Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Rejection sensitivity - rejecting an unwanted lover safely

rejecting an unwanted lover

Rejecting an unwanted lover unceremoniously can be dangerous. Rejection sensitivity and aggression by the scorned male can have disastrous consequences. Last week a college girl was attacked with a sickle for doing so. The demographic profile of students at our clinic is probably a representation of the Pune student population. Many students feel socially and culturally alienated while having to cope on their own with minimal family support. Some have no one to express their feelings or thoughts to. A smile or other facial expressions from a classmate or a single phrase while watching a game are viewed as tokens of intimacy. Subsequent fantasising invests these facial expressions and interactions with an excessive significance. That the girl does not initiate or acknowledge further interaction is rationalised as shyness and considered a virtue, further embedding the myth of intimacy.

The concept of gender equality may be alien in the culture of the student. It comes as a great shock to the lover, when he gathers up his courage to proclaim his love only to find it discarded unceremoniously. His reaction will depend on his attachment style - the behavioural response to separation developed in childhood. Mostly he will withdraw further into his shell, but in some cases, especially when he is high on the personality characteristic of rejection sensitivity and has a fearful attachment style, he will harbour and act out thoughts of revenge.These vengeful thoughts smoulder unrecognised until they burst forth in as dramatic and unexpected action as the initial profession of love.

Rejecting an unwanted lover

Rejection sensitivity is always a concern when rejecting an unwanted lover. The independent modern woman needs to learn how to handle this situation without involving family or other third parties. Rejecting an unwanted lover can be considered as a form of breaking bad news. For this there is no better technique than the SPIKES 6-step protocol which is used to break bad news in medicine.
Make sure there is privacy. No matter how startled you are by his profession of love, do not blurt out a summary dismissal in front of everyone. Stay in a public place, but take him to one side.
Ask him to clarify what he has just said, and what lead him to say that. This  will help you to place him, if you haven't already done so.
Ask whether you can tell him your point of view on the subject
giving Knowledge
Warning before giving the bad news helps the person process the information imparted without  getting angry or feeling isolated. Start by saying "I am sorry to say that I don't feel that way". Don't be rude or excessively blunt  Responses such as "who do you think you are?",  "why should I have feelings for you?" or laughing contemptuously are bound to turn love into the other end of the stick - hate, especially if he is high on rejection sensitivity. Check his reactions and modify  what you are saying so he can understand.
Identify his emotion - sadness, anger, hurt. Closely monitor his facial expressions. Acknowledge it. "I can see that you are feeling hurt. Anyone in your position might feel like that".
Discussing what comes next. Start from his Perception of the relationship to help vent his emotions. Deal with these Empathically, again the facial expressions are important. The goal should be to politely but firmly communicate "I don't feel that way" so "we cant take this any further, don't take this personally".
The aim is to stay polite while rejecting an unwanted lover without humiliating him. It should not take more than 5-10 minutes of time spent reading facial expressions and showing concern while firmly putting forward your own lack of 'spark' in the relationship.

  1. Baile WF, Buckman R, Lenzi R, Glober G, Beale EA, Kudelka AP. SPIKES-A six-step protocol for delivering bad news: application to the patient with cancer. Oncologist. 2000;5(4):302-11.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Rejection and aggression - the fury of the scorned male

rejection and aggression

Rejection experienced in an intimate relationship can trigger unexpected aggression with sometimes fatal consequences. A working woman in Pune was stabbed to death in her home when she spurned the marriage proposal of a good friend. Another 17 year-old girl from Hadapsar was stabbed in the stomach for rebuffing the overtures of a relative. Why would a man assault a woman after professing his love to her? Many instances of aggression arise from events where an individual perceives he is not sufficiently loved or valued in the context of an intimate relationship.

