Abstract: Processing Dynamics of Rejection Sensitivity
Geraldine Downey & Rainer Romero
The desire to be accepted and valued in one's relationships is widely acknowledged to be a central human motive. Consequently, it is not surprising that rejection by significant individuals and social groups triggers a variety of maladaptive reactions, including depression, suicidal behavior, and violence. Yet, although everyone experiences rejection at various points in their lives, such extreme responses are relatively uncommon. Why do some people respond to rejection in ways that compromise their well-being and relationships, whereas others do not? To help explain variability in people's responses to rejection, we have proposed a specific cognitive-affective processing disposition, rejection sensitivity (RS). We will review the literature, and then describe our efforts to understand more fully why people who anxiously expect rejection behave in ways that lead to the realization of their worst fears. First, we will describe research testing our guiding assumption that RS is a defensively-motivated system that gets elicited by rejection-relevant stimuli. Second, we will describe the effects of being in this defensive state on the perception of rejection. Third, we will describe laboratory research supporting the prediction that being in this defensive state triggers strenuous efforts to prevent rejection that involve over-accommodation, self-silencing, and excessive solicitousness. The final section of the chapter will discuss how the knowledge gained from this research program can potentially guide the development of interventions aimed at reducing the personal and interpersonal difficulties in which RS is implicated, including depression and interpersonal violence and hostility.
Sydney Symposium of Social Psychology: The Social Outcast: Ostracism,
Social Exclusion, Rejection, and Bullying, 15 - 18 March 2004.