Beth Fisher-Yoshida Ph.D., CCS

We Are What We Make

I Want to Be Wanted

Do we ever leave behind the need to be accepted?

Posted Nov 15, 2014

It happens on the playground and in the park, in school and in the office, in friendships and in romantic relationships.

What happens? People can experience rejection. Researchers Lieberman and Eisenberger ran studies with adults that showed that our brains deal with social pain in the same ways as physical pain. In other words, we hurt when we feel rejected or not accepted.

Our emotional pain is both psychological and physical because it is processed in our brains even though we may think these two types of pain are not connected. Social and emotional pain are not as evident as physical pain. It is more difficult to point to a particular place on our bodies where we hurt emotionally, because at that stage, it is also physical pain. Do we treat the symptoms or try to get to the root cause?

Do we ever leave the need to be accepted behind? We are social beings and want to belong. We use a variety of behaviors to bring us closer to others so they accept us and even like us. This social dynamic of wanting to belong, to be accepted, starts when we are young, playing with our siblings, friends, and classmates. We can relive the pain of being last for a sports team when watching the annual football draft on television. We can relive “wallflower syndrome,” when we sat on the sidelines waited to be asked to dance, as adults waiting to be asked on dates.

Here are some self-reflective questions we may ask to better guide ourselves toward more fulfilling relationships with others. You can substitute the word "recognize" with "acknowledge," "need," or another word that is meaningful to you:

  • What is it I want to have recognized, to be recognized for, so I feel accepted?

  • Why is this important to me?

  • How would I like to be recognized?

  • How can I make myself recognized?

  • What will this do for me if I am recognized?

  • What kind of relationship will I be making through this recognition?

Here is an example of how these reflections may play out in a workplace relationship.

  • I want to be recognized for being a team player.

  • It is important to me because it shows I can balance supporting others with advocating my own ideas.

  • I want the team members or team leader to thank me with a specific reference to something I did.

  • I can get myself recognized by volunteering to work extra or take on a task others do not want to do.

  • If I am recognized it will motivate me to want to continue contributing or do even more.

  • I will be building collaborative relationships with my team members that are long-lasting.

A cautionary note to add here is that building relationships needs to be mutual. If one side over-accommodates, that will not lead to the recognition desired and may have the opposite effect. There needs to be a balance so that both sides give and receive and recognize and value what the other person has accomplished.


Lieberman, M. D. (2013). Social: Why our brains are wired to connect. New York: Crown Publishers.

Cozolino. L. (2014). The neuroscience of human relationships: Attachment and the developing social brain, 2nd edition. New York: W. W. Norton & Co.