Tylenol and the pain of rejection

By Kirsten Weir

Anyone who lived through high school gym class knows the anxiety of being picked last for the dodgeball team. The same hurt feelings bubble up when you are excluded from lunch with co-workers, fail to land the job you interviewed for or are dumped by a romantic partner.

Rejection feels lousy.

Yet for many years, few psychologists tuned into the importance of rejection. “It’s like the whole field missed this centrally important part of human life,” says Mark Leary, PhD, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke University. That’s changed over the last decade and a half, as a growing number of researchers have turned their eyes toward this uncomfortable fact of life. “People have realized just how much our concern with social acceptance spreads its fingers into almost everything we do,” he says.

As researchers have dug deeper into the roots of rejection, they’ve found surprising evidence that the pain of being excluded is not so different from the pain of physical injury. Rejection also has serious implications for an individual’s psychological state and for society in general. Social rejection can influence emotion, cognition and even physical health. Ostracized people sometimes become aggressive and can turn to violence. In 2003 Leary and colleagues analyzed 15 cases of school shooters, and found all but two suffered from social rejection (Aggressive Behavior, 2003).

Clearly, there are good reasons to better understand the effects of being excluded. “Humans have a fundamental need to belong. Just as we have needs for food and water, we also have needs for positive and lasting relationships,” says C. Nathan DeWall, PhD, a psychologist at the University of Kentucky. “This need is deeply rooted in our evolutionary history and has all sorts of consequences for modern psychological processes.”

Pain in the brain

As clever as human beings are, we rely on social groups for survival. We evolved to live in cooperative societies, and for most of human history we depended on those groups for our lives. Like hunger or thirst, our need for acceptance emerged as a mechanism for survival. “A solitary human being could not have survived during the six million years of human evolution while we were living out there on the African savannah,” Leary says.

With today’s modern conveniences, a person can physically survive a solitary existence. But that existence is probably not a happy one. Thanks to millions of years of natural selection, being rejected is still painful. That’s not just a metaphor. Naomi Eisenberger, PhD, at the University of California, Los Angeles, Kipling Williams, PhD, at Purdue University, and colleagues found that social rejection activates many of the same brain regions involved in physical pain (Science, 2003).

To study rejection inside an fMRI scanner, the researchers used a technique called Cyberball, which Williams designed following his own experience of being suddenly excluded by two Frisbee players at the park. In Cyberball, the subject plays an online game of catch with two other players. Eventually the two other players begin throwing the ball only to each other, excluding the subject. Compared with volunteers who continue to be included, those who are rejected show increased activity in the dorsal anterior cingulate and the anterior insula — two of the regions that show increased activity in response to physical pain, Eisenberger says. As far as your brain is concerned, a broken heart is not so different from a broken arm.

Those findings led DeWall, Eisenberger and colleagues to wonder: If social rejection aches like physical pain, can it be treated like physical pain? To find out, they assigned volunteers to take over-the-counter acetaminophen (Tylenol) or a placebo daily for three weeks. Compared with the placebo group, volunteers who took the drug recounted fewer episodes of hurt feelings in daily self-reports. Those reports were backed by an fMRI study, which found that people who had taken acetaminophen daily for three weeks had less activity in the pain-related brain regions when rejected in Cyberball, in contrast to those taking a placebo (Psychological Science, 2010).

The same patterns are seen in situations of real-world rejection, too. University of Michigan psychologist Ethan Kross, PhD, and colleagues scanned the brains of participants whose romantic partners had recently broken up with them. The brain regions associated with physical pain lit up as the participants viewed photographs of their exes (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2011).

The link between physical and social pain might sound surprising, but it makes biological sense, DeWall says. “Instead of creating an entirely new system to respond to socially painful events, evolution simply co-opted the system for physical pain,” he says. “Given the shared overlap, it follows that if you numb people to one type of pain, it should also numb them to the other type of pain.”

