- Persistent rejection in the mating market can breed feelings of inadequacy and anger towards rejectors
- Anger and hostility can fuel misogyny and misandry, creating a harmful cycle affecting individuals and society
- CBT strategies like challenging black-and-white thinking can help break the cycle of rejection and hatred
Persistent rejection in the mating market can lead to dysphoric singlehood, including feeling “not good enough” and like one must radically change to be considered “worthy” by the opposite sex. These feelings can be projected inwards, causing people to feel defeated and anxious, or outwards as anger and hostility towards rejectors.
This anger and hostility can sometimes take the form of misogyny and misandry—hateful attitudes and beliefs about women and men. And when these attitudes and beliefs spill into behavior, they become a problem for society in ways ranging from cyberbullying to rare cases of violence. They also cause problems for the misogynists and misandrists themselves, who can get caught in a positive feedback loop.
What are positive feedback loops?
Commonly seen in psychotherapy work, positive feedback loops happen when two things (e.g., thoughts, behaviors, emotions) have a bi-directional relationship whereby one amplifies the other and vice versa.
Take depression, for example. People who are depressed often don’t feel like interacting with others and become socially withdrawn. However, being socially withdrawn limits one’s access to the type of social support which might help with depression. Thus, people can find themselves becoming more and more depressed and more and more socially withdrawn—locked in a positive feedback loop with a sharp downward trajectory.
What about a rejection-misogyny/misandry feedback loop?
Feedback loops can also apply to rejection and misogyny or misandry. It is perhaps unsurprising that experiencing rejection by members of a particular group over and over leads to bitterness and resentment towards them. But the irony is that holding such attitudes could actually diminish one’s desirability as a mate even further, leading to more rejection.
A relevant example of those caught in this loop are members of the incel community, some of whom have intensely misogynistic attitudes. Often, these men have been caught in a rejection-misogyny loop for so long that they feel hopeless and that change is impossible. Some have even reached a point where they no longer need “real” rejection, having internalized it—an intense, seemingly inescapable loop.
Why does this matter? Decades of relationship research tell us that humans seek kindness in their long-term, committed partners, and (upcoming) research from my lab shows that it’s one of the strongest predictors of current long-term relationship satisfaction.
From an evolutionary perspective, pair-bonding with someone who hates a core part of you is one of the biggest threats to fitness that you can encounter. It signals that the person cares less about your interests or safety and is more likely to harm you, cheat on you, and act in their best interests rather than your own. Forming a long-term relationship with such a person is a breeding ground for neglect and strife. Hateful attitudes from a prospective partner towards your sex might be one of the greatest red flags of all.
Escaping the loop
In my practice, I often discuss a positive feedback loop like being caught in quicksand. In the early stages, when you are ankle-deep, it is easier to make attempts to free yourself. But the deeper you sink into it, the harder it is to reverse the trajectory. By the time it's up to your waist, you can no longer move your legs, and by the time it's up to your neck, it’s so restrictive all you can do is shout for help.
Thus, the deeper you’re into something, the harder it is to make progress out of it. One has to be realistic and expect change to be slow and hard at first, becoming faster and easier over time. With this in mind, those caught in a rejection-misogyny/misandry loop can look at the principles of CBT to try to move in a different direction.
Cognitive and behavioral tips
One example might be to identify and challenge black-and-white (“all or nothing”) thinking. This includes thinking that “all women are the same” or that they share the same preferences, attitudes, and beliefs. This involves recording such beliefs, collecting counter-evidence that doesn’t support them, and re-framing these beliefs in “softer” forms. Remember: the harder your thoughts, the harder your life.
Another possibility is to try to move away from an “us vs. them” mentality. Social psychology has demonstrated that people will sort others into “ingroups” and “outgroups” based even on arbitrary criteria and then demonize and dehumanize “the others” if they're perceived as a threat. Breaking walls down by focusing on the common ground can rehumanize people and reduce hate. In the case of misandry, for example, this would involve trying to see men, first and foremost, as other people who share similar challenges to oneself.
Then, there are behavioral interventions. Some people can internalize rejection—so that they are “getting rejected” without even allowing it to happen. For them, re-engaging with the mating market is an opportunity to see that rejection is less painful and scary than they’ve built up in their mind.
To break free from the cycle of rejection and misogyny or misandry, it's crucial to recognize its impact both on ourselves and others. By identifying it and embracing self-development and change, we can overcome these patterns and cultivate healthier relationships.
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