People differ in their readiness to perceive and react to rejection. The desire to belong is a basic human need. Some maintain equanimity while others over-react in ways that harm their relationships and their well-being. Hostility and aggression are among the most destructive reactions to rejection. Low self-esteem, depression, jealousy, self-neglect and a breakdown of daily routine are other painful outcomes of being rejected. Social rejection is the strongest predictor of violence in adolescents (Surgeon General 2001). This association between rejection and aggression is also repeatedly shown in social experiments.

Rejection triggers behaviours internalised during interactions with parents during infancy and early childhood. Based on these interactions children form certain expectations regarding the satisfaction or rejection of their needs. When childhood needs are met sensitively and consistently the child forms secure expectations. When childhood needs are met with rejection the child forms a pattern of insecure expectations involving doubts and anxieties. These repeated early interactions determine the individuals attachment style - the communication pattern exhibited in close relationships.

Aggression is first learned during infancy as a response to separation from the mother. The purpose is to reunite with the mother and discourage future separation. Adults who are socially immature respond to separation from a loved one with shouting, crying, and throwing or smashing objects. Again the purpose is to protect the relationship. Men with a fearful or preoccupied attachment style are more likely to be jealous, violent and abusive in intimate relationships. This tendency to violence increases when the relationship is threatened. Males with a fearful attachment style are anxious about gaining their partners approval and at the same time are fearful of being rejected by them. These males are more likely to attribute negative intent to their partners. This combination of internal conflict and external blame makes men with a fearful attachment style respond to rejection with aggression (Leary 2006).

Jealousy is the precursor of aggression in many close relationships. Jealousy occurs when people believe that another person does not sufficiently value their relationship because of the presence or intrusion of a third party. Men who are abusive have higher interpersonal jealousy. Abused women and the men who abuse them report jealousy as the most common precursor to violence. Among both men and women, intimate violence is often provoked by real or imagined infidelity (Leary 2006). We have already discussed jealousy in the context of the family.

Rejection-sensitivity is a personality characteristic associated with aggression elicited by rejection in love and romance. People high in rejection sensitivity (Downey 1996)
  1. Anxiously expect rejection by significant people in their lives.
  2. Readily perceive intentional rejection in the ambiguous or insensitive behaviour of their new partner.
  3. Over-react to rejection

Gender differences (Downey 1996) dictate that men with high rejection sensitivity manifest jealousy in the face of perceived rejection. Their consequent attempts to control their love object’s interactions with other males leads to further dissatisfaction in the relationship. When they are not successful in this they respond with rage - the common fallout of jealousy. Females react to perceived rejection with hostility and withdrawal of support. Both gender reactions lead to dissatisfaction with the partner and subsequent breakup of the relationship. If taken to an extreme, the jealousy in the rejection sensitive male can lead to fatal consequences for object of his affections.

Despite these negative experiences rejection sensitive people are repeatedly drawn to intimate relationships. The new relationship is viewed as an opportunity for acceptance. Initially they work hard to ingratiate themselves with their partner. However, the inevitable transient negativity, insensitivity, or preoccupation triggers the deeply ingrained anxieties and expectations of rejection. The person over-reacts to minor and ambiguous signals from the love object and starts the cycle of dissatisfaction in the relationship.

Rejection sensitivity is deeply ingrained in the personality. An intimate partner or a therapist can alter the expectancies and anxieties about rejection. It is possible for the rejection sensitive person to develop better conflict resolution skills. But only when there is a high degree of motivation in the rejection-sensitive person and a skilled, and nurturing partner.