Lashing out

Being on the receiving end of a social snub causes a cascade of emotional and cognitive consequences, researchers have found. Social rejection increases anger, anxiety, depression, jealousy and sadness. It reduces performance on difficult intellectual tasks, and can also contribute to aggression and poor impulse control, as DeWall explains in a recent review (Current Directions in Psychological Science, 2011). Physically, too, rejection takes a toll. People who routinely feel excluded have poorer sleep quality, and their immune systems don’t function as well as those of people with strong social connections, he says.

Even brief, seemingly innocuous episodes of rejection can sting. In one recent study, Williams, Eric Wesselmann, PhD, of Purdue University, and colleagues found that when participants passed a stranger who appeared to look “through” them rather than meeting their gaze, they reported less social connection than did people who made eye contact with a passing stranger (Psychological Science, 2012).

In fact, it’s remarkably hard to find situations in which rejection isn’t painful, Williams says. He wondered whether people would be hurt if they were rejected by a person or group they disliked. Using his Cyberball model, he found that African- American students experienced the same pain of rejection when they were told that the people rejecting them were members of the Ku Klux Klan, a racist group. In other studies, participants earned money when they were rejected, but not when they were accepted. The payments did nothing to dampen the pain of exclusion. “No matter how hard you push it, people are hurt by ostracism,” he says.

Fortunately, most people recover almost immediately from these brief episodes of rejection. If a stranger fails to look you in the eye, or you’re left out of a game of Cyberball, you aren’t likely to dwell on it for long. But other common rejections — not being invited to a party, or being turned down for a second date — can cause lingering emotions.

After the initial pain of rejection, Williams says, most people move into an “appraisal stage,” in which they take stock and formulate their next steps. “We think all forms of ostracism are immediately painful,” he says. “What differs is how long it takes to recover, and how one deals with the recovery.”

People often respond to rejection by seeking inclusion elsewhere. “If your sense of belonging and self-esteem have been thwarted, you’ll try to reconnect,” says Williams. Excluded people actually become more sensitive to potential signs of connection, and they tailor their behavior accordingly. “They will pay more attention to social cues, be more likable, more likely to conform to other people and more likely to comply with other people’s requests,” he says.

Yet others may respond to rejection with anger and lashing out. If someone’s primary concern is to reassert a sense of control, he or she may become aggressive as a way to force others to pay attention. Sadly, that can create a downward spiral. When people act aggressively, they’re even less likely to gain social acceptance.

What causes some people to become friendlier in response to rejection, while others get angry? According to DeWall, even a glimmer of hope for acceptance can make all the difference. In a pair of experiments, he and his colleagues found that students who were accepted by no other participants in group activities behaved more aggressively — feeding hot sauce to partners who purportedly disliked spicy foods, and blasting partners with uncomfortably loud white noise through headphones — than students accepted by just one of the other participants (Social Psychological and Personality Science, 2010).

Social pain relief

It may take time to heal from a bad break-up or being fired, but most people eventually get over the pain and hurt feelings of rejection. When people are chronically rejected or excluded, however, the results may be severe. Depression, substance abuse and suicide are not uncommon responses. “Long-term ostracism seems to be very devastating,” Williams says. “People finally give up.”

In that case, psychologists can help people talk through their feelings of exclusion, DeWall says.

“A lot of times, these are things people don’t want to talk about,” he says. And because rejected people may adopt behaviors, such as aggression, that serve to further isolate them, psychologists can also help people to act in ways that are more likely to bring them social success.

The pain of non-chronic rejection may be easier to alleviate. Despite what the fMRI scanner says, however, popping two Tylenols probably isn’t the most effective way to deal with a painful episode of rejection. Instead, researchers say, the rejected should seek out healthy, positive connections with friends and family.

That recommendation squares with the neural evidence that shows positive social interactions release opioids for a natural mood boost, Eisenberger says. Other activities that produce opioids naturally, such as exercise, might also help ease the sore feelings that come with rejection.

Putting things into perspective also helps, Leary says. True, rejection can sometimes be a clue that you behaved badly and should change your ways. But frequently, we take rejection more personally than we should. “Very often we have that one rejection, maybe we didn’t get hired for this job we really wanted, and it makes us feel just lousy about our capabilities and ourselves in general,” Leary says. “I think if people could stop overgeneralizing, it would take a lot of the angst out of it.”

