Because our nervous system is wired to need others, rejection is painful. Romantic rejection especially hurts. Feeling lonely and missing connection share the evolutionary purpose of survival and reproduction. Ideally, loneliness should encourage you reach out to others and maintain your relationships.
A UCLA study confirms that sensitivity to emotional pain resides in the same area of the brain as physical pain – they can hurt equally. Our reaction to pain is influenced by genetics. If we have increased sensitivity to physical pain, we’re more vulnerable to feelings of rejection. Moreover, love stimulates such strong feel-good neurochemicals that rejection can feel like withdrawal from a drug, says anthropologist Helen Fisher. It can compel us to engage in obsessive thinking and compulsive behavior. This proved true even for tsetse flies in lab experiments (see Obsessions and Love Addiction).
Most people start to feel better 11 weeks following rejection and report a sense of personal growth; similarly, after divorce, partners start to feel better after months, not years. However, up to 15 percent of people suffer longer than three months. (“It’s Over,” Psychology Today, May-June, 2015) Rejection can feed depression, especially if we’re already even mildly depressed or have suffered depression and other losses in the past (see Chronic Depression and Codependency).