BY PURDUE UNIVERSITY
Ostracism or exclusion may not leave external scars, but it can cause pain that often is deeper and lasts longer than a physical injury, according to a Purdue University expert.
“Being excluded or ostracized is an invisible form of bullying that doesn’t leave bruises, and therefore we often underestimate its impact,” said Kipling D. Williams, a professor of psychological sciences. “Being excluded by high school friends, office colleagues, or even spouses or family members can be excruciating. And because ostracism is experienced in three stages, the life of those painful feelings can be extended for the long term. People and clinicians need to be aware of this so they can avoid depression or other negative experiences.”
When a person is ostracized, the brain’s dorsal anterior cingulate cortex, which registers physical pain, also feels this social injury, Williams said. The process of ostracism includes three stages: the initial acts of being ignored or excluded, coping and resignation.
Williams’ research is reported in the current issue ofCurrent Directions in Psychological Sciences. The article was co-authored by Steve A. Nida, associate provost and dean of The Citadel Graduate College and a professor of psychology.
“Being excluded is painful because it threatens fundamental human needs, such as belonging and self-esteem,” Williams said. “Again and again research has found that strong, harmful reactions are possible even when ostracized by a stranger or for a short amount of time.”
More than 5,000 people have participated in studies using a computer game designed by Williams to show how just two or three minutes of ostracism can produce lingering negative feelings.
“How can it be that such a brief experience, even when being ignored and excluded by strangers with whom the individual will never have any face-to-face interaction, can have such a powerful effect?” he said. “The effect is consistent even though individuals’ personalities vary.”
People also vary in how they cope, which is the second stage of ostracism. Coping can mean the person tries to harder be included. For example, some of those who are ostracized may be more likely to engage in behaviors that increase their future inclusion by mimicking, complying, obeying orders, cooperating or expressing attraction.
“They will go to great lengths to enhance their sense of belonging and self-esteem,” Williams said.
If they feel there is little hope for re-inclusion or that they have little control over their lives, they may resort to provocative behavior and even aggression.
“At some point, they stop worrying about being liked, and they just want to be noticed,” Williams said.
However, if a person has been ostracized for a long time, they may not have the ability to continue coping as the pain lingers. Some people may give up, Williams said.
“The third stage is called resignation. This is when people who have been ostracized are less helpful and more aggressive to others in general,” he said. “It also increases anger and sadness, and long-term ostracism can result in alienation, depression, helplessness and feelings of unworthiness.”
Williams is trying to better understand how ostracized individuals may be attracted to extreme groups and what might be the reactions of ostracized groups.
“These groups provide members with a sense of belonging, self-worth and control, but they can fuel narrowness, radicalism and intolerance, and perhaps a propensity toward hostility and violence toward others,” he said. “When a person feels ostracized they feel out of control, and aggressive behavior is one way to restore that control. When these individuals come together in a group there can be negative consequences.”
Williams is a professor in the Department of Psychological Sciences in Purdue’s College of Health and Human Sciences.
My father, 2 sisters, ex husband, adult son and daughter are all emotional bullies. It’s ‘my way or the highway’ with them. Over the years I have been repeatedly emotionally bullied, rejected and ostracized by my ‘loved ones’. You become use to it because since birth it’s always been your family’s way .. it’s ‘normal’ to you.
Bullying causes emotional disorders in it’s victims – so if you suffer from depression look into whether you are a victim of emotional bullying in your family or intimate relationships. The bullies always consider you the poor little weak one in the family (but actually you are the strongest one..)
It was a light bulb moment to recognize I come from a family (a whole pack) of cowards/ bullies (bullies are always cowards incapable of addressing their own fears)..
I can’t believe what they have put me through. But I do know I am braver and stronger than any of them, and I’m pretty sure they know it too..
Bullies run in families. If one of your parental ‘role-models’ was a bully or a coward there is a chance you could become either one and carry on that family ‘role’.
My family ostracized me as a pack. I use to view them as the people I loved the most in the world but I now see them as a pack – yep a pack of cowards!
I have exposed them. It will be interesting to see who comes forward to makes some changes… so far no one has. My father hasn’t replied and my daughter told me she never wants to see me again.
I am so fine with that.. I get to live a life free of abuse with or without them. I also get to free myself of chronic heartache and depression.
I deserve to be treated with love and respect.
From now on it’s ‘my way or the highway’ regarding my family. If they push my boundaries and try to emotionally bully me they can hit the road..
