Social Defeat: a Stress Theory

Social Defeat - Toolshero

Social Defeat: this article explains Social Defeat, a Stress Theory in a practical way. Next to what it is (meaning and hypothesis), this article also highlights ti’s relationship with Stress, the factor, tips to avoid it and the different Stages of Social Defeat. After reading it, you will understand the basics of this this stress theory. Enjoy reading!

What is Social Defeat in Psychology?

Social Defeat is a form of stress. It can be caused by bullying or other forms of abuse from peers, family members, or superiors in the workplace.

It is just as damaging to one’s mental health as physical attacks, and many times more common. It has been found that most people have experienced some form of Social Defeat at some point during their lives.It has become an important area for psychologists to study and conduct new research on how best to help those who suffer from this type of stressor.

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Social Defeat occurs when someone feels like they are “less than” because they were rejected or humiliated by another person (whether intentionally or not).

This feeling usually leads to anger and resentment towards the person who inflicted it. Some people are able to shake off the feelings of defeat, while others become obsessed with it.

Social Defeat is a term in psychology that describes the experience of being defeated by other people. It can be caused by bullying, feeling rejected, or feeling like an outsider. Whether it’s done to us directly or we witness it happening to someone else, it can have long-lasting effects on your mental health and well-being (chronic social defeat stress and stress induces behavior).

The consequences often include like behaviors, feelings of hopelessness, anxiety disorders (including post-traumatic stress disorder), problems with interpersonal relationships, and self-esteem issues.

People who are socially defeated may also show increased aggression or violence towards others (such as domestic abuse).

The hypothesis of Social Defeat in psychology

The hypothesis of this theory is based on the assumption that social hierarchies exist in every society. These hierarchies are established through aggression and dominance; stronger or more powerful individuals usually win out at the expense of weaker or less powerful individuals (a concept known as Social Dominance Theory).


The definition of Social Defeat is “the loss of power, status, or self-esteem as a result of verbal or physical abuse by others”.

By this definition, some children who are bullied at school experience it daily – especially if their peers make fun of them for repeated mistakes on the playground. This constant domination can lead to low self-esteem (or another negative impact) long after the bullying has stopped.

Stress and social defeat

Stress plays a huge factor in Social Defeat. Stress can be caused by many factors, but the two most common causes are physical stressors and psychological stressors. Physical stressors are usually easier to describe because they are more tangible. Physical stressors can come in the form of an attack, violence, or another traumatic event.

Psychological stressors are much harder to talk about because they are not tangible objects that can be seen or touched. They mostly come in the forms of emotional events, cognitive functioning, or mood states.

It which comes from psychological events is typically much harder to deal with than it which comes from physical events because psychological events are subtle and may not be recognized as harmful until it’s too late.

The factor of Social Defeat

Social Defeat is more common than one might think, and some people are more susceptible to it than others. For example, children who are bullied at school on a regular basis may be more likely to experience Social Defeat because of their young age.

On the other end of the spectrum, teenagers are also known for being susceptible to Social Defeat because they tend to be insecure about how they look or act around others (especially if they don’t fit in with their peers). People who have low self-esteem also tend to be more vulnerable to Social Defeats because they don’t feel like their opinions matter or that anyone would care if they were humiliated by someone else.

Other factors that can cause someone to become socially defeated include financial hardship, lack of social support, and lack of self-efficacy. It can also happen to entire groups of people.

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Tips to avoid Social Defeat

Here are a few things you can do to avoid this:

  • Stay positive. Develop a routine that will help you feel more comfortable in your day-to-day life.
  • Build a support network. Don’t put yourself in situations where you might be socially defeated, and make sure you have people who will use their power to protect you if it is necessary.
  • Keep track of your feelings. If you find yourself feeling upset or angry, take some time for self care by doing something soothing and eating healthy food.
  • Accept help when it’s offered. Some people are more susceptible to Social Defeat than others but remember that there are always people who can be your allies. Friends and family members will show you love if you let them in, so try to open up more often.

Stages of Social Defeat

There are specific stages that commonly occur when someone is being socially defeated.

Some people may experience all the stages, while others might only experience a few of them before they recover.


It can be very hard to overcome Social Defeats, especially if it happens more than once over the course of our lifetime. Having feelings of depression after you’ve been socially defeated by someone else is perfectly normal because you are processing your emotions and need time to heal.


This stage usually occurs fairly quickly after experiencing it by another person. Recovery time typically takes longer if one experiences chronic stress or if their coping mechanisms aren’t working as well as they should be.


Being revictimized means that you might be experiencing it more than once, or that you aren’t doing anything to prevent it. If this occurs more than once, you may want to speak with a counselor who can help walk you through the process of healing.


Recovery is the last stage before someone becomes resilient after being socially defeated by another person. This means that they are strong enough to get through difficult situations without feeling depressed or upset.

