When we experience relational hurts, we often use phrases like “She broke my heart,” or “He hurt my feelings,” or it was like getting “punched in the gut.”
Researcher and neuroscientist Matthew D. Lieberman thought this was just too coincidental, so he set out to study the pain of social rejection. One of his studies involved putting people in a brain scanner while they played an internet video game called Cyberball.
The intention of Cyberball is to make the research subject feel rejected. With Cyberball, three players – a subject and two computerized players, toss a ball around to each other. At first, all three players toss the ball to each other in turn. But at a certain point, the other two computerized players cut the research participant out of the game. They just toss the ball to each other. Even though this is a silly game in a research study and has no bearing on real life, the research subjects were really hurt. They started feeling distress. They felt rejected. When they came out of the scanner, they kept talking to the researchers about how upset they were.
The most interesting part of the study is how their brains processed the social rejection. To the brain, social pain feels a lot like physical pain—a broken heart can feel like a broken leg, as Lieberman puts it. In his book Social, Lieberman writes, “Looking at the brain scans, side by side, without knowing which was an analysis of physical pain and which was an analysis of social pain, you wouldn’t have been able to tell the difference.” In other words, “When human beings experience threats or damage to their social bonds, the brain responds in much the same way it responds to physical pain.”
the brain responds in much the same way it responds to physical pain
We all have a need to belong. Let me encourage you to take 3 steps toward belonging:
1. Concede your need for others
This need for others is rooted deep within our souls. God planned it that way. That’s why God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone” (Gen. 2:18).
2. Cultivate deep relationships
Do not take relationships lightly. To flourish in this world requires deep relationships. But those relationship do not just happen, they require effort. We have to do more than just reach out to others, we have to share our lives with others as well.
3. Commit to authenticity
It is not enough to admit we need each other, or say, “Oh, a few friends would be nice.” We must commit ourselves to getting beneath the surface talk and become interested and accountable to each other. Authenticity occurs when the masks come off, conversations get deep, hearts get vulnerable, lives are shared, accountability is invited, and kindness flows.
What is your next step? Concede, Cultivate, Commit?