Feeling snubbed? How to prevent the pain

Does getting dissed make you sick to your stomach—literally? You’re not alone. Researchers at the University of California at Los Angeles have found that getting the cold shoulder can cause physical pain similar to the feeling of getting kicked in the belly (Science, 2003, vol. 302, no. 5643).

Using functional magnetic imaging, the researchers examined volunteers’ brain activity after they experienced “snubbing,” such as rejection or an insult. The brain scans lit up the same way as when they experienced bodily pain.

Can emotional harm cause the same kind of distress as physical pain? “An attack is really what a snub is,” says New Hampshire–based psychologist Pamela Brill, EdD, author of The Winners Way (McGraw-Hill, 2004). “A snub is a symbolic way to dismiss another person, to put them down as less important, significant, valuable, or powerful. So it is no surprise that we respond in the same way to a snub as we did when our enemies had four legs and fangs or were actual barbarians at the village gate.”

According to Debra Condren, PhD, president of Business Psychology Solutions in New York City, one natural and simple self-soothing reaction to a snub is to diminish or negate the power or importance of the person who did the snubbing—just as they diminished you. “You might tell yourself, ‘She has no people skills.’ ‘I don’t care what he thinks.’ Or, ‘Whew, she’s a high-maintenance person!’ for example,” Condren says. “These are all empowering thoughts in the face of a snub, and they ease the impact of that gut kick.”

Brill, however, thinks tit for tat may not be the best solution. “Often snubs are actually just miscommunications, and recognizing them as such can head off snub pain at the pass,” she says. “Open your eyes, heart, and mind to engage in active listening and authentic communication that sets you up for constructively confronting perceived snubs.”

Regardless of the way you cope with a snub, this much is true: The pain it causes is more than imagined.

—Ramin Ganeshram