“Little Dancer” watercolor painting by kayti sweetland rasmussen
Our universal need to belong and to matter are as fundamental as our need to eat and to breathe. When we ostracize or reject another it is one of the most powerful punishments one person can inflict upon another.
Brain scans have shown that this rejection is actually experienced as physical pain in many cases. Pain is experienced whether those who reject us are strangers or close friends or family.
Imagine the pain and anxiety a child feels while waiting to be chosen as a team member. To be last in line, tells him he isn’t quite as good, not only as a team member, but as a person.
This reaction serves a function: it warns us that something is wrong. We don’t measure up in some important way.
Belonging to a group is a need, giving us better self-esteem and a sense of control over our lives. A belief that our existence is meaningful.
Ostracism threatens all these needs. Even an argument, verbal or physical is a connection; But when we alone stand on the outskirts of a group it is a uniquely harsh blow because it implies wrong-doing. Worse, the imposed silence forces us to generate more and more self-deprecating thoughts. You can fight back, but no one will respond, because we are invisible.
For most people, ostracism usually engenders a concerted effort to be included again, at least by someone. We do this by mimicking, obeying or cooperating with another group.
As a military child I went to a new school every year, in some cases more than one, making me a perpetual newcomer. Human nature cautions us against newcomers, and our automatic reaction is negative. A prime example is our prevalent attitude toward those who come to our countries from elsewhere.
Childhood bullying is an extreme example of rejection, and I survived several bouts of bullying. My mother’s comfortable, easy, soothing words always leaned toward “They’re just jealous.” Right. Even a third grader wouldn’t buy that excuse.
Children can be bullied for many reasons. The victim is smarter, the victim is dumber. The victim comes from another country or town or has either more or less in the way of clothing, food or athletic equipment. They can be either too chubby or tt skinnyIn other words, it really doesn’t matter how good or how bad you are, some kids are natural targets.
The little dancer staring out her upstairs window today may wish to be included in the group playing below, but chances are she would not be. Her goal is to dance.
We all have to find our own path into acceptance and a good life. Maybe the little boy forlornly standing on the edges of the playing field will find himself standing on a stage accepting the Nobel prize for finding the cure for cancer someday.