Social Exclusion and Loneliness
BY: T. Franklin Murphy | December 13, 2021
Social Exclusion is the state of being blocked from (or denied full access to) various rights, opportunities and resources that are normally available to members of a different group. Often, when we discuss social exclusion we are referring to wide discrimination to large swatches of people based on race, nationality, gender, or religion; but social exclusion can also occur in smaller social groups.
A group of children may exclude a classmate from social interactions for small infractions of normally accepted standards. The child on the playground or the adult rejected for employment experiences painful emotions. We are wired to belong. When this basic need is thwarted, we suffer.
Ethically, every person should reap the benefits of prosperity and enjoy minimum standards of well-being. In the pre-amble of the Declaration of Independence the forefathers wrote, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." Paradoxically, they socially excluded many from the unalienable rights.
Social exclusion is be separated, prevented or blocked from various rights, benefits, and resources that others enjoy. Social exclusion can be physical distancing, emotional withdrawal, or opportunity prevention. Social exclusion occurs to groups and individuals.
Motivation to Be Included
In a recently published paper, Alisa Kanterman, Michael Nevat, and Simone Shamay-Tsoory coined the term inclusion motivation. Inclusion motivation they describe is the underlying drive that motivates action to be included. They hypothesize that inclusion motivation is triggered by "social exclusion" (2021).
Social exclusion, according to their theory, arouses discomforting emotions. Exclusion, rejection, or being ignored signal a significant threat to basic psychological needs for our wellbeing. Social exclusion has been shown to ignite intense negative affect that stimulate prosocial behaviors (attempts for inclusion), aggression or withdrawal.
Strong emotions motivate action. Sometimes adaptive response, other times destructive defensiveness. Our behavioral response to emotion is not necessarily to resolve the problem triggering the emotion. We often operate with the underlying goal to settle the emotion. "Social exclusion tells us that social relationships are threatened or damaged, and therefore, exclusion tells us there is a crisis, by causing aversive feelings" (Kawamoto, 2017).
An example of a maladaptive response to social exclusion is when a co-worker is excluded from social circles, instead of adopting social customs of the office, they employ defensive reactions, attacking or avoiding others. Their maladaptive defenses further the divide and distrust.
Often an underlying factor motivating responses to social exclusion is the belief in ability (or lack of ability) to secure acceptance. If past experiences have shown efforts of pro-social behavior was futile, less effort will be exerted in the present for inclusion. Effort requires a healthy self concept in which we see a likely possibility of being included. Our vision of our future possible self is one of inclusion.
Social Exclusion and Loneliness
Kanterman, Nevat, and Shamay-Tsoory discovered that all individual experienced negative affect from exclusion. Lonely individuals experienced exclusion differently than nonlonely individuals (2021).
Lonely individuals experience a chronic failure to belong. Their psychological need for inclusion is routinely unmet. Chronic loneliness invites an adaptive response to mitigate the emotional hurt. Chronic loneliness often creates adjustment in expectation, a transformation of the possibility of inclusion.
The researchers discovered lonely individuals initially experienced less negative affect to an incident of social exclusion. They also positively responded quicker to incidents of inclusion.
Those identified as lonely, perhaps, were less surprised at exclusion, and more surprised when they were graciously included compared to nonlonely individuals.
Helplessness and Hopelessness
Some environments are harsh. People lost in their hateful worlds reject and discriminate. Continuous acts of social exclusion has a destructive psychological cost. When efforts for inclusion are rebuffed and ignored, eventually the soul tires. Gloomy clouds of hopelessness descend and other psychological adaptations must be employed to protect.
Whether the socially excluded victim is a young child ignored by parents, an awkward, behaviorally teenager, or a discriminated minority, the exclusion hurts and critically damages wellness.
Books on Social Exclusion and Loneliness
A Few Words By Flourishing Life Society
There is much wrong with this world; but a vast majority of problems would be solved through greater inclusion. We can't solve worldwide discrimination and hate; but we can work towards more inclusion in our personal circles. Given the mental health impact of social exclusion, small efforts of inclusion can give a tremendous lift to those struggling. Reach out close the gap, invite more people into your circle, support inclusive policies, notice the lonely and discriminated. Be a part of the solution.
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Kanterman, A., Nevat, M., & Shamay-Tsoory, S. (2021). Inclusion Motivation: Measuring the Drive to Be Included in Real Time and How It Is Affected by Loneliness. Emotion, OnlineFirst, 1
Kawamoto, T. (2017). What Happens in Your Mind and Brain When You Are Excluded from a Social Activity? Frontiers for Young Minds. Published 8-7-2017. Accessed 12-13-2021.