196 Rejection Hurts

Based on research by Kross, Ethan, Berman, M. G., Mischel, W., Smith, E. E., & Wager, T. D. (2011) by Mara Rowcliffe, BS.

When lovers break-up with us, we say, “Oh, I’m in such pain!” How similar is social rejection to physical pain, really?

Psychologist Ethan Kross and colleagues evaluated the similarities between these two different experiences. They recruited 40 individuals who experienced a recent (in the last 6 months) unwanted romantic relationship break-up. These individuals indicated that thinking about their break-up experiences led them to feel rejected. The scientists screened participants to ensure that they did not suffer from any neurological or psychiatric illness or have chronic pain.

The researches elicited rejection feelings by having the participants view a photograph of their ex-partner as they thought about being rejected. They compared the experience of physical pain and rejection in the same individuals. During this process, they monitored the participants’ brains using an fMRI. Results of the fMRI revealed that the areas of the brain that respond to actual physical pain became active when individuals experienced the emotional feelings of rejection.

Remember, thinking about a rejection shows the pain neurologically. Change the thinking; change the pain. Rather than concentrating on the rejection, use “self-talk” to provide encouraging “I will get through this” or alternatively “maybe the breakup was for the best” thoughts.


Kross, E., Berman, M. G., Mischel, W., Smith, E. E., & Wager, T. D. (2011). Social rejection shares somatosensory representations with physical pain. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 108(15), 6270-6275.

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