Rejection Feels Exactly Like Spilling Coffee On Yourself


According to another groundbreaking study, rejection doesn’t merely wound your psyche, it actually physically hurts, man.

And we’re talking about a pain not unlike “dropping something on your toe or getting lemon juice in a papercut”:

According to a recent study, areas of the brain that indicate physical pain area activated “at moments of intense social loss.”
In terms of the actual study, 40 volunteers (who all felt “intensely rejected” due to a recent breakup), were hooked up to MRI scanners to measure their brain activity while they looked at photos of former boyfriends/girlfriends and thought about exactly how they’d been rejected.

Anyone who’s ever subjected themselves to a night spent pouring over photos and memories and thinking, “remember how good things used to be?” can say pretty much the same thing, but now they have actual scientific evidence for their pain.

And in some ways, that could actually make you feel a little bit better (because at least it’s not all in your head):

Then they were asked to look at a picture of a friend and think of a good experience with that person.
After all that, they “experienced noxious thermal stimulation on their left forearms,” which basically means it feels like they spilled hot coffee on themselves. Then they received “nonnoxious” stimulation, which feels, probably, like a nice warm bath, or at least not as noxious as hot coffee.

Granted, the odds of this study going awry are fairly solid. When you’re heartbroken over something or someone, it can be very easy to lead one seemingly unrelated thought directly back to your current feelings of heartbreak. Which means that being asked something as simple as “think about your friend” could cause you to think about a million things. Maybe you always had feelings for that particular friend, maybe that friend is in a great relationship now and that reminds you that it’s over, maybe that person hasn’t been a very good friend to you lately, etc. and all of this reminds you of your ex. That’s neuroticism at it’s finest!

The tragic thing is, whatever road you take to get back to that feeling, an MRI reads it the same way it would if you’d spilled scorching hot coffee on your sensitive, already heartbroken arm.

Scientists say they don’t know “what part of the body feels this physical rejection pain”, but if it’s a matter of toughening up our resistance to physical pain (this article suggests building up a tolerance for spilling coffee on yourself), then maybe it’s possible to employ the same tactics you would if you stubbed your toe or yes, dumped a latte in your lap:

Remember that focusing on the pain isn’t going to make it go away.
Remember that breathing deeply and trying to think about something else will focus you until the pain subsides, even for a little while.
Remember that in a few weeks time, you’ll hardly remember hitting your thumb with a hammer.

Whether or not you still remember the good times spent with Barry is another story.

Rejection Feels Like Spilling Hot Coffee on Your Arm, Says Science [Village Voice]

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