Correlates of Rejection Sensitive Individuals

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Rejection sensitivity is defined as the tendency to expect and look for rejection in ambiguous social situations. Individuals high in rejection sensitivity may interpret ambiguous or benign action to be situations of rejection, which may negatively impact these individuals’ intimate relationships. Research suggests that rejection sensitivity may manifest differently for men and women, such that men are more likely to be jealous and controlling, whereas women are more likely to be unsupportive and hostile. These reactions to ambiguous situations may influence the way rejection sensitive individuals seek help. To our knowledge, there is no research available that examines the link between rejection sensitivity and helpseeking behaviors. Williams and Mickelson (2008) found that stigmatized, low-income women who fear rejection were more likely to engage in indirect help-seeking behavior (e.g., complained about their problems in a general way) than direct help-seeking behavior (e.g., gave details about the problem), which resulted in lower levels of support. However, this one prior study examined only one item of fear of rejection, which actually tapped into worry about the support network not providing support if sought. The current study extended that prior research by examining similar hypotheses except using a more extensive measure of trait rejection sensitivity. Additional outcome variables were tested including anxiety and self esteem. We hypothesized that individuals high in rejection sensitivity would seek help indirectly, which would in turn link with high anxiety and low self-esteem, while those individuals low in rejection sensitivity would seek help directly which would in turn link with low anxiety and high self-esteem. Additionally, we hypothesized that type of help seeking would be related to network response such that indirect help seeking would be related to increased negative network response (e.g., attempt to change the topic) and decreased positive network response (e.g., sympathy), with direct help seeking being related to the inverse. Given the gender differences in experience of rejection sensitivity reported in the literature, these differences were also be explored. The current study was a cross-sectional design, in which participants (N = 381) completed a one-time online survey. The majority of participants were female (68.6%) and Caucasian (90%) with an average age of 20.82. Initial analyses revealed support for the proposed hypotheses. Rejection sensitivity was positively correlated with indirect help seeking (r =.110, p < .05) and negatively correlated with direct help seeking (r = -.133, p < .01). While direct help seeking was positively correlated with positive network response, indirect help seeking was related to both positive network response and negative network response (all ps < .01). Indirect help seeking was also positively correlated with anxiety and negatively correlated with self-esteem (all ps < .01). Findings are consistent with previous work on the negative outcomes among individuals high in rejection sensitivity, and that perhaps in part these individuals behave in ways that foster rejection. The current findings suggest future research should examine the relationship between rejection sensitivity, help seeking, and outcomes using an experimental or longitudinal design in order to capture the temporal ordering of the correlational relations reported here.


Johnson City, TN

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