4 Reasons Why Ostracism Is So Painful

Discover why ostracism is one of the most painful forms of bullying


From being isolated on the playground and excluded in the lunchroom to being ignored in the workplace, ostracism is among the most painful forms of bullying. In fact, recent research suggests that ostracism impacts victims of bullying at the core of who they are.

Historically, ostracism was a method for dealing with those considered deviants. It also is the basis of the current prison system. Additionally, ostracism is linked to all forms of bigotry, prejudicial bullying and relational aggression.

When it comes to bullying, ostracism involves freezing someone out of a group and limiting their social interaction. Bullies frequently use it as a means to gain power and control in a situation. Usually, mean girls and bullying bosses engage in this form of relational aggression.

Levels of ostracism vary from situation to situation. It can be as significant as racial bullying and as understated as refusing to make eye contact or averting a gaze. But regardless of the level of ostracism it is extremely painful for the person on the receiving end. They are left feeling alienated and unimportant. And the pain cuts deep. While the effects of ostracism are not fully understood, researchers have learned that it can have a lasting impact on a person. Here are the top four reasons why ostracism is so painful.

Attacks a person’s basic social needs. Everyone has a fundamental need to be recognized and accepted.

In fact, the ability to interact with others is among the most basic requirements. What’s more, the need to belong is so strong that scientists have discovered that humans experience psychological and physical effects of ostracism right away.

Moreover, scientists have found that social rejection is experienced much like physical pain.

And, if ostracism is ongoing, it can cause low self-esteem, feelings of helplessness, suicidal thoughts and even self-imposed isolation.

Causes the victim to feel as if he doesn’t exist. Being ostracized is a dehumanizing experience. The target is left with feelings of worthlessness. They don’t feel valued, important or loved. Some targets may respond to ostracism by trying harder to fit in, which makes them even more vulnerable to peer pressure and bullying. Mean girls in particular zero in on this vulnerable state and exploit it by giving orders and making unreasonable demands. Targets will often comply just to keep from being ostracized again.

Other targets may decide that they no longer care what others think and they become resigned to the fact that they will not be included in the group. Consequently, they concentrate on trying to get noticed and may engage in risky or aggressive behaviors. They may even resort to bullying of their own as a way to regain a sense of power and control.

Generates feelings of insecurity. Ostracism leads people to feel helpless and vulnerable. They feel like they are not worthy of any attention at all. They also may feel exposed and wonder what is wrong with them.

Because no one is talking to them, they often create their own ideas about why they are being ignored. As a result, they zero in on their faults and defects and magnify those in their mind. This is self-defeating and can lead to depression and social withdrawal.

Leaves the target without recourse. There is some ambiguity to ostracism and often the victim wonders if it is really happening because no one explicitly tells the victim that they are being excluded and ignored. Instead they are left to wonder if they are imagining the entire thing. Still, the victim feels humiliated and without recourse.

When ostracism occurs in the workplace, it is very difficult to document and most likely doesn’t qualify for legal action. What’s more, it’s often an effective form of aggression because it keeps the target from being able to do their work properly. Instead they focus on trying to fit in or be accepted by those who are ostracizing them.

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