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Elisa Goldstein, Ph.D.Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.
A blog about mindfulness, stress-reduction, psychotherapy and mental health.

Does Social Isolation Hurt?

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. Updated: Feb 22nd 2011

boy aloneAllan Schwartz, PhD wrote a blog post on The Pain of Being Ostracized. He correctly wrote about how we all have a primal need to belong and how there is psychological pain in being excluded in social circles. This has not only been documented in the field of psychology, but the field of neuroscience has shown us that the same parts of the brain that light up with physical pain also light up with emotional pain from social exclusion.

Naomi Eisenberger and colleagues did a study published in 2003 called Does Rejection Hurt. They hooked up participants to a computer to engage in a virtual game of ball tossing. If you were playing you would experience being included in one round of ball tossing and then all-of-a-sudden being excluded in another round. Those who were excluded reported feeling social distress, rejected and even meaningless.

There is an area of the brain that is called the Anterior Cingulate Cortex (ACC) that perceives both social and physical pain. Eisenberger and her colleagues write:

“The anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) is believed to act as a neural ‘alarm system’ or conflict monitor, detecting when an automatic response is inappropriate or in conflict with current goals … Not surprisingly, pain, the most primitive signal that ‘something is wrong,’ activates the ACC .”

This is all to say that social pain is real. When kids are being bullied or any one of us is feeling ostracized in society, it is actually really painful. Our brains take that in and translate it as pain and we need to take it seriously.

There are still many people out there who might tell someone to “suck it up” or “pull yourself up by your bootstraps.” If you had a wounded leg you wouldn’t tell someone to just suck it up, you’d first treat that leg or else it would get infected.

It’s important for us to know how to take care of ourselves and it’s good to have awareness that when others are in social pain, that is real pain.

There are many options including talking to a friend, going to psychotherapy, joining a community online, or even seeking out a psychotherapist online.

The point here is to reach in the direction of connection to heal our selves and our brains.

As always, please share your thoughts, stories and questions below. Your interaction creates a living wisdom for us all to benefit from. 

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist in private practice in West Los Angeles and is author of the upcoming book The Now Effect, co-author of A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook, Foreword by Jon Kabat-Zinn, author of the Mindful Solutions audio series, and the Mindfulness at Work™ program currently being adopted in multiple multinational corporations.

Check out Dr. Goldstein's acclaimed CD's on Mindful Solutions for Stress, Anxiety, and Depression, Mindful Solutions for Addiction and RelapsePrevention, and Mindful Solutions for Success and Stress Reduction at Work. -- "They are so relevant, I have marked them as one of my favorites on a handout I give to all new clients" ~ Psychiatrist.

If you're wanting to integrate more mindfulness into your daily life, sign up for his Mindful Living Twitter Feed. Dr. Goldstein is also available for private psychotherapy.

Reader Comments
Discuss this issue below or in our forums.

every day - Austin Griffin - Feb 22nd 2011

This year ive moved to a new school and its been a really chalenge. Ive left some good friends back at my old school i do see the some times but rarly. Ive been struggling to find friends and its just a really pain in the ass. I have constant exsietie to walk down the hall or just being around people i feel like ive lost all my social skills, ive met a few people but there just faces i see here and there and say hi to sometimes but dont really get conforsations going or hang out. If any one gets this can you peoples give me some tips. 

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