Health problems

A lack of self-care has been linked to stress and anxiety disorders, so make sure you keep yourself healthy by getting plenty of sleep and eating well-balanced meals at regular intervals.

Examples of Social Defeat

Social Defeat also takes place in different environments, here are some examples of what it could look like:

Bullying in the workplace

If your boss is constantly yelling at you or making fun of you when you make a mistake, that could be considered a Social Defeat. It’s important to remember that if your boss makes snide remarks about you or puts unnecessary pressure on you, then they are being abusive and should not have that kind of power over another person.

Marital abuse

If someone is hitting or shaking their partner because they’re angry, chances are they’re trying to exert some sort of control over them even though what they’re doing is wrong. This also includes verbal abuse and using children as weapons against one another.

Financial problems

Losing a job can cause high levels of stress that make it difficult for people to function without feeling defeated. Dealing with debt that seems insurmountable can also lead to feelings of despair, which is another example of it.

Social Defeat: the importance of self-care

Self-care is vital to overcome Social Defeat and moving on with your life.

No one can be completely self-reliant, and there will always come a time in everyone’s lives when assistance from someone else or at least some outside help is necessary.

That is why it’s important to build up a support system before you really need it.

“We don’t develop courage by being happy every day. We develop it by surviving difficult times and challenging adversity”. – Barbara De Angelis.

There are easy ways of self care that you can implement to prevent or help in dealing with it, some of which are:

Eating a healthy diet

Your diet will make a big difference in your energy levels, especially if you’re eating right before you go to bed.

The last thing that you need after surviving a difficult situation is to be tired all the time because of what you’re putting into your body.

Getting enough sleep

We sleep for one-third of our lives, so it’s important to make sure we are getting the right amount of rest every night.

This will help us feel calmer and more relaxed, which puts us in a good mood even on stressful days when everything seems like it’s falling apart.

Exercising regularly

It might seem like too much work to take care of our bodies when we have other things going on in our lives, but exercise can also lift your mood and stress at the same time.

Coping mechanisms

Whether you’re dealing with chronic stress (caused by medical problems) or acute stress (caused by something specific such as an interview, presentation, or meeting) it’s important to remember that you can’t always avoid it.

Occasionally, we need short-term solutions; other times we need long-term ones. Coping and Coping trategies are anything we use to help us manage our lives better by reducing anxiety and fear of Social Defeat: meditating or praying every morning, going to a therapist, investing in new hobbies and interests, taking educational classes, watching comedies, minimizing our screen time, reading classic novels or poetry.

However, it’s possible to reduce the impact of stress by taking care of ourselves and staying vigilant in recognizing when we’re most at risk for it.

If you know you get extremely anxious in certain situations and tend to explode when someone irritates you, it might be a good idea to avoid those sorts of people and places until you’re more equipped to deal with the stress they cause.

Or if something has happened recently that is particularly upsetting or worrisome, then take some time out for yourself by doing things that help reduce your stress such as sleeping well, exercising regularly, spending time outdoors, and cooking healthy meals.

In conclusion about Social Defeat

As mentioned above, stress is a huge factor that causes Social Defeat because it makes us more susceptible to being socially defeated by others. Stress is caused both by physical and psychological events, so some forms of Social Defeat may be preventable, while others simply cannot be stopped.

Absorbing stress from other people can cause long-lasting personality changes for those who experience chronic stress (such as depression).

It’s important to remember that there are many ways to help treat or prevent Social Defeat, but it mostly comes down to self-care.

Social Defeat is not only caused by bullying, but also by lack of support from family members, financial hardship, lack of confidence in one’s abilities, and many other factors. There are coping mechanisms for Social Defeat that can help treat the situation if it does happen.

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What do you think? Do you understand the explanation of positivism? If you have any questions or want to provide feedback about this article, don’t hesitate to leave a comment below. We would love to hear from you!

More information

  1. Björkqvist, K. (2001). Social defeat as a stressor in humans. Physiology & behavior, 73(3), 435-442.
  2. Golden, S. A., Covington, H. E., Berton, O., & Russo, S. J. (2011). A standardized protocol for repeated social defeat stress in mice. Nature protocols, 6(8), 1183-1191.
  3. Meerlo, P., Overkamp, G. J. F., Daan, S., Van Den Hoofdakker, R. H., & Koolhaas, J. M. (1996). Changes in behaviour and body weight following a single or double social defeat in rats. Stress, 1(1), 21-32.

How to cite this article:
Ospina Avendano, D. (2021). Social Defeat. Retrieved [insert date] from Toolshero:

Original publication date: 02/01/2020 | Last update: 12/25/2023

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Daniela Avendaño
Article by:

Daniela Avendaño

Daniela Avendaño is a content producer and translator at toolshero. She obtained a Bachelor in Communications & Journalism, and with her theoretical and practical knowledge she supports the toolshero production team with interesting articles on management, personal & professional development, marketing and more. She is driven by sharing knowledge and stimulating others to develop.


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