Ostracism – Psychological impact of exclusion

If you have been watching movies, you would have observed that in most movies, there are characters who either portray good or evil. Movies tend to portray good characters as someone who can do no evil and bad characters who can do no good.

Real life is a lot different though. Humans are good most of the times especially with their loved ones, however, they can also unknowingly do harm to others by their act which may seem innocent for many.

Ever wondered from where did the evil in our society came from – definitely not from an unidentified flying object from an unknown universe.

If you have ever been ignored by a family member, your group of friends, a co-worker, a boss – then you have been ostracized. And, these are good people who ostracize others, intentionally or unintentionally. The impact of ostracism is not very well understood by the target and hence my motivation to write this post as it is linked to depression and various other relationship conflicts.

The impact of being ostracized can vary depending on the coping mechanism of the person who is ostracized, however, it can be much more severe than just being hurt – think about the school shootings in the U.S., which I will cover later in the post. Humans, however have learnt to cope with this nasty behavior by seeking support elsewhere, but the hurt feelings remain inside for a long time.

What is peculiar about ostracism is that you get the feeling of being hurt and anger even when you’re ignored by a stranger. An example is when you smiled at someone you met in a book store, but the person ignores you, because in general, people are paranoid about strangers.

It is well known that rejection can hurt, be it just friendship, love interest or rejection even at job interviews. Rejection is one of the most profound emotion. It can make people very aggressive and even change their personality.

Whether we recognize or not, ostracism is experienced on a daily basis, either at home or at work or in a social setting and hence it is important to understand that when you feel agitated and angry during the day, there is a reason behind it. One must understand what caused the change in the behavior and take necessary corrective action.

There is enough evidence that ostracism can affect the target’s perception and behavior and hence it is important to understand the various scenarios from childhood to adulthood where an individual is vulnerable to ostracism and its long term psychological impact.

Time-outs by parents

Humans, for some unknown reason,  also have this innate desire to punish others. Just because adults were born long before their own children or students, they believe they have the right to punish them for not behaving like adults or having different views.

Few parents for some reason believe that locking up their naughty  kid in a room is the only way to discipline a child.

The child’s brain is not fully developed yet and doesn’t understand why s/he was locked in a room. It is God’s design for humans that they cry out loud to give a message to their carers when they are uncomfortable or feel strongly about something wrong  being done to them. They cry hard until they discover that there is nobody to wipe their tears and no one is listening. They give up in the end and fall asleep.

While they are fast asleep, they think about what just happened – ‘I was just playing. I dropped that show piece dad brought for me. It broke into pieces. I loved it. Why did dad lock me in this room ?.  I have done nothing wrong. I don’t like dad. He is not nice. Dad hurt me.’

This is the beginning of the love – hate relationship between a child and parent. The child then becomes aggressive when they step out into the real world thinking the whole world is evil.

Ostracism in schools

Time outs is common in schools, where a student is asked to leave the class room if s/he has not completed an assignment or not learnt a subject.

I have never understood how can a student learnt better when s/he is kept away from other students.

People who claim time outs work do not understand that a child did not learn because of time out’s but it was the extra time that they took to grasp a subject. Not every child takes the same amount of time to learn. It doesn’t mean the child is weak in learning. Time-out’s only build a feeling of shame, guilt and anger for the child, that gets internalized.

There could be multiple reasons why the child could not focus in the class. Something as simple as did not have breakfast or was simply tired because s/he played a lot previous day.

The damage that ostracizing a child does is they get stigmatized when their peers start ignoring them outside the class, such as in playgrounds, canteens etc.

They  start hating going to school, socializing, have a low self-esteem for a life time and generally don’t trust people.

When teens are ostracized 

Teenage is the most volatile phase for any individual in their lifetime. Their brain is still developing, restless, reacting to various situations outside their home. While teenagers receive a lot of love at home, this is the first step into the real world and the kind of people they meet shapes their personality and their future.

