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, December 20, 2010

Schools, punishment and suicide - teenagers dying of shame

A Pune school joined the ranks of those in which a punished and humiliated teenager committed suicide. A teenage life snuffed out by the psychological pain of humiliation. It was apparently over his talking with a girl student. He was thrashed by the school principal, two teachers and the girl's uncle. This was not punishment - it was physical abuse. The boy did not return home after school. His father, a labourer, went to the school to look for him. The next morning the teenager’s body was found on the railway tracks.

Labourers moving to their work-site

Behaviours perceived as undesirable by teachers

The chain of events in this suicide apparently begins with the teenager talking to a girl student - normal adolescent behaviour. It is in the stage of adolescence that opposite-sex social interaction begins. A co-ed school would be the ideal place for this adolescent interaction. Yet this behaviour was perceived as seriously undesirable by the school authorities. Let’s look at other behaviours perceived as undesirable by teachers (Borg MG, 1998).
  • Teachers perceive drug abuse, bullying and destruction of property as the most serious problem behaviours. Inquisitiveness and whispering are rated as the least serious
  • Cheating, lying, masturbation and heterosexual activity are considered as more serious in girls. In boys, dreaminess, disorderliness, silliness, quarrelsomeness, and restlessness are considered to be more problematic.
  • Female teachers perceive masturbation and obscene notes as more serious than male teachers. Male teachers perceive disorderliness to be more serious.

Punishment in schools

In the next step of the chain of events the teenager was punished for his normal adolescent behaviour.

Punishment is the application of an adverse stimulus after an unacceptable behaviour has occurred. The goal is to reduce the probability that the behaviour will recur. However, punishment, especially in public will also result in loss of self-esteem and humiliation. Public humiliation is known to promote further aggression - not reduce it.

In a school system there are better ways to induce behavioural change while preserving the child’s dignity. All behavioural measures start with defining the problem behaviour. Talking to a girl-student in a co-ed school is only problem behaviour when it is viewed on social class lines. School authorities and teachers need to realise their role as promoters and nurturers of responsible freedom and equality. As educators they need to go beyond their own personal biases.


A major interpersonal risk factor for suicide in India is humiliation (Bhatia et al, 1987). Humiliation is strongly related to aggressive behaviour. Suicide is nothing other than aggression turned inward (Freud. 1919). Middle class status protects the individual against aggression when humiliated (Aslund et al, 2009). That protection was not available for this lower socio-economic status labourer's son.

The outskirts of Pune are a churn of economic activity sucking in people with the promise of opportunity for work. In the mornings the roads from surrounding villages are lined by labourers walking with tiffin in hand to the nearest transport hub. Many among these house their families in one room shacks. It is a tribute to our system that at least for some among them the education of their children in a proper school is not just a dream. It is a shame on us that ten years of education and commitment of parents and the state can be cut short by insensitive punishment and humiliation by parents and educators. One labourer’s child died of that shame.


  1. Aslund C, Starrin B, Leppert J, Nilsson KW. Social status and shaming experiences related to adolescent overt aggression at school. Aggress Behav. 2009 Jan-Feb; 35(1):1-13.
  2. Bhatia SC, Khan MH, Mediratta RP, Sharma A. High risk suicide factors across cultures. Int J Soc Psychiatry. 1987 Autumn; 33(3):226-36.
  3. Borg MG. Secondary school teachers' perception of pupils' undesirable behaviours. Br J Educ Psychol. 1998 Mar; 68 (Pt 1):67-79.
  4. Freud S. Mourning and Melancholia. 1919