Ostracism Awareness -

Information about ostracism, resources for recovery, support, and encouragement

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Recovery from ostracism

Recovering from severe ostracism can be a challenge, because it affects a person on so many different levels. It impairs four basic human needs: belonging, control, self-esteem, and meaningful existence. It dramatically raises anxiety levels and causes depression and despondency. Physical pain often accompanies severe ostracism, since the part of the brain handling pain management is activated. When prolonged, ostracism causes many people to withdraw from social connection and activities that they previously enjoyed. Ostracized people feel isolated and lonely. They often become less active physically and emotionally. Meanwhile, the depth and the gravity of ostracism symptoms are usually not understood. There is a tendency to minimize and invalidate the pain of people experiencing ostracism. Occasionally, some ostracized people will act out in inappropriate ways to try to get those ostracizing them to notice them in any way they can, since even negative attention feels better than no attention. In the most extreme cases ostracism can lead to violence or suicide.

According to Dr. Kipling Williams the process of ostracism includes three initial stages:

  1. The initial acts of being ignored or excluded
  2. Coping - Everyone has different ways of coping. Some will try to be re-included by the person or group ostracizing them, engaging in behaviors they think will improve chances of acceptance.
  3. Resignation - According to Dr. Kipling Williams, this is a period of time when ostracized people are less helpful and more aggressive to others in general. There are often feelings of anger, sadness, alienation, depression, helplessness and feelings of unworthiness.

From personal experience, I will add that there are other important steps in processing Ostracism towards the goal of feeling better. Not everyone experiences everthing the same way, but I noticed a few processes that I and other people experienced during adjustments to our situations. Here are just a few of them:

  1. Grieving a loss: Very similar in some ways to losing a loved one via death, this is a period of mourning. If the ostracized person cared deeply enough about the person ostracing them this can happen. The process of grief follows several stages, which can be read about here.
  2. Pushing away: This is a phase when the ostracized person *happily* removes anything and everything in their lives that reminds them of the people who ostracized them or their experiences. They may have previously removed such articles or reminders during an earlier phase just to keep from crying too much. Now, they are thankful to be free from the ostracizer's grip. It is not uncommon to find oneself deeply enjoying some product or experience simply because they know their ostracizer hated that product or eperience.
  3. Lifting: This is a process described by Susan Anderson of Abandonment.net. It is an experience of lifing back into life. The ostracized person begins to Let go. Life distracts them and gradually Lifts them out the grief cycle. They feel the emergence of strength, acceptance, and peace. They are wiser for the painful lessons they learned. I must add that this experience is more common in people who have had no contact with the people who ostracized them in a long time, and have also managed to find acceptance and love among other people.

Recovery from ostracism needs an approach from many angles. It should address strategies for dealing with stages of the ostracism process, and provide a way of re-acquiring the lost fundamental human needs of belonging, self-esteem, control, and meaningful existence. Below, you will find resources for recovery organized by topic. Each topic either relates directly to ostracism recovery or assists in reacquisition a need that was compromised by ostracism.

Note: Some links below may be broken. I am in the process of fixing them as of March 2019. I wrote this material back in 2011 and a kind reader brought it to my attention that some links are out-of-date. I am about half way done fixing and checking links on this page.

