Why does rejection cause obsession

Why we are obsessed with people who don't want us

For the sake of simplicity, I'm referring to straight women in this post, but what I'm discussing here definitely applies to straight men and non-straight people as well.

Source: Phovoir / shutterstock

Many of us are familiar with this scenario: Mr. Nice Guy is sweet, sweet, interesting, smart, and available. Better yet, he's interested in a relationship with you. The only problem is you just don't like him. Mr. Bad Guy, on the other hand, is on your mind around the clock.

Like Mr. Nice Guy, Mr. Bad Guy has many good qualities, but he is either generally unavailable to a relationship or unavailable to a relationship with youbecause he just doesn't like you. However, despite his constant rejection, you cannot lose sight of him. The more he rejects you and the more insistently he states that he doesn't want to be with you, the more interested you seem to get.

Why do we develop this bad habit of wanting what we cannot have? Why don't we always want what we want? can to have? In other areas of life we ​​seem to be able to adapt our preferences to the situation. You may have flirted with the idea of ​​becoming a Hollywood star at one point. But when you discovered that you couldn't act, you let go of this dream (I hope). So why can't we let go of people who keep rejecting us?

According to Helen Fisher and her colleagues, the reason romantic rejection is addictive is because this type of rejection stimulates parts of the brain that are linked to motivation, reward, addiction, and cravings. Using functional MRI, her team examined the brains of 15 college-age men and women who had recently been rejected by their partners but claimed to be still intensely "in love". During the scan, the subjects looked at a photo of the person they had rejected. Then they completed a math exercise, e.g. B. counting backwards from 4,529 to 7. The exercise was an attempt to distract the participants from their romantic thoughts. Eventually, they were shown a picture of a familiar person whom they were not romantically interested in.

The team found that participants' brains were more active in areas related to motivation, reward, desire, addiction, physical pain, and stress when they looked at the photo of the person who rejected them than when they did that Photo of neutral viewed person.

The study, published in the Journal of Neurophysiology in 2010 shows that people in this situation are genuinely addicted to drugs, and the drug is the person who rejects us and does not return our love. However, the results do not give us any insight into Why We respond to romantic rejection this way, and it doesn't answer the question of how we developed this troubling tendency of wanting people we can't have.

You might think it's a matter of heartbreak and grief. But that can't be the complete answer either, because in some cases we haven't lost anything to grieve. We can be madly in love with someone who doesn't want us and never wanted us, but the situation can sometimes be as painful as someone breaking up with us.

In a previous post, I argued that some of the rejection pain we feel when love is not returned can be caused by an evolutionarily based rejection of social rejection coupled with a social stigma associated with breakups and divorce. But even that does not explain why we often only want the individuals we cannot have.

Another aspect of this agony may have to do with that perceived value the other person. When the other person doesn't want us or isn't available for a relationship, their perceived value increases. They become so "expensive" that we cannot "afford" them. From an evolutionary point of view, it would have been an advantage to mate with the most valuable partner. So it makes sense that we become more romantically interested as a person's perceived worth increases.

Another answer may have to do with our relatively addicting personalities. Fischer's study showed that fear and pain are a type of addiction after romantic rejection. However, the question remains, what do we depend on in this scenario?

In the case of a relationship that has ended, we may be addicted to the time we've spent with the other person, their text messages, their company, or the person having sex. But if our brains work in a similar way, if our love is not returned, and there has never been a relationship, then where do the addictions come from? We are probably addicted to thoughts about what could have been but never will be. Once we get stuck with these thoughts, the other person's rejection can reinforce them and allow us to deal with obsession, which is a type of addiction - or an addiction to thoughts of a certain type. Elsewhere I have argued that standard methods for Dealing with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder can also help you get over romantic obsession.

Your attachment style can also affect how much you get attached to people you don't want. People with one dependent Investment styles (also known as codependent or fearful attachment styles) are trained to seek out people who cause them pain. In a classic scenario, they grew up in a household with a mother or father whom they rejected emotionally. It is a familiar feeling for these people to be romantically rejected. Since we are always more likely to act in a familiar way if we have been rejected in the past, we are likely to look for situations where we should expect more rejection. Our brain interprets these scenarios as normal, even though we know they are Not It is normal to look for scenarios that lead to pain and agony.

Source: Oxford University Press, used with permission.

Finally, there is the "other ending" explanation: if we have been rejected in the past - by a parent, for example - we sometimes unconsciously look for similar scenarios in the hope that the story will end differently next time. Just don't do it. It's worth remembering Einstein's definition of insanity - doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.

Berit "Brit" Brogaard is the author of On Romantic Love