Bob is interested in dating Anne and thinks that they could really click, but he is unsure whether Anne feels the same way. As a result, Bob is afraid to make a move on Anne because he doesn’t want to be rejected. So Bob plays it cool, thinking that his interest is obvious to Anne, and waits to see if Anne will ask him out. Anne, who is interested in Bob, is also worried about being rejected, and so she also plays it cool and waits to see if Bob will ask her out. They are both holding back because they each fear rejection, but because neither of them make a move, they both assume each is disinterested in the other. They also both think their worries about rejection and interest in dating are obvious. Alas, Bob and Anne never end up dating, because they both waited for the other to make the first move and when the move didn’t happen, they assumed the other was disinterested. You may have experienced versions of this scenario in your own life, or seen it played out on TV or in movies. In this post, I describe research on how the fear of rejection affects how people think and behave when trying to start a new relationship (what researchers refer to as relationship initiation).
Entries in self-esteem (14)
As a relationship researcher and college instructor I often have conversations with students who are experiencing difficulties in their relationships. More often than not, I direct or escort students to our local campus counseling and mental health center. But there are times when students’ levels of distress don’t require professional intervention; they just want to learn more about relationships so they can better understand their own. I typically take this opportunity to remind students that conflict and ‘downtimes’ in relationships are common; it’s very difficult for two people whose lives are intertwined to not occasionally be unhappy with their partners or relationships. Students, in turn, often take the opportunity to remind me that just because what they are going through is common doesn’t mean it doesn’t suck (I jest; I fully recognize this fact). This is an important point --- not getting along with somebody we care about is not fun, and can often be quite frustrating. But is relationship conflict more frustrating for some than others? And do some people try to cope with or otherwise deal with their relationship difficulties in an unhealthy manner? According to recently published research in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, the answer to both questions is “yes”.
Popular wisdom or results from a cursory Google search suggest that people with lower self-esteem have poor social skills. However, recent research finds that this is not true: In fact, people with lower self-esteem have the same social skills as people with higher self-esteem, but they often don’t feel safe enough to use them.1 This ‘safety’ concern comes into play in situations when one tries to start a relationship with another person, or what researchers call relationship initiation; such situations are risky because one often doesn’t know if the other person is going to be accepting or rejecting,1 and thus the outcome of the attempted initiation is often uncertain. So what do people do when they want to start a relationship but don’t know how the other person will respond?
It seems intuitive, right? Getting a rejection letter from a top college, dumped by the love of our life, or excluded from lunch with friends can make us feel pretty crummy. Rejection can cause us to re-evaluate ourselves and make us think, "Why wasn’t I good enough? What am I doing wrong?" According to the sociometer theory, being rejected by others decreases self-esteem.1 From this perspective, self-esteem represents an internal monitor of our acceptance level in our social world. When our acceptance is high, we feel pretty good about ourselves. But when we experience rejection, we are much more critical of ourselves and modify our behavior in an attempt to restore our sense of belonging. Thus, rejection’s effect on self-esteem is adaptive: it sparks self-reflection and improves our likelihood of gaining acceptance going forward.
But does rejection really lower our self-esteem?
Giving and receiving care is an essential part of relationships. But how do you know just how giving you should be or how much you should expect others to give in return? Research indicates that there are two common types of relationships people engage in to ensure balanced giving and receiving.
Q: What causes a man to not be able to “finish” in the bedroom? Is this because of an emotional disconnect from the wife? Does he want to be with someone else?
A: Thanks for your question. Erectile dysfunction (ED), defined as the inability of a man to attain and/or maintain an erection that is sufficient for sexual performance, is the most common sexual disorder among men in many parts of the world.
