Thursday, April 23, 2009

On ostracism

I never really liked the way social groups of girls would sometimes pick a target and shun them from the group...a common occurrence, especially in adolescence. Even when I wasn't the target I was very uncomfortable with this. It seemed a cruel game at best and a quiet but horrific aggression at worst.

In high school, a close friend of mine would sometimes stop speaking to me when she was angry about something and would do her best to convince other friends to join her in my "punishment". I remember doing my best to carry on without friends for a few days while inwardly feeling an almost total loss of self-esteem and even reason for living. I think that because I was a favorite target when I was small, in an elementary school where my being a gifted child was a huge social handicap, I was prone to PTSD episodes when ostracized at an older age. Also I had unsolved problems at home and a brewing undiagnosed serious health problem to cope with, so my friends were very important to me, and it was incredibly hurtful when they weren't there for me.

Likewise I don't do well with the "silent treatment" from people who are angry with me. I recently realized I rarely encounter it any more because I instinctively move away emotionally from most who would try to use it on me. Of course some people require a short cooling-off period when angered, and I myself will take a "time out" and refuse to argue any more about something if the argument is triggering a migraine or going in circles without resolution and exhausting me physically or otherwise causing a serious problem, but longer periods of refused communication are very hard on me. Now I am learning that they are poorly tolerated by most people.

My first reaction to someone I care for cutting me off is often a panic attack. I know PTSD plays a role in this happening to me. I find this ironic because panic attacks are not very attractive and are probably not a big help in convincing anyone to let me back into their life.

Other feelings I have when shunned are of sadness, loss, sometimes depression and even worthlessness (I feel I am not even worthy in the aggressor's eyes of the time and energy it would take to talk the problem out and try to come up with a solution). I can become badly hurt in a way that can take time to heal (I feel like the person doesn't seem to care if I am being hurt so then I wonder what that says for how much they value me at all?) If care so much that I just have to stick around, I can go through a period of feeling very vulnerable and afraid to say much, and of longing for reassurance of the other person's caring for me but being unable to ask for that reassurance.

I can also feel like I am being unfairly treated (I start to have thoughts like: even a criminal gets a jury trial and I don't even get to defend myself in this situation?!). I also experience fear, probably from PTSD (flashbacks of being forced into a garbage can at about age 6, for one example, are frequent and disturbing.) I become extremely tense, due to the fear, and due to having been abandoned more than most have by so many people I grew close to in my life, thanks to a nasty case of lupus and all the rotten stuff that showed up with it.

For these reasons I remain somewhat of a lonely person, and have accepted this situation. I believe that I just have to painfully live with sometimes being misjudged, unwanted, and abandoned, thanks to this bizarre disease and also the economic position the nation I live in forced me into due to my need for health care.

So I wondered what others experience when ostracized, and started to read about it. I found the preview for this book interesting, and it reminded me a bit of the insights I received when I read a different book. But I haven't bought the ostracism book yet; money is more than tight right now so it will have to go on the wish list.

I was especially intrigued by the parts of the book which described how the aggressor sometimes becomes almost addicted to ostracizing their victim and finds breaking the silence very difficult, and also of how some aggressors really enjoy their sense of power. This appears to be a much more complex behavior than I had ever realized.

Anyway. My hope is that all of my work on social interaction and emotional issues will help me learn and evolve as a support group leader and peer counselor. I also hope to become a better friend and family member.


Cold Shoulder, Silent Treatment Do More Harm Than Good
Ostracism: the Kiss of Social Death

Ostracism At Work


Protege said...

Ah, this post almost made me cry.
I can not believe that you had friends in childhood that treated you this way. You write that they were "close" friends which is really not what they should have been at all. They did not deserve to be called even your acquaintances, if they gave you the silent treatment and even consciously persuaded others to do so.
I feel such a compassion for your experiences; as a child of emigrants know how it is to be te odd one and left out. I too had my shares of loneliness.
I would like to tell you, that no matter what you see around you, there are many people feeling the same way you do even the most happiest, prettiest and most successful people have their shares of fear and troubles
I only wish, that there are hopefully few, even if only one person, in your vicinity who loves you and appreciates you for the wonderful person you are.

Beep said...

Your comment is full of so many insights. You have a rare gift for being supportive and caring; thank you for sharing it with me!

Keera Ann Fox said...

What you describe, Beep, is common bullying behavior among girls. It's the hardest form of bullying for a school to get deal with because, unlike the physical violence boys do to each other, it is hard to spot by the casual observer.

I sat by myself so many times that I, like you, have gotten used to being a loner. It also took me quite a few years not to get paranoid when another female asked me a personal question. (You know, personal info makes for great ammo when trying to hurt a person.)

I sometimes wonder about the long-term effects of years of bullying. There seem to be quite a few. Then I get depressed thinking about that and so I remind myself that life, after all, has turned out well. I wish for you that you too will get to experience a life that, after all, has turned out well.

Beep said...

Keera, I remember the "popular girls" (who decided who THEY were? I was never sure) having "fun" by picking out an occasional victim to shun for no reason whatsoever. I would refuse to go along with this cruelty which made me an outcast in some schools, a tolerated oddity in others!

I enjoy my life now despite its overabundance of crises, since I'm getting a bit too old to live entirely for The Future ;) I do have a few unmet goals that I REALLY REALLY WANT and I'm hoping I will live long enough to achieve them...not sure I will but there is always hope!

About Me

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I've travelled the distance from an Ivy League college to decades of enforced poverty--because I've needed to qualify for government health care in the U.S., since being diagnosed with lupus at the age of 23. I have a personal blog at that I've had so long I'm probably stuck with :) My other blogs are here on blogger...