I will choose my health, emotional stability, well-being.. well my LIFE over my family any day.
Love & baby steps to you,
It feels so good not to need the acceptance of my family members. It used to hurt if they rejected me, it used to engulf me with pain. But it doesn’t hurt anymore. I have called out their bullying behaviour and now they can choose to be part of my past or part of my future – it’s their call.
Learning to Communicate Effectively
I wish I lived in a world where people could communicate honestly, freely, kindly and safely. Not just the nice stuff but the hard stuff as well.
Sadly that doesn’t happen in my world.
Emotionally dysfunctional families have problems with communication. They have all been trained since childhood by unhealthy examples.
They are either aggressive, passive/aggressive or passive communicators. Healthy or assertive communication has no place in a dysfunctional family.
Children of abuse learn early on, that life is not comfortable if they speak the truth openly, that it’s painful to try to tell people what you really need, and that it’s not safe to talk about your own problems.
In abusive families everyone has problems and baggage, no one can hear yours over their own.
In order to survive and have some degree of peace, you have to stifle your voice, edit your truth, you are unable to express your uncomfortable emotions. Every time you have tried, it has only caused pain, ridicule, minimalization, conflict, confusion, misunderstandings, rejection or hostility.
Lets face it.. we will all try to avoid that.
Having to avoid it, is what causes depression – the hopelessness of trying to communicate in dysfunctional families where no-one hears you. The inner anger at not being allowed to speak freely without fear. For some the outer anger at the injustice.
As a child I needed to express myself, my worries, my problems – my opinions, my anger, my sadness without fear of rejection, misunderstanding, ridicule or hostility .. but it was not possible.
I wasn’t allowed to be angry, overwhelmed, sad, annoyed or frustrated – these were not appropriate emotions for me to have – words like ‘get over it’ were used or ‘there are people worse off than you’, stop crying, quit moaning. I had no choice but to repress it. Narcissistic families have enough drama to cope with, the children become invisible, emotionally neglected, ignored, abandoned.
Emotionally abusive families don’t deal with stuff, they blame others, they never take responsibility. I finally started to speak out as an adult in order to heal.. and I was ostracized by my family. They didn’t want to deal with it, they didn’t want to hear it or heal it – they would rather I disappear. I was silenced. Even if I tried to communicate effectively, they didn’t want to hear the truth. It came to the point that.. either you allow me to express myself or I cannot remain in this family.
Due to this dysfunction from childhood.. boundaries, dealing with conflict and verbally expressing difficult emotions becomes an area in which we have no expertise as adults.
It sets us up for more drama in life and ongoing problems relating to people. Great feelings of disconnection, loneliness, confusion and emotional pain.
There becomes a hopelessness in trying to communicate effectively with people. Sometimes we do not know how to deal with or handle emotional issues with others, so we instinctively do it the family way – the only way we know how … ignore, deny, repress.. repeat – usually with bad outcomes…
In order to heal from emotional abuse we have to learn as adults to communicate and express ourselves in a way that is good for us … and in a way that does not hurt another.
We have to become assertive and practice and learn healthy communication skills.
When dealing with conflict.. ‘I feel..’ is a good start to a conversation. I felt annoyed when.., I feel hurt because… I’m unable to cope right now as..
Learning to verbalize healthy boundaries becomes an art to learn and you find others appreciate and accept your truth if you speak it openly, with kind but assertive words.
It takes baby steps and practice.
The unhealthy cycle of communication is based on fear of conflict, it’s understandable from what we’ve come from. It’s not our fault, but it is only up to us to change it.
To learn new healthy ways to interact rather than what has become habit .. to shut down, avoid, stifle or run .. or rant, yell, scream, mock, curse, threaten.
Both these actions and communication styles hurt people.
If not we are destined to repeat our unhealthy painful family history by communicating in a way that is no longer necessary.
– We need to express the hard stuff in a healthy manner in order to have peace and to be free from depression.
In time we learn who the aggressive communicators are, those who don’t care to understand us or our feelings, and we learn those who run to avoid conflict, those who attack instead of talk.
People who won’t let us speak or don’t respond to us as adults keep us wounded.
Unless we change, we become emotional abusers ourselves. We become passive or passive/ aggressive or aggressive in our approach and that is hurtful to yourself and others.
Emotional and verbal abuse hurts, healthy communication heals.
We need to break the cycle.
Love and baby steps,