Attachment and Perceived Rejection: Findings from studies of hurt feelings and the adoption experience
Judith Feeney

Psychological theory and research suggest that human beings have a basic need to belong, and that perceived rejection is a highly aversive experience. This paper proposes that attachment theory offers a useful perspective on the nature and consequences of perceived rejection. Supporting evidence is
provided from recent studies of hurt feelings in couple relationships, and of the relational concerns of adults who were adopted as infants. Studies of psychological hurt indicate that hurtful events commonly entail threat to positive mental models of attachment, as well as perceptions of rejection. Further, attachment dimensions are important predictors of the ongoing consequences of hurtful events for victims and for couple relationships. Perceptions of rejection are also thought to be important to the adoption experience, and to underlie the ongoing fear of rejection that many adoptees report. Data from our laboratory suggest that attachment insecurity is more prevalent in adult adoptees than in the general population, and that insecurity is linked to the perception that close relationships involve risk and hurt. Together, the findings support the argument that attachment principles shed light on the nature of perceived rejection: Attachment theory highlights the vital functions of human bonding across the lifespan, helps explain individual differences in responses to perceived rejection, and has implications for programs of intervention.


psychology; attachment; rejection; interpersonal relations

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