The Implicit Social Hierarchy :
In schools, it is unavoidable that children will be judged by their peers in relation to their perceived likability / popularity / desirability / acceptability etc so that, in effect, they are informally and implicitly ‘assigned’ a position in the social hierarchy.
Social Exclusion And Effects On Self-Esteem :
The way in which we were affected by such judgment by our peers when we were at school (our sensitivity to the acceptance / exclusion process tends to peak in middle school which coincides with the period in our lives when we are trying to discover our own personalities, independent of our family) has a significant effect upon how our self-esteem develops and this effect can extend well into adulthood, or even endure for a lifetime.
Responses To Social Exclusion : Aggression Or Withdrawal :
An aggressive response might manifest itself by being directed specifically at those who have rejected the individual, or, alternatively, by being directed at other children more generally (a form of displacement , making others the victims).
A Study On The Link Between Peer Rejection And Increased Aggressive Behavior :
A study by conducted Dodge et al. (2003) showed that rejection by peers in early elementary school was correlated with increased antisocial behavior later on (however, it should be noted that, in this study, the correlation was only significant among children who, prior to experiencing rejection by peers, were already displaying a greater than normal propensity to behave in an antisocial manner). The study also found that this effect applied equally to both male and female students.
The researchers involved in this study also suggested that the increase in students’ propensity to behave in antisocial ways following rejection by their peers could, in large part, be attributed to the fact that their experience of having been rejected had caused them to develop ‘biased patterns of processing social information’ (for example, in this study it was found that these rejected students were more likely misinterpret a neutral or non-hostile social signal as being hostile). Indeed, the child rejected by his/her peers may become hypervigilant to any potential signs of hostility directed towards him/her by others. (Cognitive therapy can be very helpful in helping people to overcome biased informational processing).
On a more positive note, the researchers of this study also suggested that even a relatively low, but stable, level of positive regard by peers during childhood can have a very significant ‘buffering’ effect on the later development antisocial behavior (i.e. make such a development less likely to occur).
Rejection, Shame And School Massacres :
Although it is extremely rare, according to research conducted by Leary et al., 2006, students who carry out (or attempt to carry out) school massacres have very frequently been socially rejected and shamed by their peers prior to commiting (or attempting to commit) the atrocity.
The Lingering Effects Of Shame :
Being made to feel shame as a child can frequently lead to a profound sense of being intrinsically and irreparably ‘flawed’ as a person, unworthy of love or respect ; such self-loathing can (in the absence of effective therapy) last well into aduthood or even for an entire lifetime.
Shame And Alcoholism :
Research by Brown (2006) has found that females who have experienced significant and chronic feelings of shame as children are at much increased risk of turning to alcohol as adults in an attempt to reduce the intensity of the emotional pain they feel in connection with this abiding sense of shame. Indeed, Brown suggests that such individuals can be helped to reduce their dependency on alcohol by embarking upon therapy that helps them to overcome their shame.
Shame And Grandiosity :
Another possible response to shame is a kind of over-compensation, resulting in grandiosity and a desperate need acheive and succeeed so as to gain and maintain a constant sense of external validation to help ward off deep-seated feelings of shame which continually threaten to overwhelm one. Such individuals may become highly competitive and driven to be more ‘successful’ than others, especially individuals who make up their social group, including their friends – indeed, they may adopt the mantra : ‘It is not enough to succeed. Others must fail.‘ (Gore Vidal).
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David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).