  1. Özlem Ayduk, Anett Gyurak, and Anna Luerssen. Individual differences in the rejection-aggression link in the hot sauce paradigm: The case of Rejection Sensitivity. J Exp Soc Psychol. 2008 May 1; 44(3): 775–782. doi: 10.1016/j.jesp.2007.07.004
  2. Downey G, Feldman SI. Implications of rejection sensitivity for intimate relationships. J Pers Soc Psychol. 1996 Jun;70(6):1327-43.
  3. Leary MR, Twenge JM, Quinlivan E. Interpersonal rejection as a determinant of anger and aggression. Pers Soc Psychol Rev. 2006;10(2):111-32.
  4. Office of the Surgeon General. (2001). Youth violence: A report of the Surgeon General. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Breakup of romantic relationships in youth

Breakups in non-marital relationships are a source of stress in youth. Breakups are a major reason for self-referral at the Clinic. Stress arises from conflict in daily interaction between the couple and peaks at the time of breakup. The individual’s reaction to breakup of the relationship depends on his or her attachment style.

attachment styles
Reactions to breakup depend on individual attachment style

There are four attachment styles displayed in relationships. These attachment styles are delineated based on the individuals capacity for intimacy (interest in and comfort with closeness and interdependence) and independence (less dependence on partner’s approval, and reduced anxiety about abandonment) (Bartholomew and Horowitz, 1991).

How do individuals react during a breakup?

Intense reactions occur in those individuals whose partners terminated the relationship, those who were more emotionally involved in the relationship, and those high in attachment anxiety.

Emotionally secure individuals react to romantic breakup with open, empathic communication with their partner. They try social coping strategies and use friends and family as sources of comfort. They are better able to understand their partner’s point of view regarding the breakup, and are less likely to respond in a histrionic or angry fashion. Secure individuals come in for therapy when they are disturbed by their partner’s reaction to the breakup.

Avoidance prone and dismissing individuals rarely display distress or acting out behaviours. They try to avoid all contact with and reminders of the partner. They also successfully use self-reliant coping strategies. Dismissing individuals use self-medication to suppress attachment-related thoughts and feelings, and this is often the reason for which they come seek help at the Clinic.

Anxious insecure individuals coming to us display three primary dysfunctional reactions (Davis and colleagues, 2003).
  • Extreme distress and preoccupation with the lost partner. They neglect work and themselves, waiting all day at the computer desperately hoping to chat with the partner who is trying to terminate the relationship.
  • Acting out - strenuous and exaggerated attempts to reestablish the relationship. This is often combined with angry, hostile, vengeful or violent behavior. These reactions include stalking and defaming the former lover by passing on contact numbers and photographs.
  • Dysfunctional coping and lack of resolution of the loss including self-destructive strategies such as use of drugs or alcohol. .

What happens after the breakup?

Resolution. Breakup leads to changes in the individual’s perception of himself or herself – the self-concept (Sloter and colleagues, 2010). Relationship anxiety is strongly associated with a lost self-concept without the former partner. The partners renegotiate their sense of self outside the boundaries of relationship. Reduced clarity in the self-concept is associated with post-breakup emotional distress. With time most breakups end in resolution of the associated distress. The individual’s idea of the self and the lost attachment figure are reorganised to allow a changed emotional bond and adjustment to changed circumstances.

Integration. Anxious and avoidant persons may to some extent integrate the ex-partner into their lives in an altered form of attachment, such as friendship or working relationships.

Chronic mourning. Those who are higher in anxiety (more emotionally involved) and those who are more attached to the lost partner (did not initiate the breakup) have greater desire for the lost partner.

Replacement. Insecure individuals high in attachment anxiety are more likely to search immediately for a replacement partner. They feel uncomfortable when not in a romantic relationship. Re-bound relationships formed under these desperate conditions are unusually troubled later on.
High attachment anxiety increases the breakup rate

  1. Bartholomew K, Horowitz L M. Attachment styles among young adults: A test of a four-category model. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 1991: 61, 226-244.
  2. Davis D, Shaver PR, Vernon ML. Physical, emotional, and behavioral reactions to breaking up: the roles of gender, age, emotional involvement, and attachment style. Pers Soc Psychol Bull. 2003 Jul;29(7):871-84.
  3. Slotter EB, Gardner WL, Finkel EJ. Who am I without you? The influence of romantic breakup on the self-concept. Pers Soc Psychol Bull. 2010 Feb;36(2):147-60. Epub 2009 Dec 15.