Studying Rejection in Unrequited Love.
Unrequited love has been a subject of study, as well as poetry, novels and cinema since time immemorial. Psychologists have done extensive studies and procedures effective at manipulating the sense of being accepted and rejected in human beings. The procedures show that most people assume intuitively that they would elicit strong emotional reactions upon rejection in love, but this did not happen. One reason for this could be that the rejection is sprung on the participant with little warning, during the study. Rejection can make people unhappy and distraught
in various ways, but because emotions take time to build, they do not come right after the unexpected rejection. However, behaviour changes do show up immediately, implying that emotion is not required to produce the behavioural effects.
Behaviour of Exclusion
While studying the large behavioural effects of rejection, psychologists found that rejected people became more aggressive toward others. Child psychologists have observed that violent, aggressive, kids are often outcasts. However, it is also true that aggressiveness leads to rejection. As I have written in my blog Psychology of Rejection in Unrequited Love, we are fundamentally social to the extent that other animals cannot imagine. Animals generally learn about their world with the use of their five senses. Humans learn about the world from each other. Social connection is the blood and breath of human life, and rejection strikes at its very core. Therefore, being aggressive after rejection sounds like a natural reaction, based on the study that aggression in rejected unrequited lovers was limited to attacking the people who rejected them.
This study also led to finding increase in aggression toward people who criticise or insult and provoke the rejected lover. However, it is interesting to note that if the object of love came along and treated the rejected person favourably, offered friendly praise, there is no increase in aggression. The reason behind this is that rejection makes you view the world with suspicion and hostility. This is especially true when a lover faces rejection from a close friend. Thereafter, this aggressive attitude is suspended only if someone clearly comes across as a friend.
It was also noticed that an excluded or rejected lover was more likely to cheat. They are less likely to help others in many ways – donating money, cooperating or even just bending over to help pick up something from the floor. This could also be a sign of depression in the unrequited lover. As I have written in my blog Psychology of Suicide in Unrequited Love, symptoms of depression are easily noticeable to people close to a depressed lover. A depressed lover generally has trouble in starting practically anything, like getting up in the morning, going to work, interacting with people etc. Passivity and lack of normal response undermines their ability to engage in important life functions. In its extreme form they even feel like doing what is necessary for life such as eating and sleeping.
Does rejection really make people selfish? In some ways, but not others.
Rejection leads to significant increase in self-defeating behaviours. Rejected lovers are more likely to take foolish risks instead of playing it safe. This implies that a person probably starts loving himself less after being rejected in love. Unrequited lovers procrastinated more. They make more unhealthy choices, such as becoming smokers or alcoholics.
This combination presents a puzzle. Why would rejected lovers become both selfish and self-defeating? Self-interest is clearly not a full explanation. However, this gives us a cue to look at self-regulation as a crucial inner process that will help lovers overcome selfish, antisocial impulses. It also helps prevent self-defeating behaviour resulting from impulsively taking short-term gains that lead to bigger losses later.
Studies have also provided dramatic evidence of the harmful nature of rejection in unrequited love. While we did not find emotion immediately after rejection, yet we found these patterns of impulsive risk-taking and similar behaviours. Psychologists think that rejection is like getting knocked on the head with a brick. If emotion wasn’t present, perhaps cognition? We would normally predict or hope that rejection would improve intelligent thought. And, through intelligence tests, scientists found that rejection makes a person act stupid!!
Then would an increase in intelligent thinking be an adaptive response to rejection? I am going to write more about this in my next post. Please share your opinion about this article in the comments section and I will include it in my future articles.