Next time you get passed over for a job or dumped by a romantic partner, it may help to know that the sting of rejection has a purpose. That knowledge may not take away the pain, but at least you know there’s a reason for the heartache. “Evolutionarily speaking, if you’re socially isolated you’re going to die,” Williams says. “It’s important to be able to feel that pain.”

Kirsten Weir is a freelance writer in Minneapolis.

via The pain of social rejection.


Exploding the Past

We can read and think all we want about how to recover from our past experiences, but actually recovering seems to take something different.  It takes a personal realization, perhaps a sudden moment where for some unknown reason the balloon is pricked.  The past explodes and there’s nothing left to look at.  And then you suddenly arrive in the present moment like it’s a new place, a new experience without the baggage of the past to constantly haul around.

As I was falling asleep just one night previous to the end of the year, the message that repeated itself over and over in my head was that EVERYTHING IS NOW…  Nothing exists outside of this moment.  I “knew” that, but I hadn’t applied it to the struggle with my past that I had been going through for, well, a really long time.  The other message that followed was not as short and simple, and it took a few iterations to solidify, but it was

Whatever the past WAS, it isn’t anymore.

It isn’t anymore, because everything is now.  The past doesn’t exist unless we mentally haul it into the present and try to recreate the emotions and the memories that go with it.  Even then it doesn’t exist except as a figment of our imagination that struggles to make it seem real.

Memories can be useful, like remembering which way to go on your way to work and back.  And some memories are pleasant; it’s sometimes enjoyable to retrieve pictures or mementos of those events and occasions and to feel the emotions that were connected with those times.

But other memories can be a nightmare, or a perpetual “daymare” or whatever the equivalent word for that would be if they flash around you all day long.  And those memories aren’t useful.  Memories born of trauma are like wounds that leave scars, or perhaps it’s like having splinters in your psyche.  Whenever you access them they hurt almost as badly as the original event.

So I’m going to keeping repeating this mantra that seems to provide a lot of relief to me:  Everything Is Now.  And it’s companion:  Whatever the past was, it isn’t anymore.

I don’t have to free myself from something that doesn’t exist.  And I don’t have to “let go” of the past if there isn’t anything real that I’m actually holding onto.  If I can truly realize that it isn’t anymore, and the only thing and in fact everything that does exist is now, in this present moment, I am free from the past.

Emotional and Psychological Trauma: Causes, Symptoms, Help

If you’ve gone through a traumatic experience, you may be struggling with upsetting emotions, frightening memories, or a sense of constant danger. Or you may feel numb, disconnected, and unable to trust other people. When bad things happen, it can take a while to get over the pain and feel safe again. But with the right treatment, self-help strategies, and support, you can speed your recovery. Whether the traumatic event happened years ago or yesterday, you can heal and move on.

Check out this highly relevant article on the subject at: Emotional and Psychological Trauma: Causes, Symptoms, Help.


The main causes of tension are mechanical -like sitting at your desk all day in one position or participating in sports and the other type is emotional tension. Mechanical tension includes trauma, bad posture, and things like injuries. Environmental factors can also influence muscle tension. Breathing polluted air and eating the wrong foods can influence tension.

Emotional tension is also referred to as armoring (Willhelm Riech) When emotions are not felt fully at any stage of life they can become suppressed or repressed. Repression is the unconscious prevention of feelings. Suppression is the conscious prevention of feelings. Either way, we try to protect ourselves from having deep uncomfortable feelings by tightening muscles. Layers of tension develop starting at an early age.

The two types influence each other and are related to each other. Mechanical tension can usually easily be relaxed with a few sessions of massage. Emotional tension usually requires a series of regular massage sessions coming 2x a week for a few years or even more to break through.

Some causes of mechanical tension include:

Trauma, injuries, operations

Bad posture and physical habits like sitting for too long at the desk and on computers

Wearing high heels, sitting cross-legged.

Environmental factors such as standing on concrete, constant noise, poor lighting, pollution

Some causes of emotional tension include:

Repression of emotions at an early age in childhood

Ignoring or being unaware of your feelings at any given moment

Working in unfulfilling jobs or staying in unfulfilling relationships

Having very stressful situations such as divorce, death in the family, sick family members, moving, changing jobs etc.

