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Rejection Hurts.

I've been reading some research work on the mental and physical reactions to various forms of social rejection (of course, with the normal caveats of avoiding correlation equals causation etc). For anyone who's interested in the science, I can post references.
I believe this is relevant to readers of ILIASM.

People describe rejection as being heart-broken, wounded, stabbed in the back, and Tibetans apparently refer to it as being "hit in the heart" - which strangely was the exact phrase I used to my W to describe the impact of her repeated brutal refusals. And in some WTF moments, I was literally unable to breathe, bereft - a very physical reaction. And I've read recently on this forum, posts describing it like being "knifed in the heart".

And, as I've posted, I would cheerfully treat those who parrot "a refusal is not a rejection" to a nice bath in some boiling sulphuric acid. After all, it's only pH.

The experiments have illustrated:

a) A similarity between emotional response to rejection and actual physical pain, in brain responses
b) A link between the somatic response to rejection and physical pain! Giving people paracetemol lessened their vulnerability to feelings of rejection
c) People naturally vary in their sensitivity to rejection; teenagers do more, introverts do more. There may be a genetic link. Also a link with kid's early environment, whether this was "safe". Also, loneliness exacerbates, increasing contact with friends decreases.

They refer to the "brain being on the alert in an unrelenting way" - there are many examples here of that continuing stress.

I think these results are powerful and suggestive. For one thing, I encourage you all to take seriously that ongoing structural rejection (particularly by your nominal lover) is actually and physically harmful. You are allowing harm to come to you, the pain is a signal to change the environment. It has the potential to damage your health. A feeling of being accepted and safe in a social context is one of the most important factors in our wellbeing.

Second, as well as the "obvious" thing of networking and increasing your own support circle outside the refuser, they found an interesting thing that rejection was lessened if you GIVE support to others. So participating in helping others, volunteering etc, can help you.

I'm also an advocate (if not a very good example) of the benefits of exercise - I think the natural opioids are probably pretty good for us.

I would NOT recommend taking paracetemol to deaden the pain, quite apart from the health risks, I believe painful feelings are there for a very good reason.
hl42 hl42 51-55, M 32 Responses Dec 17, 2012

Your Response


Nice post. For those who scoff at the impact or rejection, I have posted this before. There was a cruel study done in the old USSR, after WWII, with infant which the babies were divided into two control groups. One group, was denied human interaction of any kind beyond the basis feeding, changing of diapers, etc...the other, was nurtured and given plenty of love and interaction and attention. The first group, denied, as adults were severely dysfunctional and cold, unable to connect and interact with others...had low self esteem and low egos. The other group, given love and attention, grew up to be normal, feeling, affectionate adults.

The same thing will happen to one's self image and self worth...their egos, if withheld love and affection by their significant others.

"not feeling emotionally safe" sounds familiar. I find I confide less in him, about anything. It's all pretty much talk about the kids, intellectual discussions, mundane household matters ("I'll make dinner tonight, your grey pants are back from the cleaners, etc.) the occasional joke.

He's slowly becoming like an amiable co-worker to me--someone you work well enough with, even like, but would never pour your heart out to.

Yes, that's what happened, Putfeelingaside, to my husband and I. Finally, I realized that I had no interest in him, and then it was easy to divorce him. He no longer was an important part of my life, just a drain on it.

I'm glad this cycled up again. Seriously - you, bazzar, Apocrypha, Mettamomma, and some of the other people here should collaborate on a book.

Thanks, though not something people would buy. They want to buy false hope.

My refuser always said I should write a book. I don't think he imagined it could be on this subjec,t though.

You could write a book on this topic and dedicate it to him. :-)

Excellent! Perhaps one of those absurdly (and likely ironically) floury dedications to their patron that books used to... "your humble & obedient servant" sounds right. Or EX humble & obedient servant, Viva la SLF!

PS, you are aware of course that WP has already done the book....?

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Being rejected sucks

This I'm sure should help some ppl that post to this group. ;0)

Love it. The part: "A feeling of being accepted and safe in a social context is one of the most important factors in our wellbeing." is why I joined this group.
btw there has been recent evidence that the same chemical released in physical trauma is also released in emotional trauma.

Ah, but you are supporting your own well-being (not to mention ours) just by being here and by sharing your research. Well done. And I was just reaching for my paracetemol this morning. Good thing you warned me against it. Your analysis paragraph (c) is most true.... getting out and about with other people is a distraction which lessens the stress hormone levels - and if done in the right company can increase testosterone release!

Go for it!