Rejection and abandonment:
The most common experiences during many forms of ostracism involve feelings of abandonment and rejection. When rejection is severe, it can feel like a knife through the heart. Ostracism is described by some as "social death", a metaphor for how badly a person can feel on the inside. Rejection and abandonment cause strong emotional and physiological reactions within the human body, and can make some people feel like they are going crazy. When you are rejected by someone you deeply care about, you're likely to experience a loss that may involve a grieving process. This is a common, normal experience. It is similar to what we go through when a loved one dies. Be patient with yourself and give yourself permission to grieve for as long as needed. Regulating overwhelming emotions:
When my emotions were really strong, my counselor taught me some exercises for coping that assisted me tremendously. The exercises helped me pay closer attention to the present moment and gain a better understanding of what I was going through at that time. They improved my ability to tolerate stress. The exercises taught me to observe and regulate my pain rather than reacting to it in ways that would not have been healthy for me or others.
  • Here is one of the exercises my counselor taught me: Sit in a relaxed position. You can close your eyes. Or, if you want you can keep your eyes open and focus on one location in the room. Then, take several slow, deep breaths. Pay attention to how the air feels when it enters your nose and lungs. Notice how your body is feeling. If your mind drifts to different thoughts and emotions that is perfectly okay. Just come back to paying attention to how your breathing feels. Take a few more deep breaths, and when you are ready, open your eyes.
  • For more information and exercises for regulating overwhelming emotions, see my section on Dialectal Behavior Therapy (DBT).
Take better care of yourself, physically:
Especially in the beginning stages of coping with severe rejection, it can be a challenge to take care of your body's needs. Even though it is hard to do, it is important to do it. Taking care of physical health is crucial to the recovery process. I've found it helpful to do the following:
  • Eat a lot of fruits and vegetables. It may help to get a blender for making smoothies.
  • Reduce sugar consumption.
  • Try to get at least seven hours of sleep a night for most of the week. Make an effort to go to sleep at the same time each evening.
  • Exercise regularly several times a week.
Improving social support networks and regaining a sense of belonging:
Ostracism recovery requires a real physical friend, acceptance within a network of live people, and a place in the social order. Some ostracized people might feel like this is impossible to obtain for themselves. I want to encourage you that no matter how bleak your situation feels it will get better. You are not going to feel hurt and lonely forever. You will be able to make positive changes for yourself a little bit at a time, and that will assist you in making new friends. A healthier self view:
While I'm not interested in self worship, I'll be the first to admit that ostracism compromises the fundamental human need for self-esteem. Abraham Maslow states that no psychological health is possible unless the essential core of the person is fundamentally accepted, loved and respected by others and by his self. Severe ostracism frequently gets people to focus and dwell on themselves in very injuring, hurtful, and self-hating ways. It is common during ostracism to be overwhelmed with self-deprecating and condemning thought patterns. As a Christian I don't agree with everything modern psychology teaches about self-esteem. However, I absolutely support developing a healthier self view. I've experienced a beneficial impact from practicing positive affirmations and I've seen it help others. Developing a healthier self view enables a person who is injured by rejection to reduce feelings of self-hatred and stop being overly self focused. Disclaimer - I don't agree with everything in the following links. Yet. a lot of the information helped me during times in my life when I was struggling with self-hatred. I believe replacing self-condemning thoughts with more beneficial, affirming thoughts is crucial to recovery from ostracism. For Christians - A healthier self view:
Christians worship God and not self, except many of us have a view of ourselves that is untrue in God's eyes and doesn't line up with His view of us in Christ. The Bible encourages us to not be self-centered. We focus on God, meet the needs of others, and consider others more important than ourselves (Rom. 12:3, Phil. 2:3-4). The Bible talks about denying the self (Luke 9:23-24) and even dying to self (Gal. 2:20, Gal. 5:24). Those teachings are helpful especially in resisting sinful desires. Yet, interestingly, nowhere does the Bible assert that a person should hate and condemn the self. Mark 12:30-31 says, "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.' The second is this: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no commandment greater than these." I believe it is not possible to effectively 'love your neighbor as yourself', unless you actually do love yourself in God's way. In addition to that, you will not be able to consistently meet the needs of others unless your own basic needs are met. Taking care of your own needs so that you can help others is not selfish. It is a part of practicing love for others. Achieving the ability to love requires that you allow yourself to experience God's love. He loves you so much that Jesus died on a cross to pay the penalty for your sins. That means you are forgiven when you put your faith in Christ. He removes all condemnation (Rom. 5:8, Rom. 8:1). If you were ostracized, you might be condemning yourself. That inward self-condemnation can spill into other areas of your life, because thoughts influence behavior. Matt. 15:18 says, "But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart . . . ." Prov. 4:23 says, "Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life." Proverbs 27:3 says, "For as he thinks in his heart, so is he. . . . " If you struggle with self condemnation, you're not seeing yourself the way God sees you in Christ, and your self view is not true according to God's Word. Self-condemnation puts your focus on yourself instead of God. It prevents you from loving God and loving other people. Consider the links below to gain a healthier, more accurate view and freedom from self-condemnation. More on preventing self blame and self condemnation:
By now, you can hopefully see that ostracized people are generally really hard on themselves. This is especially true when there is no clear reason given for a particular instance of ostracism. Such a situation can cause a person to speculate endlessly about potential causes. Most often the speculation is self-deprecating and has nothing to do with reality. Meanwhile, if a person rejecting you was unwilling to communicate a flaw and provide a path to reconciliation, then the reality is that they are not ready for a meaningful, committed relationship. It is likely that most of the emotional issues lie with the person doing the rejecting instead the person receiving the ostracism. Learning to forgive other people:
For me, one of the largest keys to recovery has been forgiving people who ostracized me. Forgiveness doesn't mean that I have to forget what happened. It doesn't mean I have to trust people who hurt me. After all, trust is earned and it would be foolish to blindly trust someone who might hurt you again. A banker may forgive a person from the debt that they owe, except the bank is not likely to loan money within the next month to the same person until the first debt is paid. Also, it is normal and completely okay to still feel hurt even though you fully forgive. For instance, if someone shot me and I was lying in a hospital bed, I can forgive the person who shot me and the fact that I'm lying wounded in a hospital bed does not invalidate my forgiveness. The same is true for emotional wounds. Ostracism can create some of the largest emotional wounds that a person may ever experience. Those wounds are more painful and can last longer than some physical wounds. So, what does it mean to forgive? It means that you don't want revenge on the person who hurt you. It means you let go of them in such a way that thoughts of them no longer cloud your mind as much as they used to. It means you release them from your life so that you can move on with your own life. Forgiveness means that you let go of resentment and bitterness, which are toxic emotions that can eat you up on the inside. Forgiveness has more to do with healing yourself rather than anything to do with the person who hurt you. Acquiring a sense of control over some areas of life:
Ostracism compromises the fundamental human need for control. It's important for psychological health that one has a sense of control. Without it, we feel threatened and insecure. Learning nonverbal communication and social cues:
Ninety-three percent of the messages we send are perceived based on nonverbal communication, according to "Psychology Today." Studies show that people who are able to read, understand, and correctly respond to nonverbal social cues are more likely to develop positive peer relationships and avoid ostracism. Setting boundaries:
Healthy boundaries can save a few relationships and prevent some forms of ostracism. Perhaps you experienced ostracism due to unhealthy boundaries with yourself or other people. Or, perhaps you were ostracized after setting boundaries with someone who did not respect or love you. Don't let ostracism cause you compromise values that are important. Anxiety and stress reduction:
Studies by Dr. Kipling Williams show that anxiety levels often increase for targets of ostracism. Reducing anxiety levels improves mental and physical health and helps prevent depression. Depression recovery:
When severe ostracism is prolonged and not resolved, depression is a common outcome. Abuse recovery:
Many forms of ostracism are considered emotionally abusive and a type of bullying. Sometimes ostracized people have survived other forms of abuse. Dialectal Behavior Therapy (DBT), Mindfulness, and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
I've found these forms of therapy helpful in dealing with anxiety and increasing stress tolerance. These therapies are also good for quelling the tendency to react impulsively to the ostracism experience, especially since an ostracized person may desperately desire attention from the person or group who is ostracizing them, and the impulse to do something inappropriate for attention may be really strong. These therapies may prevent the ostracized person from behaving in a way that they might later regret. Instead, the therapies will help them make positive changes for themselves that will assist in their overall recovery. Bullying recovery and prevention:
Ostracism and bullying often happen hand in hand. They frequently occur within school systems. They occasionally happen in places of employment when there is a whistleblower within the organization. Bullying is an area of our society that needs to be addressed.
  • StopBullying.gov - an official U.S. Government Web site managed by the Department of Health & Human Services in partnership with the Department of Education and Department of Justice
  • The Bully Proof Classroom - Professional Development Opportunities for Teachers
  • Cyberbullying Help - Advice and Support for parents, teachers and students
  • Teens Against Bullying - Created by & for teens. It's a place for middle & high school students to find ways to address bullying, take action & be heard
  • Workplace Bullying - Analysis of Workplace Bullying - By Latricia Wilson - "The nature of workplace bullying is similar to childhood bullying. Just like childhood bullying, workplace bullying is the tendency of individuals or groups to use aggressive or unreasonable behavior against each other."
  • Bullied by the Boss - Anonymous writer & blogger of workplace bullying. Aiming to raise awareness and help others in same situation.
General mental health: Suicide prevention:
If the pain from ostracism is severe enough that you are experiencing feelings of suicide, it is nothing to take lightly. The pain can be overwhelming and sometimes feels like it is going to go on for a long time. If you are going through this I am very sorry for your pain. It is helpful to keep in mind that the unbearable feelings of pain and hurt from rejection are temporary. This deep hurt will go away. Suicidal feelings can happen when the pain you experience far exceeds your ability to cope with that pain. Below are some good resources for preventing suicide.