Mechanical tension usually causes emotional tension. Emotional tension usually causes physical tension. Tension affects most every disease or condition of ill health. It cause pain and fatigue. A muscle held in chronic tension uses up energy and leads to muscle and over all fatigue. It restricts the freedom of movement. It reduces the ability to strengthen a muscle. It reduces your ability to breath deeply and efficiently.

Often there is so much tension it results in a lack of feeling in an area. Without an awareness of feeling you are more prone to injuries and disease.

Excessive tension can lead to many different diseases and conditions. It can cause pain in the muscle tissues and constrict the flow of blood and nutrients which are needed for just normal metabolism. Muscles can contract around blood vessels restricting the flow and resulting in poor circulation. A tense muscle also uses more energy and can lead to feeling fatigued. People who are tense often also take shallow breaths because the breathing mechanisms are restricted thus creating more tension. So it all becomes a viscous circle. When you are tense it can also cause a cascading effect of emotions such as anxiety and depression. It interferes with the ability to feel which is central to all aspects of life.

Getting regular massage can help alleviate mechanical and physical tension and help maintain a proper balance in the body thereby creating a healthier place to live.

via Muscle Tension : Are you tense?.



In 1990, according to the U.S. Census, about 1.7 million people in the United States were living apart for reasons other than separation. By 2005, the number of committed couples was about 6 million with no plans to ever live together on a daily basis. AARP’s statistics show that married/ spousal-equivalent people over 50 that live apart tripled in that age group in just four short years from 2001 and 2005.

Two careers, two houses, seeing each other holidays, traveling to be together every other weekend and vacations, is rapidly escalating as the way of life for the modern marriage/commitment. The most famous example might be American Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton and former American President Bill Clinton.

The statistics reveal that these two household marriage/commitments are holding up better than couples that live together. When being apart is the norm, being together becomes special. The result is that love becomes constantly renewed rather than being taken for granted.

Being in-love verses loving/loved reduces the chances of cheating/being cheated on. Absence does makes the heart grow fonder. The greater degree of space and privacy in living apart is the pressure valve that relieves the daily stress and boredom of marriage/commitment. That significantly reduces the possibility of divorce/break-up.

Due to the excessively high cost of divorce and divorce attorney’s obstructionist ways and their increasing flat-out lying solely to jack their fees up, many people are foregoing marriage for an exclusive committed relationship.

Along with long-distance long-term, committed monogamous couples, there is an exponential increase with short-distance long-term, committed monogamous couples. Often these couples even live in the same city or county or area.

The reasons are not only because of the excessively high cost of divorce, but also parents, children, friends, career, school, religion, health, smoking, cooking, snoring, race, ethnicity, gender, how clean the house is, incense burning, ego and more.

LATs (live apart together) have roommates that are not romantic relationships.

LAT have learned the value of the pragmatic ability to see the good in their chosen partner, even when their partner fails to live up to daily ideals and expectations.

LATs succeed and prosper as a couple because they focus on the feel-good emotions and physical reactions they have for each other. Choosing to see the good in other people has a favorable effect on other people and that effect increases the success of the feel-good in a love relationship lasting.

LATs are more prudent, independent, trustworthy, confident, sexually satisfied, honest, and much more likely to stay in-love. That’s because LATs have happily discovered lust’s eternal glow from waiting to be with ones chosen one lasts longer than the increasing ho-hum boredom of couple’s daily interaction dwindling down love’s flame and finally smothering even lust’s spark.

Clearly, LATs take their relationships as, and increasingly more, seriously than married couples.

Even the ever shrinking number of couples that do choose to live together under the same roof are growing in their choice of separate bedrooms for the same reasons LATs choose separate houses. Homebuilders have noticed this trend and built accordingly.

Employers have found to their delight that LAT employees are better employees. Without the daily distraction of the spouse/partner, the employee gives more to their daily job.

State tax agencies and the IRS are still trying to figure out residency implications for LATs.