To answer one of your questions my wife ended our sexual relations six years ago.

Thanks for the update - I had a look at your description of one of your hiking trips, sounded great "fun" - care in the community at your risk?! I've done a swag trip in the MacDonalds, but that was pretty tame as we had a vehicle pretty close & satellite phone available...

It sounds fairly unilateral behavior from your wife. Would it be useful at all for you to post your story, or are you not seeking feedback?

If you read more here, you might spot I'm not a great fan of the sexual addiction label - I guess it depends how useful a metaphor it is for you, and that you are able to resist the limitations implied.

So did mine just said I don't want sex anymore & don't touch me.

Thank you for referring me to was helpful.


Have been hiking / camping for a week so no response possible by myself until now.

I take your point about vocabulary. I should have thanked you for introducing me to a new word. It was remiss of me not to do so before.

I am unaware on the "Aven" reference. Shall google it. Thank you again for your willingness to share.

My interest stems from a sexual addiction that I suffer from. Working with some counsellors in this field, attending support groups ( eg SA, SLAA, SAA, AA, Al Anon, CoDA ) has led to learning tools to interrupt the obsessive thinking and halt compulsive behaviours. As well I sponsor ( mentor other men here in Australia ) who suffer from this affliction.


Why not just say "excessive wordiness" ?

It seems I can't win here: either I'm concise and use one word which may be understood by some, or else I use 2 and then can be accused of being wordy.

The real reason for using prolixity is threefold: one, I think it provides some amusement or levity, two, I enjoy using the English language even though my writing isn't ideal (I do try), and third, it was a possibly not very worthy way of saying pvss off.

I'll use the words I want thank you, I do think about what I say (which is more than some appear to), I don't type on some rubbishy tablet or phone and expect people to read what I say. And the pay's not good.

You're not windy, hl...many people are not used to scholarly writing (or they don't like it or understand it). Plus, if they read carefully, they will see the wittiness behind your remarks. You keep on being hl, K??

Thanks MR, nice to hear from you, it's good to have your breath of sanity. I guess people are wrapped up in themselves to the extent they can't see the context - and perhaps that's a component of their problem?

Agree with MR. There is a reverse snobbery about people who quibble with words they don't know. The beauty of language is that there ARE words for every condition, feeling, idea, thought, belief, state, postulation, etc. etc! And using the CORRECT word helps to clarify meaning. If someone is too lazy (especially in these days of the Net) to look up a word, then they are hardly likely to put any energy into understanding the post!!!

BTW I didn't know the word either!!

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"Prolixity" ..........?

I have met people in 12 step groups who have revealed "sexual anorexia" issues.

If this exists ( we seem to accept that food anorexia is a condition ) then there may be a percentage of the population who suffer from this disorder.

I have sought to enquire diplomatically ( hoping I was empathetic ) of a source of the condition from the people I have met who assert they are sexually anorexic. It's my understanding that sexual abuse as a child can be a factor.

I take it you're aware of the Aven site which covers various forms of asexuality.

What is your interest in this area?

PS, why the presumption that there has to be a cause? I've heard descriptions from people who have never had any strong sexual feelings and were not abused. They feel that's the way they are made and do not like feeling broken for who they are (which is potentially the subtext of the causation argument, for example, the abuse "reason" still implies they're damaged due to another's fault). And in the cases I describe, that's simply not true.

You could have said this in a more concise form and achieved the same results.

Well, people have different preferences for how they consume information. Some find examples or more discursive descriptions more valuable. So whereas I might have been more concise and have it benefit you, that's not true for others. If you find my prolixity tiresome, you know what to do.

I am introverted and I really don't care if I get rejected, but when I was younger I used to get rejected and I used to feel humiliated and hurt. Awesome post by the way.

What a terrific post,very interesting and thought provoking.

There is a great way to combat rejection and anger, I call it "protect your soul". It is hard when your spouse is non responsive (we are all there) but you can adjust your expectation and protect your soul. I also think twice before making any conversation with anybody, whether it is the bill collector or the clark at the register or my spouse. What I learned, it makes a big difference how you approach a situation, even if someone is mean to you, you have the power to turn it around. Winning in an argument is not worth hurting your soul. At the end of the day If I am not thinking about something negative I won. Good luck and God Bless you all.

Although I've removed myself from the bedroom, I live with an ongoing sense of rejection. He doesn't care enough to make an effort. He'd rather see me live in misery (and live in misery himself, I guess) than make an effort. This still stings.

I'm very sorry Elk. I loved your dark humor in the forum about giving him a bad sexual experience - wanting some....

