
their mistakes, and they can't put a finger on why. I think if something like this has been
happening to you it's best to seek some outside advice. You may have some blind spots
that you need someone else to point out. It's best to ask someone who can observe you
in person, rather than putting a "I don't know what I'm doing wrong" post up on a
message board, where the other forum members won't have much more information to
go on than you do. If you have a friend or family member you feel you can ask, you can
go them. Not everyone is comfortable giving people potentially hurtful feedback
though. It could also be useful to hear the thoughts of a professional counselor.