It seems that for those with an independent self-concept, social rejection can increase their creativity levels, studies showed.

Social acceptance and the need to belong

As human beings, we are often conflicted between the need to be liked and the need to be different. Human beings are fundamentally tribal. In days gone by, the need to be accepted by the social group was vital to survival, as being exiled from the group would lead to inevitable death.

These fears linger on and create a need in us for social acceptance. We need reassurance that we belong.

However, humans are also individuals and as such, we want to make our own mark on the world and not blindly follow others like sheep. We have unique thoughts, ideas, beliefs, and dreams that sometimes require us to step away from the accepted ways of acting and behaving to create our own independent lives.

As in so many things in life, finding a balance can help us to be happier and more fulfilled. When these two needs become out of balance, we can find ourselves too far to the extreme ends of the scale.

When our need to be liked is too much to the fore, we may become people-pleasers, desperate to do anything to earn the praise and acceptance of others.

We may quash our desires and dreams, shaping our lives around others’ expectations of how we should behave. In extreme cases, this can lead us to succumb to intense pressure from others at the expense of our own health and well-being as happens in abusive relationships or cults.

But we live in a social world. Compromise and understanding of others lubricate our social relationships and allows people to get along in relative harmony. Going too far to the extreme of being different can lead to troubled relationships and even law-breaking behaviors.

What does this mean for creativity?

Being dependent on others for acceptance leads to sticking to current ways of thinking and behaving and is unlikely to result in new creative insights. To create something new, we need to think differently.

Creativity is a product of divergent thinking and combining things in unique ways. Creativity requires unconventional thinking and nonconformity. Creative thinkers are independent thinkers.

But behaving in ways outside the accepted norm within a relationship, family, social group or culture runs the risk of rejection from that group. Some of the most creative minds of all time have encountered high levels of social rejection and isolation. There is some good news, though, because these feelings of social rejection can actually be used to fuel creativity.

How people view social rejection can influence whether they can use it to fuel creativity.

A study by Sharon H. Kim, et al, entitled ‘Can social rejection fuel creative thought?’ found that for those with an independent self-concept, rejection can lead to increased creative ability. However, for those with a more interdependent self-concept, rejection may constrain individuals by making them more eager to re-establish themselves within the social group.

This suggests that fostering an independent self-concept can increase our ability to put rejection to a good creative use.

How do we improve our ability to be creative?

Having novel experiences increases creativity according to a recent paper in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. Simone Ritter and her colleagues had participants experience complex unusual and unexpected events happening in virtual reality. From the results, Ritter concluded that:

Any life experience, from the traumatic to the joyful, can lead to flexibility and creativity as long as it diversifies your experiences and pushes you outside your normal thought patterns.

So when we experience social rejection, we can take heart in the knowledge that it may just increase our creative capacity. And in addition, we can try stepping out of our comfort zones and experiencing new things to help us to develop flexibility and independence, which, in turn, may help us deal more effectively with rejection.


  1. DigitalCommons@ILR, Cornell University ILR School

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