Steps to Recovery: An Overview

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 hopelessness. 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 connections and activities that they previously enjoyed. Ostracized people feel isolated and lonely. They often become less physically and emotionally active.

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 in inappropriate ways to get those excluding 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:

The initial acts of being ignored or excluded.
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.
Resignation: According to Dr. Kipling Williams, this is a phase 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.

We have found from personal experience that there are other vital steps in processing Ostracism to feel better. Not everyone experiences everything the same way. Yet, we encountered a few processes during adjustments to our situations. Here are just a few of them:

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 cares deeply enough about the person excluding them, this could happen. The process of grief follows several stages. Read about them here.
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 excluded them. They may have previously removed such articles or reminders during an earlier phase to keep from crying too much. Now, they are thankful to be free from the grip of the person(s) who rejected them. It is not uncommon to find oneself profoundly enjoying some product or experience simply because they know those who ostracized them hated that product or experience.
Lifting: This is a process described by Susan Anderson of It is an experience of lifting back into life. The ostracized person begins to Let go. Life distracts them and gradually Lifts them out of 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 requires 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. This website contains resources organized by topics that relate directly to ostracism recovery or assist in the reacquisition of a need compromised by ostracism.

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