Are people always shutting you down? This might be why (and the reason might surprise you) cover image

Are people always shutting you down? This might be why (and the reason might surprise you)

Dorian Minors • February 20, 2015

This is an archived article from our predecessor website, The Dirt Psychology. The idea there was to take psychological scholarship and turn it into wisdom. The Armchair Collective tries to go a little further than just psychology. As such, these articles live here in archive form, until they're updated.

Ever have one of your friends voice the thought that 'no one will talk to me' on the way to party? Or maybe 'they'll talk to me, but I know they're thinking how stupid I am'. Well, you might suffer from something Psychologists call 'high rejection sensitivity'. Sandra Murray and her colleagues coined the term 'rejection sensitivity' in 2003. Basically it refers to how conscious of being rejected you are. It's actually one kind of scale of social anxiety (the higher you are, the more socially anxious you are in that way); social anxiety being one of the most common forms of Clinical Anxiety (something more than 1 in 10 Australians suffer from).

It's less funny when you think the whispering happening behind your back. Photo courtesy of Chris Sgaraglino (Flickr). It's less funny when you think the whispering happening behind your back. Photo courtesy of Chris Sgaraglino (Flickr).

When you're high in rejection sensitivity, you are much more vigilant for signs of criticism and potential rejection than your average joe. Moreover, as Sandra and her pals found, you're probably going to be more hurt by this perceived slight for longer. Maybe someone tells you they've already got plans when you enquire about a coffee date. Rejection sensitive people are more likely to think things like 'I knew it, they didn't want to have coffee with me', or 'they're lying, they just didn't want to tell me they don't like me'.  It might also sound pretty extraordinary, and if it does, kudos to you because you probably don't suffer from it. This is especially poignant when closer relationships are studied. When close friends, family or partners make critical remarks, rejection sensitive people really feel the blow. It might be as simple as telling them their whistle is annoying or they don't like those new jeans. Rejection sensitive people will almost always take it further; 'I'm annoying, they probably don't like me anymore'; or 'I'm ugly, no jeans look good on me'. And since they're feeling more hurt for longer, they tend to be even more vigilant for criticism than before. A vicious cycle. It might not surprise you that people are diagnosed as being very high in this very commonly alongside depression. These studies conducted by Sandra, her colleagues and also separate studies have found that rejection sensitive people when hurt, will almost try to get even with their criticisers. They'll tend to act coldly and more critically towards those that may or may not have slighted them. Which leads to… more rejection. "Why aren't we over this! You need to stop, you're being silly", and this proves to the rejection sensitive person that they really are being slighted. High rejection sensitivity is very closely connected to another psychological construct 'hurt proneness' coined by Mark Leary and his colleagues. Basically hurt-prone people or 'touchy' people interpret the other peoples' behaviours as dismissive and cold, thinking things like 'I don't matter' and 'they don't care'. They think the world is a hurtful place and more than that, don't really see how they could be encouraging that suffering. It's a bad place to be and it leads to worse things down the track. If this article clicked for you or someone you know of, it might be time to start Googling. Get some help, find someone to talk to. It's serious, it's a problem and it usually only gets worse. Check out this site for more, or go to classics - Beyond Blue, Lifeline. Start talking about it. It'll help. If this article rang a bell for you, you might be interested in our articles on why small talk is so awkward and how to kill approach anxiety dead? Giving you the dirt on your search for understanding, psychological freedom and 'the good life' at The Dirt Psychology. Thumbnail image for this post courtesy of Sarajea (Flickr)

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Dorian Minors

I mostly do brain science. Sometimes I train honeybees. I promise they're related. I made this site because there's no reason why scholars should be the only ones to own knowledge. My special interests are interpersonal relationships, the science of community, spirituality and the brain, and the neural basis of complex behaviour. I hope this stuff is as interesting to you as it is to me. You can find out more about me here.