Why Do You Care? “Stupid” Social Pain Explained

Our ancestors lived in small, cooperative social groups that lived by hunting and gathering. In this world, your life depended on others valuing you enough to give you and your children food, protection and care. The more you are valued by the individuals with whom you livethe more weight they will put on your welfare in making decisions. You will be helped more and harmed less.*

Remember that party you didn’t get invited to. You didn’t even want to go. Still you felt bad that you got left out. Or the meeting you weren’t invited to or the memo you didn’t get. Even when you had better things to do you didn’t exactly love being left out. Maybe you told yourself you didn’t care but somewhere inside of you – you did. Maybe you told yourself you were being “stupid” or someone who loved you told you the whole thing was “stupid,” just trying to help. S/he meant well. Doesn’t matter. We are all wired up inside to pay attention to who’s in and who’s out, as if our very survival depended on it, which our internal response system thinks it does even if in reality it does not.

This is why bullying hurts as much as it does. Sticks and stones will break your bones but words will never hurt you. Only they do because on some level they are perceived as a threat to social standing. No small thing inside the hardwired brain – and why you care when you feel you have been treated rudely no matter how much you or anyone else tells you that you should not. And no small thing when we have behaved badly ourselves, especially if we are not the only one who knows about it. Then we might feel shame.

The authors of the study below suggest that shame guides us to direct or redirect our behavior consistent with the values of the community whose respect and care we need. That’s why people care about looking good. For example, it is not at all uncommon for someone to stay in a relationship too long for anyone’s good because it would ‘look bad’ to their friends and family to break up now. What about successful women who may hide their good looks to ward off disrespect or envy. One more: You worked hard, turned the assignment in, they said thanks, and not much more. Where is the love? And why do you care?**

To repeat, “the more you are valued by the individuals with whom you live…the more weight they will put on your welfare in making decisions. You will be helped more and harmed less. So now what? For a happy, healthy, productive life; two things: 1) Behave as well as you can consistent with the norms and values of the culture in which you live and work; and 2) Sometimes there is nothing that you can, will, or should do about the disrespectful behavior of another toward or around you – and yet you can’t make it stop. In this case, gather your clan. Remember that the bottom line threat in the first place is that you will lose the care and protection of your people. Reality test this to see that you have not. They may or may not have anything helpful to actually say. They may even tell you they think you are being “stupid.” Like “Why do you care?” which makes you feel worse. But they love you and they are there. Bring this to mind often. Use it when you need it. Practice, practice, practice…and see what happens.

For help with this or something else, call or write at:

Email:  Madelaine Weiss

Phone:  202.617.0821

*John Tooby in “Study shows shame allows humans to anticipate social devaluation and adjust intensity of defensive response” February 23, 2016 http://phys.org/news/2016-02-shame-humans-social-devaluation-adjust.html

**Examples and illustrations are fictional composites inspired by but not depicting nor referring to any actual specific person in my practice or life experience.

Copyright © 2016. Madelaine Claire Weiss. All rights reserved.

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