We all know that rejection hurts, a lot. Looking at our evolutionary past, if we were ostracized from our tribes we were basically served a death sentence. So rejection was a vital human reaction to danger. This can explain why we feel the pain of rejection so strongly. In fact, studies show that the same areas of the brain become activated when we experience rejection as when we experience physical pain.
In a modern context this may be the internet date you met once and liked has never returned your texts. The two friends you introduced have formed a close bond – which you’re not part of. Your neighbour seems to have invited the world and his wife to her birthday party – but not you! Social media and internet dating have only added to the countless ways we can feel left out or unwanted.
So how can we toughen up? Psychologist Guy Winch and career, business and life coach Sue Clarke gave us some tips on how best to deal with rejection.
1. Recognise what’s happening
The main danger of rejection is that it catches us in a negative cycle. We feel rejected, our self-esteem free-falls so we’re less likely to be authentic and confident, which then means we’re more likely to be rejected again. The longer we wait to correct the cycle, the worse it will get.
2. Stop self-critiquing
Not surprisngly, the stronger our self-esteem, the less painful we find rejection and the quicker we recover. But self-esteem fluctuates – some days we’re soaring, other days we’re fragile. Even the most confident of us have days when rejection picks away at our insecurities, sending self-esteem from bad to worse. ‘He didn’t like me because I’m overweight’/’I should never have told that joke.’ Everyone feels it.
Think about your good qualities and take the time to write down a couple of paragraphs about when they have been appreciated in the past. It may feel odd doing it, but it’s surprisingly powerful and a simple counterbalance to fault finding.
3. Choose the best scenario
When we’re rejected, we rarely know the whole story. We don’t know why he never wanted a second date, why the invitation never reached your inbox, why your friend didn’t ‘like’ your photo. Resist filling in the blanks with your worst-case scenarios.
The real reason may have nothing to do with you – so find the best case scenario instead. Maybe he didn’t call because his life is too complicated and it just wasn’t a good time. Maybe she didn’t invite me because she forgot or thinks I wouldn’t want to go. You never know what’s going on in the minds of others, so assume the least damaging explanations.
4. Call a friend
Don’t be tempted to bury the incident as it will gnaw away at you. Instead, sharing your feelings with someone you trust as a sounding board is an immediate antidote. Even saying what we feel out loud helps us process what we’re really hung up about and set it in context.
The right person can put your rejection into perspective, and tell if you’re overreacting, while also reminding you that there is somewhere where you’re cared for and valued, where you belong.
5. Don’t keep your barriers up
This is most important of all. The worst possible response to rejection is to avoid similar situations in the future. How can that possibly make us happier or improve our confidence? The more likely result is withdrawal and loneliness.
By all means, if rejection keeps happening, figure out what you may like to do differently. If certain friends appear to be cooling your friendship, are there others you can deepen your relationship with? Rejection may be a chance to evolve and learn – but never a reason to give up.
6. Learn from it
You may be feeling rejection in your career. Try to keep work setbacks in perspective. Each day, people – talented, deserving people – are experiencing career rejection. This is a universal phenomenon. After interviews and a final presentation, someone has to lose to the other candidate. Career progression rarely happens in giant leaps – it takes small steps as we build experience and skills. The same can be said of rejection in your personal life. Hang in there.