A new set of studies reveals that the content of our sexual fantasies is influenced by feelings of relationship insecurity. In three experiments, college undergraduates were primed to feel attachment security or anxiety. To do this, participants thought about a past relationship in which they felt secure or anxious (Study 1), or they viewed a photo of a mother either gazing at her child (security) or turning her back on her child (anxiety; Studies 2 and 3). Afterward, participants were asked to report on one of their current sexual fantasies. The anxiety prime produced fantasies in which individuals viewed themselves as more distant from and hostile toward their partners compared to the fantasies described following the security prime. More specifically, the anxiety prime was linked to fantasies that involved sex without emotion or romance, as well as fantasies that involved themes of aggression. These findings suggest that when we feel insecure about our relationships, we subconsciously alter the content of our sexual fantasies as a way of protecting the self from further feelings of rejection. In other words, when we are feeling insecure, we may use our fantasies to create a psychological barrier between ourselves and our partners in order to protect our self-esteem.
To learn more about the details of this study, check out this article on The Psychology of Human Sexuality.
Birnbaum, G. E., Simpson, J. A., Weisberg, Y. J., Barnea, E., & Assulin-Simhon, Z. (in press). Is it my overactive imagination? The effects of contextually activated attachment insecurity on sexual fantasies. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships.
I cannot find any topics [on the site] covering female or male masturbation. Do you plan on writing about this topic in the future?
Thanks for your question. I agree that masturbation is an important topic to address and it’s one that interests a lot of people. Aside from female orgasm, self-love is perhaps the most frequent issue students ask about in my Human Sexuality course. The two most common things that come up with respect to masturbation are fears about whether this behavior is bad for one’s health and whether it creates relationship problems. Let’s take a moment to clear up these concerns.
Facebook gives its 800 million+ users the opportunity to interact and build connections with a variety of people. Given the nature of interactions on the site, including making comments or “liking” others’ posts, Facebook provides a unique forum for those seeking to improve friendships or enhance their self-esteem. As anyone who has used Facebook can tell you, many posts are of the “look at how awesome I am” variety. Clearly, Facebook provides an excellent social outlet for those with high self-esteem; but, it may be less beneficial for their less self-loving counterparts.
I don’t want to oversell this, but Swingers is one of the greatest movies of all time! I was recently re-watching this classic and realized that not only is it hilarious, but it is also a storehouse for some pretty sage relationship advice. Seriously, how else would we know that the industry standard for a callback is three days (“two's enough not to look anxious, but three days is kind of money”) or that no matter how much you want them to, ex-partners won’t come back until you really forget them?
Have you ever wanted to share good news with friends but were afraid they would rain on your parade because they’re downers? Researchers recently discovered that people avoid disclosing positive information to low self-esteem friends and romantic partners in order to avoid a negative interaction (e.g., the “downer” pointing out the downside). Interestingly, we don’t keep the good news to ourselves to protect our close others’ feelings – we primarily focus on our own outcomes!
MacGregor, J. C. D., & Holmes, J. G. (2011). Rain on my parade: Perceiving low self-esteem in close others hinders positive self-disclosure. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 2, 523-530.
Should I Stay or Should I Go? Five Predictors (and Five Not So Good Predictors) of Relationship Success
Last week we posted a quiz to see how much our readers knew regarding the predictors of relationship stability (or success). Overall, it looks like we've got some work to do; the average score on the quiz was 48% (remember, random guessing should average 50%). The questions in the quiz were inspired by some of my work on understanding what factors influence relationship outcomes. One of my main research areas is the role of commitment in predicting the “success” of dating relationships (using the term loosely; i.e., staying together vs. breaking-up).
The Question: Holding an inflated view of your partner leads to disappointment and is bad for your relationship.
The Breakdown: 27% of readers answered True, 63% answered False
The Answer: If you're dying to know, the answer is at the end. Otherwise a bit of explanation first...
Last week, as the supposed Rapture was looming, how were things going in your relationship? Did the impending end of the world and your earthly demise change how you were thinking about your partner? You might be surprised to learn that this is something that scholars have studied quite a bit, working from the general perspective of "terror management theory."