Not all choices teenagers make may be acceptable to their parents. This then leads to less silent treatment from parents, typically a strict dad. Silent treatment is a classic example of ostracism. It is like saying ‘I don’t care about you even if you are my daughter/son if you don’t conform to my ideologies’.

Silent treatment gives no room for discussion or debate where the other person can present his/her point of view, and hence it is considered the worst form of ostracism.

It implies ‘I don’t care about your existence.’

Unlike childhood, teenage is a phase where they rebel and become more aggressive.

Why do break-ups in love sting ?

Love is such a profound and feel good emotion. However, when people get emotionally attached to someone and when life falls apart, it is not usually a happy ending.

It usually ends with one of the partner ignoring the other’s  messages, emails, text etc.

Being ignored in love and when any form of communication stops, this stings. It can have a painful and a long term effect on the individual, that affects relationships with everyone around them.

Ostracism in workplace

One of the least talked about workplace issues and the most damaging and insidious is ostracism. It is even more dangerous than bullying. While workplace bullying has become a topic for discussion and awareness because of it’s long term impact, ostracism is a bit tricky. It is difficult to prove ostracism at work.

Bullying is visible to everyone and the individual can be held accountable for their behavior.  Ostracism happens when an employee or a staff member is treated as if they don’t even exist.

They get ignored in meetings, their co-workers do not even greet them or invite them for tea during breaks or they could be setup for failure by not passing on the required information to do their job.

The perpetrator can claim ‘I did nothing wrong. I was just doing my work.’

Such tactics are used by managers to get rid of someone they don’t like either because s/he is an introverts who talk only when required,  immigrants, they do not get along well socially, they are popular in the company or they could be whistle blower.

Staff who challenge the status quo or have a different style of function and sometimes a better way of working are targets for ostracism.

The target often finds themselves confused and start doubting themselves whether they caused any trouble – the fact is they did not.

Management in most companies are the ones who encourage ostracism. If you do not follow the rules, you will know it. Even if they are made aware of the damaging effect of ostracism, they wouldn’t care. An employee’s emotional well being has never been their concern.

It is up to the individual then to find people in the company they can bond with. This could be someone who works in another department. It is important not to be affected by these jerks behavior affect you so that you are productive while you find another employment.

It is also important not to seek approval from these perpetrators. They are never going to accept that you are good at what you do.

Ostracism and Depression

Depression is about the feeling of worthlessness. Researchers have still not been able to exactly nail down the cause of depression which is widespread. For many who are insensitive and do not understand what depression is all about might have not been through the same life experience and hence won’t understand.

What is even more tricky about depression is when they cut off people from their life, they cut off from any social bonding making it worse.

Humans are social animals and we need that social bonding and acceptance from groups either friends, social or at work.

One would have thought social media is about being social and accepted. Unfortunately, the human instinct of prejudice, favoritism, ignoring people who do not conform to their norms is far too common.

This article is just to make you aware of what ostracism can do to people. When you meet someone who is aggressive, you know what caused them to behave in that way but you are not responsible for his/her behavior. It is up to them to cope with their emotions.

At the same time, one must be aware that when you ignore someone for an extended period, it can have a long term damaging effect on their emotional well being which we must avoid if we can.

After all karma only gives back what we give to others.

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45 thoughts on “Ostracism – Psychological impact of exclusion

  1. It is a very insightful read. Very few people actually recognize how “Passive aggression” which is what being excluded is feels like , Ostracism is such a common cruelty . Being an error of omission , they can always shrug it off saying it was unintentional. Silent treatment is again suffocating. Group behavior or mob psychology . Most often the group obeys one abuser, and he derives his strength in the numbers he is able to control. His coterie against one person. Entire group will not give you a time out one man is behind it.
    I really enjoyed your sensitive perspective. Amazing !

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    1. Thank you so much for your comment. You are absolutely right. Passive aggressive people cause the most pain as they leave no room for you to share your view point. And, when people become rude because they were not heard, then the blame is on the person who is rude. Also about the mob psychology, the very fear of being ostracized is what makes them controlled by the abuser.