This is so interesting to me as my husband of 29 years 364 days continues to push me away as he discovers his creativity with a soprano, his "best friend". The physical sensations I have of a splitting hot wet feeling at the center of my chest are like a knife might feel. When I practice breathing and non-reactivity, he gets "nice". Makes sense, for him to keep his power, I need to want his attention. I am coping with profound rejection while trying my best to keep my head up.

Good post

I love your post. I remember that breathelessness and the pain. Its why I usually start a lot of my comments here with 'Breathe'. We have to breathe through it so we can see and feel clearly.

This is VERY informative. I'm an introvert, and a seventeen year old. Typically, I feel rejected even BEFORE I can be rejected! Ah, I am the origin of my own apathy; I suppose I may have a more sensitive response... The "safe" aspect really does make sense. Thanks so much for posting.

Rejectin made me indepedent and stronger a i have friends who are rejects

Really interesting and nicely written :)

Here is the link for "Getting the Cold Shoulder:"

The bulk of the article talks about how feeling lonely or rejected causes the skin to cool by a measurable amount; how this also changes how we perceive our physical environment; and how the application of warmth to the skin, such as a cup of joe, cause people to be more sociable. (I doubt, however, that turning up the thermostat or feeding our refusers hot soup will make a difference!)

The reference to the study about primary/primal relationships, physical touch, and warmth, is further down in the article.

(Grammar police): ...caused... or ....causes....

Excellent article hl, and very appropriate for our forum. I do thank you for taking the time to research the issue so throughly. I think that instinctively many of us realise the truth of this, but without actually acknowledging it. Seeing it in "black and white" does give it a veracity that our feelings cannot do.

I suffer from some undiagnosed autoimmmune issues which I believe are the result of ongoing stress. Whilst my SM was not the only stress in my life (far from it!) it was certainly the longest lasting. . . .

Your timely reminder about exercise is very valuable too. Note to self" Back to the gym!

I've always hated Platonic dualism (well, since I've known what it is!) - and now listen better to "little" messages. Accepting the SM for so long was doing violence to myself, I now see. Almost certainly the stress involved would result in raised cortisols etc, and the studies specifically referred to increased sensitivity that results from that prolonged (stress) arousal.

Back to the gym before the NY?! Go for it!

First reference of "platonic dualism" I have ever come across. I appreciate knowing it (splitting of body and soul is the most succinct definition I happened upon).

I was blaming my grey hair, today, on my SM. LOL. But perhaps it's a result of rejection.

There is much to embrace (pun intended) by rejecting platonic dualism.

Thank you for enlightening me, HL42.

Hope this works as a number of references for the info in the post.

New Scientist summary (but this requires you to subscribe to get full text)

Does Rejection Hurt? An fMRI Study of Social Exclusion -(Neuroimaging of social exclusion in online game)

Social rejection shares somatosensory representations with physical pain (people recalling recent relationship break-up)

Acetaminophen Reduces Social Pain - Behavioral and Neural Evidence

Variation in the μ-opioid receptor gene (OPRM1) is associated with dispositional and neural sensitivity to social rejection

Time spent with friends in adolescence relates to less neural sensitivity to later peer rejection

Shared sensitivity to physical pain and social rejection

Neural correlates of giving support to a loved one

Also, a rather more general description of the vital entwinement of the body with emotions and the mind in a popular book.

The Feeling of What Happens
Antonio Demasio

There's also a study by James Coan which shows competely different responses to pain when in a good relationship versus a troubled one.

What a shame that our spouses have not been such a support, instead a cause of pain.

Great post. I can only add information from an article in a recent New York Times, which cites research indicating that our primary relationships--parent/child and spousal--are formed and secured by physical contact. How about that? Scientific proof that debunks the crazy idea that a spousal relationship can be terrific except for physical intimacy; that such an idea is frankly impossible.

can you remember the name of the article so I can google it?

Thanks, I'd love to see that reference too. I guess the problem is that there are those who apparently don't need physical intimacy. But then, the question is, what business do they have getting married (especially to a sex person).

I think that non-sex people get married for reasons of societal expecation and compliance with norms. Many of us here are "nice" people and we ARE appealing. I also think there are many, many people (categorized as non-sex folks, naturally) who believe that sex does and should fade with age and they're relieved when that time comes. For us, it's the beginning of our nightmare.

Wow... i would
love to read the material you
read for this information...
always knew it instinctively
but had not read any recent studies....
thanks, clg

yes please post the references :)