Last week while I was sitting at the dentist’s office, waiting while my 2 boys completed their checkups, I absentmindedly perused the magazine pile on the coffee table. My choices were limited – various fashion magazines from 2011 touting winter skin care do’s and don’ts and the best hair colours for the season, stacks of tattered Reader’s Digests and a lone copy of Canadian Health. I reached for the Canadian Health.
It didn’t take much thumbing and an article caught my eye: Rejection Hurts by Ylva Van Buuren. So often what is at the heart of workplace conflicts (well, any conflicts really) are feelings of rejection and pain when relationships become strained. The sting of rejection is real. Van Buuren writes:
Rejection is painful — literally. The suffering caused by being rebuffed or passed over can actually hurt like a physical wound, according to Dr. Naomi Eisenberger, an assistant professor of social psychology at the University of California-Los Angeles. Research has shown that the pain you feel following a social snub may be experienced in the brain in a manner similar to physical pain, and both types of trauma are processed in the same region of the brain, the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex. One study even showed that people who took an over-the-counter painkiller for three weeks reported fewer hurt feelings than those who took an inactive dummy pill.
Wow. She goes on to say that people who have experienced prior attachment injuries (i.e. experiencing the pain of relationships that have not securely bonded, perhaps as a result of prior feelings of rejection) may also experience lower levels of resilience when it comes to coping with future personal rejection, in whatever form that looks like. Makes sense.
As mediators, my colleagues and I are often invited to enter the conflict and pain of relationships that have been injured and broken. As third parties, we bear witness to the hurt of rejection and help people talk about it. Healing from these emotional and relational wounds takes time and energy, just like healing a broken bone. But you can’t literally put a cast on your heart to protect it during this vulnerable healing process.
Talking about the pain of conflict and rejection is hard, messy business. But it’s an important part of healing the wound and letting go of the pain.