New psychological research delves into the pain of rejection and how we can combat it by … [+] understanding it.


A new article published in Advances In Motivation Science attempts to put our never-ending pursuit to be accepted by other people into proper scientific context.

“Over the past 30 years, we have conducted dozens of research studies that dealt with acceptance and rejection,” says psychologist Mark Leary, a retired faculty member at Duke University. “Being rejected obviously evokes strong negative emotions. However, as we studied emotional reactions to rejection, we realized that researchers had more-or-less overlooked a very important response to rejection — the emotion that we commonly call ‘hurt feelings.’”

Through their research, Leary and his colleagues found people’s feelings tend to be hurt by six kinds of events:

  1. Criticism
  2. Betrayal
  3. Active disassociation (for example, a romantic breakup)
  4. Passive disassociation (not being included)
  5. Being unappreciated
  6. Being teased

“All of these are events that make people feel rejected,” says Leary. “Put simply, hurt feelings are the ‘rejection emotion.’”

Leary explains that people who are rejected often experience other emotions which are not reactions to the rejection itself but reactions to the nature or implications of the rejecting event. These include:

  1. Sadness (when rejections produce a sense of loss)
  2. Anxiety (when rejections include a threat to well-being or uncertainty about the future)
  3. Anger (when rejections feel unjustified)

Importantly, Leary adds that people don’t need to be actually rejected to have the subjective experience of rejection. For instance, even though we know that our romantic partners accept and love us, they can (unintentionally) make us feel rejected and hurt our feelings in certain situations.

To fully understand the pain of rejection, Leary suggests that we first need to understand why acceptance feels good. According to him, people feel accepted when they think that they have high ‘relational value,’ or worth, to another person or group of people. A great deal of our behavior, thought, and emotion, according to Leary, is driven by our need to belong to groups.

“We experience acceptance when we think …….


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