Harness the Power of “Social Death”

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Death is something most people fear. We associate “death” with physical death, but another kind of death can be even more frightening: social death.

What is social death, and how can you harness it in your marketing?

What is social death?

Social death is fear of rejection. Examples include not being invited to a social gathering and being rejected by a romantic partner.

The fear of social death is rooted in the need for social connection and belonging. We are social animals. Our survival depends on the support and protection of our community. Being cut off from that community is a terrifying prospect.

The Amish understand the powerful impact of social death. When someone abandons their beliefs or breaks their rules, their transgression is publicly announced, and all church members must “shun” them. If a person is shunned, they can have no social or business contact with any other member of this tight-knit community.

Families practice their versions of shunning by refusing to speak to a family member. Other religions, like Scientology and Jehovah’s Witnesses, have rules that require ignoring those who question their teachings.

In this digital age, you can experience social death by being excluded or bullied on social media, with similar effects.

The impact of social death

According to Purdue psychologist Kipling Williams, the psychological effects of being shunned, excluded, and ostracized are profound.

Victims of shunning experience a loss of “control, belonging, self-esteem and meaningful existence.” They can also become depressed and suffer from physical ailments, including ulcers, compromised immune systems, anxiety, and a loss of feeling valued or meaningful existence. Shunning that continues for an extended time can even cause psychosis.

There is evidence that being ostracized may trigger the same regions in the brain as physical pain.