All By Ourselves

Wilson, Tom Hank’s companion in “Castaway”

Loneliness is an odd companion, and it just won’t leave you alone.

I’ve been on my own now for 9 months, and it’s been one of the greatest learning experiences of my life.

First came a tremendous feeling of liberation, of being free from oppression, of expanded options, of being unchained.

Then came a period of examination, of expanded introspection, weighing options, of looking where to turn and which path to take.

About 3 months into singleness I had a panic attack.  The freedom fled, and I left work and curled up in a ball in my bed at home and slept.  I realized that I was alone.  Very alone.

I had been alone the whole time, of course.  It’s just that I didn’t realize it.  It was repressed and shielded from my consciousness.  Loneliness stepped out of the shadows, where he had been lounging and snacking and entertaining himself for decades.  All he said, in a nonchalant manner was “Hi”.  I was speechless.

Since then he really hasn’t said much more.  He’s just there, and I’m aware of his presence.  He looks over my shoulder and I see him in the mirror when I’m brushing my teeth in the morning.  He sits in the back seat of my car and watches the scenery go by on my way to work.  When I get home he’s napping on the couch.  He snores next to me in bed at night.

I was married for 35 out of the last 38 years, but I was alone the whole time while pretending I wasn’t.  Now that I know that I was, and am, it sheds a whole new light on things.

The feeling of loneliness comes from believing that you’re not OK in and of yourself.  It’s a belief that you need someone or something else to “complete” you.  You are relating to yourself in a diminished way; not fully connected to your essence.  Not fully conscious of your self – that other half of you that was always there, but hidden in the shadows.

I’ve been negotiating a merger with my other half lately.  He sits in the front passenger seat of the car now, and next to me when I brush my teeth.  We’re becoming inseparable and more fully aware and conscious of each other.  At first I didn’t like him a whole lot, but I’ve realized that we’re one in the same and need to learn to deal with it.  It might just be OK.  In fact, it will probably be more than OK.

Each of us has all we need within.  Awakening to that fact is true liberation.

I have a great deal of company in the house, especially in the morning when nobody calls.

~Henry David Thoreau

Are You Being Abused?

The Effects of Abuse (physical, sexual, emotional)

If you have some or many of the following symptoms you are likely to be an abuse victim:

  • Agitation
  • Fear, grief, nervous anxiety, ‘walking on broken glass’, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, paranoia, dread and anger.
  • Appetite
  • Loss or increase of.
  • Loss of creativity and joy
  • Depression, no interest in personal goals, loss of enthusiasm, loss of zest for life, possible loss of will to live.
  • Inhibited self expression
  • Loss of interest in appearance, not comfortable in public, wishing members of the opposite sex didn’t exist, fear of what you say and do around people, agoraphobia, social disinterest, fear of body image, decreased libido.
  • Self-destructive behaviour
  • Abuse of alcohol or drugs, promiscuity, feeling ‘addicted’ to abusive partner, suicidal thoughts or attempts.
  • Isolation
  • Rarely see family or friends, mostly stay home, not allowed to go out on own, panicking if held back at work or running late for home.
  • Decreased coping skills
  • Loss of decision-making ability, feel despair, rage or panic. Being overwhelmed. Bursting into tears, feeling numb.
  • Physical problems
  • Adrenaline rushes, lowered immune systems, continual body aches, exhaustion, hyper-vigilance, hormone imbalances, migraines, backache, having accidents etc.
  • Sleeping patterns
  • Insomnia or over-sleeping.
  • Focus on abusive partner
  • Obsessing over what he’s thinking, feeling and doing, and formulating how you can employ tactics to reduce the abuse.
  • Confusion
  • No longer knowing what to believe, doubting the reality of your life and environment.
  • Loss of faith in self
  • Letting yourself down by continually forgiving and allowing abusive behaviour, losing boundary function, false hope, other people losing faith in you, inability to provide yourself with safety and stability.
  • Irrational behaviour
  • Trying to control the uncontrollable, hysteria, feeling and acting manically, ‘losing your mind.’

via Emotional Abuse – Are You Being Abused? : Melanie Tonia Evans.