Refusal sensitivity: anxious or aggressive reactions
Perché abbiamo bisogno di avere relazioni sociali significative? E perché il timore di essere rifiutati e quindi esclusi da un gruppo ci fa così tanto soffrire?
“L’uomo è un animale sociale”, sosteneva Aristotele nella sua “Politica” già nel IV secolo a.C., sottolineando l’importanza della sfera sociale all’interno della vita di ogni individuo. Quindi, ognuno di noi per poter vivere una vita serena e felice, deve effettivamente sentirsi parte di un gruppo sociale.
Il bisogno di appartenenza
Il bisogno di accettazione e appartenenza ad un gruppo sociale, così come la necessità di sentirsi sicuri all’interno delle relazioni interpersonali, sono delle caratteristiche essenziali che accomunano tutti gli esseri umani e che motivano i comportamenti che ognuno di noi mette in atto quotidianamente.
The ability to adequately satisfy these needs plays a crucial role in our development, our well-being and the ways in which we react to the world around us. One of the greatest threats to meeting these needs is the refusal that each of us can suffer from others: having repeated experiences of different forms of social rejection throughout life contributes to generating what is called sensitivity to rejection .
Refusal sensitivity: anxious or aggressive reactions
Sensitivity to refusal has been defined as an individual disposition to expect with concern, to perceive with high rapidity and to react with equal intensity to different forms of refusal. Sensitivity to rejection is not a trait one has or does not have, it must be imagined as a dimension within which each of us can be placed, a continuum.
People who are characterized by low levels of sensitivity to rejection appear extremely controlled in the face of different forms of social rejection. On the other hand, people characterized by high levels often respond in a maladaptive way to refusal, thus compromising their own well-being and relationships with others.
Individuals who have unfortunately experienced different forms of refusal in their lives, especially if they are thought to be of great importance in their lives, are inclined to develop defensive reactions to refusal , mostly of an anxious or aggressive nature .
In particular, the more marked the refusal sensitivity, the more inclined the person will be to perceive in the environment any clue that may refer to possible refusals by others. Consequently, the higher the sensitivity to rejection, the more the person will tend to interpret each signal within interpersonal relationships as an effective rejection.
This structure leads to the development of particular thoughts (eg “what have I done to be rejected?” “It is never possible that I always meet people who don’t understand me …”) and emotions (eg feeling hurt, angry, offended) that compromise well-being of the person and encourage the implementation of behaviors (e.g. social withdrawal, verbal or physical aggression) that compromise the relationships in which the person is engaged.
Certainly, the interpersonal situations within which there is a real possibility of being rejected represent the context in which this construct can best be described.
People characterized by high sensitivity to rejection often feel exposed to a possible threat; this sense of threat is usually associated with a growing negative emotional state of alert that guides the individual to try to control the situation, going to look for any possible clue that confirms his thesis that he was actually dismissed, excluded.
The self-fulfilling prophecy
This state of alert often involves an amplification of the intentions of others, leading to the interpretation of ambiguous signals such as absolute refusals or abandonments. In this state, the person finds himself in greater difficulty in using reflexive skills , and coherently with the presence of a threat, he automatically reacts with flight or aggression behaviors, thus generating a real abandonment or refusal.
In this sense, therefore, people characterized by a high sensitivity to rejection live in what we might call a painful ” self-fulfilling prophecy “, thus constantly confirming their expectations and beliefs, at the high price of a growing state of dissatisfaction and a profound and ruinous fall in one’s self-esteem.
One of the mechanisms that seems to support this tendency to stubbornly search for negative clues is explained by an attentive bias. When the person sensitive to the refusal sees a sign of abandonment or exclusion … puff, all other contextual information loses its meaning .
If up to that moment you were having a pleasant conversation with your partner, having seen a slight indifference or a sign of disapproval in his gaze triggers an emotional avalanche; we find ourselves overwhelmed by the feeling of no longer being appreciated , of being in the process of a catastrophe that will lead the sentimental relationship to an inevitable break.
A functional strategy
One of the strategies that we can use to control this oscillation consists precisely in controlling attention.
Each of us, in every moment of our life, is able to reinforce the conscious control of our attention ; in our example, having greater attentional control means being aware of our level of sensitivity to rejection and wondering how much we tend to live relationships with others in a threatening sense. If we become aware of our automatic attitude towards (even apparent) signs of rejection, we can choose not to react on impulse, but to reflect on what is happening , take time to reconstruct what has just happened and look for alternative meanings for being able to explain the other’s behavior.