How Rejection In Different Cultures Varies

Medically reviewed by Nikki Ciletti, M.Ed, LPC
Updated April 30, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Rejection is something that everyone experiences across all different cultures, but it can look different across cultures depending on many factors. Read on to learn how rejection is perceived in different cultures and how our society shapes our experiences. 

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Rejection varies across cultures

What is rejection? 

Rejection is when we seek out something, usually a connection with another person or acceptance of some sort and are turned down. Some rejections are small, but others can be devastating.

There are a few types of rejection. When we may think of relationship rejection, we may think of someone you’re in a serious relationship with or someone you’re casually dating deciding that the relationship is over, or when they turn down your advances from the beginning. Relationships and social rejections can come from friends and family, too. We may experience another type of rejection is professional or academic rejection, which occurs when we don’t get the job or promotion that we want or are rejected from academic programs or universities that we apply to. 

Rejection can affect your life in many ways and, but rejection in other cultures might look slightly different depending on the culture you are a part of. To understand this in more detail, we will look closer at one of the more damaging types of rejection: maternal rejection.

Parental rejection in different cultures

Parental rejection can affect a child throughout their life as it greatly affects their development. But do mothers reject their children for the same reasons in different cultures? 

One study examining maternal rejection showed how the child's characteristics affected maternal rejection in three cultures, focusing on mothers in the United States, Korea, and Japan. 

This study had a lot of interesting data and conclusions. Ultimately, it found that maternal rejection was lower in the United States than in Korea or Japan. But what cultural differences caused this? 

One reason is that in Japan and Korea, there is more of a focus on obedience and adherence, likely leading to stricter parenting and a greater demand for children to obey. Children seen to have a difficult temperament were more likely to be rejected by their mothers in these cultures. 

Despite this emphasis on adherence and obedience, the study found many differences between Japanese and Korean mothers. Japanese mothers believed more in effortful control, the idea that the child can control their behaviors, and rejection significantly increased as the child’s ability to control themselves decreased. Overall, Japanese mothers were found to be more sensitive to their children’s behavior problems than Korean or American mothers. 

If children cannot control themselves or if they display issues like depression, anxiety, or other psychological problems, Korean mothers tend to try to find the cause and respond to their child’s needs. On the other hand, Japanese mothers have increased rejection levels in these situations as they feel they are not of the same mind as their children and get a low level of parenting pleasure.

As this study alludes to, perceived parental rejection in childhood is highly linked to adjustment in later life, but what causes and goes along with rejection can differ between cultures. Part of this is because a child's behavior can be interpreted differently depending on the culture. 

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What characteristics were related to maternal rejection in different cultures? In the study, American mothers were most sensitive to behavioral problems but had the least amount of maternal rejection. Korean mothers were likely to get more parenting education and show more interest in discipline and understanding their child’s temperament, but maternal rejection was higher than in American mothers. Moreover, Japanese mothers had the least amount of perception about their children’s behavior problems and the highest level of maternal rejection. The amount of maternal rejection increased more in Japanese mothers than in Korean mothers if they felt their child had behavior problems or a bad temperament.

Why culture matters

Culture influences many things about a person, including how they experience and process global issues, and how they regulate their emotions. Some evidence shows that Asian people are typically less motivated to engage in emotional regulation and report having more difficulties with it than Whites. Culture also impacts emotional regulation in other ways. One common way of regulating emotions is emotional suppression, which is considered maladaptive for White cultures but can be seen as adaptive for East Asians. 

How we deal with rejection depends greatly on how we regulate our emotions and our cultural values. Someone from an East Asian culture may see emotional suppression as desirable and deal with rejection in a much more subdued and internal way than an American, for whom emotional suppression is seen as maladaptive. A Japanese mother who values a child with a lot of effortful control and a pleasant temperament is more likely to reject a child without those characteristics than a Korean or American mother. 

Considering culture in treatment

There are five main elements to consider about culture when someone is in treatment: emotional expression, shame, power distance between the therapist and patient, collectivism or how much the patient relies on their group, and spirituality/religion. A professional, skilled therapist will consider these things and help to develop a treatment based on their findings.

Regardless of culture, everyone handles rejection in their own way, and those who need more support may decide to talk to a therapist. But culture matters in treatment, too. Here are some ideas about how culture can affect the approach to treatment. 

  • There are five main elements to consider about culture when someone is in treatment. A professional, skilled therapist will consider the following five things: emotional expression, shame, power distance between the therapist and patient, collectivism or how much the patient relies on their group, and spirituality/religion.
  • Different cultures have varying views about where disease comes from, including mental health issues. Some cultural groups may attribute mental health issues to magic or spirituality and seek help by visiting religious sites or healing temples. For example, Traditional Chinese Medicine may contribute illness to an imbalance between Yin and Yang while in India, mental health may be perceived as a product of karma. 
  • Some world cultures, particularly Chinese and Indian, may be more likely to treat someone as a whole instead of looking at mental and physical health separately. 
  • People from different cultures may seek help for different reasons. For example, people in India are more likely to seek help for somatic or physical symptoms while Americans are more likely to seek help for cognitive symptoms. People who are non-native to the US, Australia, and Canada tend to seek help much later than people native to those countries; research suggests that shame may play a role.
  • Research also suggests that talk therapy may not be the most useful form of treatment for some cultural groups; expressive therapies and movement-based therapies may be more effective.
  • Racism and discrimination can also affect how people from different cultures seek treatment for mental health issues or have access to care. For example, Latino and African American communities in the US often have mistrust of the healthcare system due to current issues of racism as well as the historical persecution, which can make them hesitant to seek care.
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Rejection varies across cultures

Online therapy can help

If you’re experiencing rejection in any culture and want to talk to a mental health professional, online therapy is a great option. Finding a therapist who understands the social processes of your culture and values can help you feel more comfortable and open. BetterHelp works with thousands of therapists across a wide range of specialties and backgrounds. When you sign up, you’re matched with someone who can help you within 48 hours, and you can always switch to another therapist if you don’t feel it’s a good match. 

With online therapy, you attend sessions from the comfort of your home or anywhere you have an internet connection. You can talk to your therapist through live chat, phone, or video sessions, whichever is more comfortable for you. Research shows that online therapy is effective, in fact, one review of 14 studies found that online treatment is just as effective as in-person treatment. 

If you’re ready to get started, sign up with BetterHelp to take the next step. 

Takeaway

Rejection is hard for everyone, but not everyone deals with it the same way. Part of this may be due to cultural differences. If you’re struggling with acceptance in your cultural groups and want to talk to a therapist who has knowledge about your cultural experiences and where you’re coming from, reach out to a BetterHelp therapist for support.

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