Friday, 1st October 2010
It’s happened again – you walk into a room and the hubbub subsides. Only – you’re not the teacher, and this is not a class of children who respects you too much to have you ask for silence.
These are your sisters-in-law, intent on planning the wedding of one of your nieces. These are your colleagues, in good spirits after midday break. These are the members of your social circle – and from the glowering looks shot in your direction, it is clear that they are not planning your surprise birthday party.
Some of us manage to rub people up the wrong way without even trying. And since we are the only ones not embraced within the clique, ‘we’ could well believe ‘them’ when they intimate that we have an attitude problem.
Not fitting in happens because of many reasons – but sometimes there is no reason at all. Indeed, for some people, it is a point of honour that they have never belonged to any circle – to the extent that they go out of their way to alienate people. Admitting you need friendship, nurturing, caring and love, to these people, would be tantamount to saying that they are weak.
But just behind the veneer of nonchalance, there is a danger brewing. When you feel rejected – even if it does not show outwardly – your body automatically reacts to your feelings. It’s just like when you say you are “gutted” at bad news, when you feel a pain just below your navel. Only, this time, it’s the feeling of being “heartbroken” – and it’s not psychosomatic. Link this with other studies indicating that the brain processes ‘physical’ and ‘social’ pain in the same areas, and you will understand how each may cause the other, to the point that they become indistinguishable.
A new study from the Netherlands pinpoints what happens to the body when feelings of disappointment overwhelm us. Their study was the n itty-gritty version of those sites where people who think they are beautiful post their photographs online so that their peers may rate them.
This study was carried out somewhat more meticulously – and of course, it contained the usual placebo. In this case, the ploy consisted of asking respondents to include a photograph with their data.
A computer programme randomly assigned “like” or “dislike” statuses to the photos; but the people taking part in the study were told that another set of persons had examined their photographs and rated them. There was the moment of trepidation between the weighing up of the probabilities, and the actual revelation.
Heartbeat monitors registered a slight drop in the rate just as the preferences were to be announced – and this slowed down further if the choice was negative. The people who were being rated were told that the persons who looked at their photos came from another university, and did not know any of them.
Some of the idioms that include the word heart – missing a beat, sinking, aching, bleeding, eaten out, heavy sick at it, lost, and in the mouth – were amalgamated in this sensation, though both physical and psychological reactions. This showed that the autonomic nervous system is also affected when people feel they’ve been socially rejected. Most importantly, the people who took part in the study were told that it was about first impressions – and there’s never a second chance for that.
We all know that someone, we dislike someone on sight not for himself, but because he reminds us of someone else, and as a corollary, we take a liking to someone because they remind us of someone we like. The dynamics are thrown out of kilter when the other person feels the opposite of what we do; and indeed this is one of the reasons why people are driven over the edge to self-harming or stalking their objects of desire.
In this study, it was shown that when the student expected a person to like him, but ostensibly did not, the disappointment was both greater, and in some cases reactions were far worse than others. This was more evident when those who had been rejected were the type who strives to be accepted, liked, admired, and even found sexually attractive. Students were also affected when they were told their age had been gauged as over 21.
This study, published in the journal of the Association for Psychological Science, came with the clever title ‘Heartbrake’: How Rejection Literally Stops Your Heart. The results would seem to indicate that most people want to be wanted, despite saying otherwise.
However, there will still be exceptions on either side to this rule – those who make a career out of being the people others love to hate, and those who would never intentionally lay others open to criticism or ridicule because their motto is “Do As You Would Be Done By”.