Ostracism and Social Exclusion

· June 9, 2019
Read all about ostracism and social exclusion in this interesting article!

The term ostracism comes from the Greek ostrakismos, which means to banish by voting with potsherds. Ostracism and social exclusion are both forms of social punishment. They stem from all sorts of prejudice, racial or sexual discrimination, and a diversity of beliefs or personal values.

However, you can also be the victim of ostracism and social exclusion in the workplace and even in your personal relationships. We think that any rejection you experience in any of these social dimensions can have serious emotional consequences.

Ostracism was a practice that consisted of exiling citizens who posed any threat to the community. These days, it’s mainly a phenomenon that results from a tacit consensus that can be displayed in a more or less subtle way.

The Need to Belong

Human beings have a great need for belonging and group affiliation. Identifying with other people has many psychological benefits and reinforces our group and individual identity.

Human beings are innately social and the need for belonging is an evolutionary aspect of survival. In this regard, ostracism and social exclusion are threats to group memberships.

A group of friends seated on a rail.

The Relationship between Social Belonging and Ego

The concept of the ego in psychology is the object of numerous investigations and theories. Within the wide spectrum of its proposed meanings, two of them made by Leary and Tangney in their Handbook of Self and Identity are the ones that seem to relate to social belonging:

  • Self-awareness or self-consciousness. It’s what registers your experiences, feels your feelings, and thinks your thoughts. It’s the “I” by which you’re aware of yourself.
  • Self-regulation. This is the self that executes and acts. It’s the ability to adapt behavior in order to position yourself in the world the way you want to be. It’s the regulator that allows you to control yourself and consciously be who you want to be: your ideal self.

From your reflections and experiences (self-consciousness), you can regulate and adjust your behavior in the desired direction (self-regulation). This is the process that helps you get closer to the person you want to be.

When you feel rejected and are a victim of ostracism and social exclusion, having to look inside yourself and reflect on yourself (self-consciousness) becomes something extremely unpleasant that you may tend to avoid. However, if you don’t reflect, you won’t be able to self-regulate.

Effects of Ostracism and Social Exclusion

Ostracism and social exclusion have many effects.

In 2009, the University of California discovered the link between social rejection and physical pain: the OPRM1 gene. Thus, they posited that social exclusion activated areas of the brain that are related to stress. Additionally, recent studies showed that ostracism also activates areas associated with physical pain, the dorsal posterior insula in particular. Some believe that these findings can help explain diseases such as fibromyalgia.

In addition to its negative impact on a person’s physical health, social exclusion leads to reduced prosocial behavior in its victims, which keeps them from developing empathy.

Their cognitive ability and intellectual performance also suffer, especially their ability to complete complex cognitive tasks that require attention and conscious control. Furthermore, it also affects their emotional behavior and, in particular, their levels of aggressiveness.

A woman seated on a pier.

Violence, Social Exclusion, and Self-Regulation

Years ago, some theories tried to explain the relationship between violence and social exclusion. They argued that people with low intellectual levels have a hard time adapting to society. This lack of adaptation may increase their level of aggressiveness that produces violent behavior.

Today, we know that the process is different. The study by Baumeister and Leary, The need to belong: Desire for interpersonal attachments as a fundamental human motivation, showed that the alteration of self-regulation, which is a consequence of both ostracism and social exclusion, is one of the factors that induce antisocial behaviors.

How People Deal with Social Rejection

People with a strong need to belong tend to develop antisocial behavior after experiencing rejection, especially if they consider it unfair. Furthermore, they may avoid all social contact. Or, on the contrary, this may lead to an increase in prosocial behaviors and interest in making new connections.

People with a more independent self-concept prioritize their individual goals over group goals. These people accept social rejection, and may even lead them to boost their creativity.

Ostracism and social exclusion have negative consequences, as they affect most of the essential aspects of the ego. When someone rejects you, it’s important to be more self-aware. Also, reflect on your experiences and your attitudes. This way, you can self-regulate your behavior in better ways.