Research — 30 March 2015

Missed connections, cold shoulders, passive-aggression, bullying — like Taylor Swift says, just shake it off. But that doesn’t come easy to everyone. Maybe you experience the pain of social rejection differently. According to a new study published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry, people suffering from depression may have a more difficult time dealing with social rejection. In fact, researchers found that brain cells produce fewer natural opioids, which reduce pain and stress, in those with untreated depression. “Every day we experience positive and negative social interactions. Our findings suggest that a depressed person’s ability to regulate emotions during these interactions is compromised, potentially because of an altered opioid system. This may be one reason for depression’s tendency to linger or return, especially in a negative social environment,” the study’s lead author, David Hsu, Ph.D., told ScienceDaily.  imagesDid you ever meet a person who liked to flirt? Some of them are extroverts and they don’t even seem to realize they’re doing it. Others say they flirt for sport or practice. I always found that strange. “Aren’t you afraid you’re going to get hurt?” I ask. “We hardly know each other. It’s harmless,” they say. I once had a friend who said she has “a crush on everyone in the world.” This was her way of saying that she is interested in meeting new people and seeing what makes them tick. I’ve often said that I don’t get crushes. I avoid getting the butterflies because I learned in high school that I just couldn’t stand the pain of rejection. I thought it had to do with self-esteem. Maybe it was so low that my ego couldn’t take a blow without landing me in a state of depression. I had a stunning lack of self-confidence. Perhaps I just didn’t want to compete. Maybe it was my pessimism. “If I don’t try, I can’t fail.” As someone who struggles with depression, maybe it was the fact that I had experienced social rejection before and felt that pain in such a way that others do not. The study also found that depressed participants experienced happiness when they were socially accepted, which surprised researchers because dulled response to positive events is a common symptom. However, those positive feelings quickly dissipated for the depressed participants, unlike non-depressed counterparts. I can see myself very clearly in that boat. I have a tendency to focus on the negative. It’s only natural. It’s called negativity bias and it was great at keeping cavepeople from becoming prehistoric prey. But when all you remember from your 2005 trip to Florida was your car overheating and waiting two hours for a tow, negativity bias isn’t serving you at all. What came first: my depression or my inability to shake it off? I can’t be sure. But I have learned a few gems for handling social rejection. This is where my favorite of the Four Agreements comes into play: Don’t take anything personally. As don Miguel Ruiz writes:

Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.

Shame from social rejection stems from feeling we’ve done something wrong. If we weren’t flawed, we wouldn’t have been rejected. The problem with this is that it presumes the other person knows us wholly and fully. This person hasn’t made a full-scale rejection of all that you are, your inner truth and beauty. There are virtually endless reasons why a person would choose not to pursue a connection with another person. If you think about it, there has to have been at least one time you walked away from a potential relationship. In the end, you can’t blame yourself for trying, because it’s trying and failing that holds the key to success.

This article first appeared Psych Central 27 March 2015.

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