Hurts So Bad

Illustration of the pain pathway in René Desca...

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Social rejection, that is.

Current theorizing suggests that the brain systems that underlie social rejection developed by coopting brain circuits that support the affective component of physical pain (1, 2, 9). The current findings substantively extend these views by demonstrating that social rejection and physical pain are similar not only in that they are both distressing, they share a common representation in somatosensory brain systems as well.


Although the experience of social rejection is commonly accompanied by reports of various emotions (e.g., fear, sadness, anger, anxiety, and shame), it is generally assumed that these feelings cumulatively give rise to a unique experience of “social pain” (3537). The results of the meta-analyses we performed in this study, which indicated that fMRI studies of specific emotions rarely activate OP1 and dpINS, are consistent with this view.

Decision making ability goes down the tubes:

Researchers have known for a long time that there is a link between social exclusion and the failure of self-control. For instance, people who are rejected in social situations often respond by abusing alcohol, expressing aggression or performing poorly at school or work.


The new study, however, is the first to use MEG to show that there are actual changes inside the brain when test subjects are manipulated to feel socially excluded. MEG is an imaging technique that measures the magnetic fields produced by electrical activity in the brain.

Analogous to a trapped, wounded animal, no?  Except in this case, being trapped means being trapped in ongoing living with intentionally inflicted and unrelieved distress.

Here’s the linkage:

“Although it has long been suggested that mu-opioids play a role in social pain — and there are convincing animal models that show this — this is the first human study to link this mu-opioid receptor gene with social sensitivity in response to rejection,” Eisenberger said.

“These findings suggest that the feeling of being given the cold shoulder by a romantic interest or not being picked for a schoolyard game of basketball may arise from the same circuits that are quieted by morphine,” said Baldwin Way, a UCLA postdoctoral scholar and the lead author on the paper.

Eisenberger argues that this overlap in the neurobiology of physical and social pain makes good sense.

“Because social connection is so important, feeling literally hurt by not having social connections may be an adaptive way to make sure we keep them,” she said. “Over the course of evolution, the social attachment system, which ensures social connection, may have actually borrowed some of the mechanisms of the pain system to maintain social connections.”

Back to the usual: the interpersonal theory of suicidality.  The two conditions of thwarted belongingness and perceived burdensomness are met with social rejection that isn’t fully remediated. Baumeister explains that human attachment is a fundamental – essential for survival – need:

A hypothesized need to form and maintain strong, stable interpersonal relationships is evaluated in light of the empirical literature.  The need is for frequent, nonaversive interactions within an ongoing relational bond.  Consistent with the belongingness hypothesis, people form social attachments readily under most conditions and resist the dissolution of existing bonds.  Belongingness appears to have multiple and strong effects on emotional patterns and on cognitive processes.  Lack of attachments is linked to a variety of ill effects on health, adjustment, and well-being.  Other evidence, such as that concerning satiation, substitution, and behavioral consequences, is likewise consistent with the hypothesized motivation.  Several seeming counterexamples turned out not to disconfirm the hypothesis.  Existing evidence supports the hypothesis that the need to belong is a powerful, fundamental, and extremely pervasive motivation.


Suicide becomes the means to put a permanent end on an inflicted permanent unbearable degree of suffering – real physiologic and psychologic suffering.

Everyday ostracism

What is it like to be ostracized?

Silent treatment, social exclusion, social death, etc., are all “soft” terms which refer to ostracism.  But most people only get a brief taste of ostracism before their distress leads them to seek to alleviate the experience.  When truly ostracized, there is no one to contact, no ear to bend, no hand to seek. No solace, no understanding, no healing – just ceaseless nothing.

I have no emergency contact to list.  I can’t “express my end of life wishes” because in this state, only a healthcare proxy is recognized.  I have no one to serve as my representative, and so only have a living will form on file which will be ignored should I become unable to express my wishes directly.

I speak to no one on a daily basis.  The extent of my interactions with people is to say please and thank you to clerks and bus drivers.  No one voluntarily speaks to me – ever. When my landlord responds to a rare request of maintenance with a surly, “if you don’t like it here, leave”, I have nowhere to go TO. I have no reason for staying, either. Permanent limbo.

No one calls or mails.  The only reason for my phone is to be able to call 911.  I also receive the rare robot call to verify an appointment. I have no references, no network and no way back IN. Permanent impermanence.

It means that I only go to places which tolerate me, as I am not welcome anywhere.  No one ever returned my calls or responded to invitations to meet socially.  I learned to stop initiating contact because it was – and always will be – unwanted. Permanent undesirable OTHER.

The first time someone turned their back and hurried away from me so as not to be seen with me was confusing, hurtful and humiliating.  I learned to get used to it and to avoid anyone familiar because to be seen with me might be harmful to them in terms of their job security or their own risk of social exclusion. Now there is no one who recognizes me at all due to time, aging and general forgetfulness – I have no meaning for anyone to remember. I am already dead and forgotten to everyone I knew.

Ostracism is lethal, but it is clean, bloodless, non-violent.  It is the absence of action, the withholding of affection, the denial of another’s very existence.

I am untouchable, unlikeable and unlovable.  This is my place – no place.  And my life – no life. There is no comfort, no compassion, no companionship, no humanity.  It is a complete void. To be deliberately untethered from the world is to experience a form of death, but one with eyes wide open and all sense unfortunately registering during every waking moment and throughout dream sleep.

It is inhuman, and it is my present and my future.

My voice is unwelcome.  I have been rendered worthless, purposeless and without meaning.  Predictably, there will be no comments here or discussion anywhere, not because of moderation, but because as soon as the reader gets the gist of this, they (you) will hurry away.  It is repulsive and dreadful to confront this, and the reaction is the same as if happening upon someone obviously infected with an untreatable fatal disease.

That is what it is like to be ostracized. No one to contact on 9/11, and no one who contacted me.

Never forget, indeed. As if I could.