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  2. Amazing and nicely written post.. Thanks to share about Ostracism.. Many people including myself don’t know about this problem.. The way you describe about ostracism in different stages of our lives is wonderful… Great job Sudhir.. 🙂

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  3. Mostly, the people who are ostracized are the ones who are least responsive in a social setting- introverts or sometimes ambiverts. The degrading effects of such actions hence goes unnoticed for a long period of time, and balls up into depression or aggression..

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Agree. Introverts a most uncomfortable in a social environment and hence need just a polite inquire ‘Are you comfortable ?’ …That should do fine as it lets them know they are being cared of. It’s the complete ignoring, when they are treated as if they were not even invited causes the damage to their self-esteem.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. What a sensitive and highly ignored topic to touch upon! Very well written. Ostracism can do more harm than we realize. I guess every one in work community is generally a victim of it in one or the other form thereby leading to increased stress levels and health issues. Would look forward to a post from you on how to handle it 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sure Vandana….Handling ostracism is a bit tricky when you have people in authority behave like toddlers. I know that even HR are not aware of the impact of ostracism. Even the psychologists missed it until Kipling William did a research on this topic. There is more to be done there. But it is hard to change people’s habits. All that psychologists can do is make people aware.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Sudhir, your posts from those that I’ve read are written from the heart. It’s funny you mention ‘time out’, I see it as an unnecessary punishment. I saw my neighbour do this once to her toddler son. He was locked in a room, and was crying. I was concerned about him being left on his own, he’s only a child, it was cruel and unnecessary. The feeling of being ignored is horrible, and yes, I do believe in karma. We should treat others how we wish to be treated.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You know what, Abida. I have seen this happening to my son when we are at a relative’s place and I had stepped out of their home. I was furious because he was crying loud. I hope people understand that when a child cries, s/he is giving a message that I am not happy about something. They don’t cry for no reason.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much. This phenomenon is not very well understood by most people. We often get agitated for no reason but never knew why. Maybe our brain is telling us that we shouldn’t be isolated from other humans. Because we lack compassionate people around us.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Apologies…clicked on send on previous comment.
        I agree with you.
        I am an introvert myself and wanting to be left alone. Reason being I do not like the noise and drama some people create. However, in the long run I suffered. It came out as anger, anxiety and loads of issue. It only meant that we choose to live alone because the people around are either not compassionate or they don’t care.
        From evolution point of view, we are meant to be part of tribe. Whether we choose to isolate ourselves from the tribe or if we are forced to, even unintentionally can cause harm.
        What aggravates depression is people choose to cut off, which does more harm than good and recovery is delayed and sometimes becomes difficult.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Indeed. I am writing about power of words tonight. Will take a day or two.
        I strongly believe words have such a profound effect that changes the way we think about ourselves and people.
        Depression is just that. It’s the effect of each unkind word that we have heard – right from childhood.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. How are you doing, S ?
        If you are wondering, it’s my personal goal to inquire about at least 10 people who are experiencing depression to let them know that they are not alone and there are people who care for them. I do that on Quora too.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. That was a good read. The things you do to overcome depression are good habits that you should continue. I’m glad to know you are close to reaching your goals.

        What you said that “People do not understand that sometimes it is okay not to feel good about ourselves and every individual has his/her own needs to recharge themselves.” is something I can really relate to. Unfortunately, it’s one of those things that often happens. They do not understand what you are going through, so they tell you to just “get over it.” They might also just think you’re a weirdo or social outcast when you keep to yourself. These things shouldn’t really happen, but they do. All the time.

        Liked by 1 person

      5. Yes…sometimes, I feel it’s the people around the person suffering from depression who need counselling and awareness.
        Because you look normal and can carry out your daily activities, they believe you are just making up something for some personal setbacks, which could only be pure co-incidence.

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