Rejection is inevitable- it happens to all of us.
And perhaps, this is for the better! Can you imagine a world where we all get every single thing we want and more?
In this parallel world, we can have an abundance of wealth and opportunity. We would always find the perfect parking spot, everyone we like would like us back. All the jobs we apply for would lead to interviews and offers, and there would be little, if anything, to fight or cry about.
Sounds pretty nice, right? We'll admit (honestly, without the sarcasm), it DOES.
However, getting everything we want deprives us of growth. It also hinders our ability to learn core life skills such as perseverance and build resilience. Adversity is essential to personal and professional growth.
And rejection is a part of adversity!
Rejection is also something we can handle with grace. Managing rejection is a life skill- and you can learn it.
So much of this skill is consciously choosing how you interpret the rejection and all the challenging emotions that come along with it.
In this post we will:
Discuss why rejection feels so BAD
Provide steps to interpret the rejection in a more useful way
Discuss what else rejection can point to
Let's get into it.
Why Does Rejection Hurt So Much?
Part of the reason most of us would gladly see the possibility of rejection out the door, is it really hurts.
If you need anymore evidence of this, let's take a look at some of the phrases we commonly use to describe the experience of rejection:
- "I feel crushed"
- "This is devastating"
- "I felt the the sting of rejection"
- "I can't believe they used me like that"
- "I'm never doing *insert behaviour that led to the rejection* again"
There is actually a good reason why rejection makes us feel like we are sinking into a pool of hurt:
To Your Brain, Rejection Is Pain
Research has shown that rejection activates the same areas of our brain as physical pain! Yes, there is neural overlap between the physical experience of pain and the experience of rejection.
"The study demonstrates that the same regions of the brain that become active in response to painful sensory experiences are activated during intense experiences of social rejection."
If you have every experienced rejection, this finding may not surprise you.
We often want to curl into a ball after being rejected, which sounds pretty similar to our natural instinct to withdraw or cringe when we experience physical pain.
We can make sense of this when we think about how deadly isolation and being ostracized was for early humans. Therefore, our brains interpret rejection as a survival threat. They will work overtime to 'warn' you that this is not good!
Fast forward to today, we no longer live in hunter-gatherer societies. Our brain may still interpret rejection as a survival threat, but we can use our wise minds and wealth of lived experience to choose otherwise.
Let's talk about how to do this.
How To Interpret Rejection So You Can Thrive
It is entirely possible to thrive after rejection...rather than dive headfirst into the aforementioned pool of hurt.
Rejection hurts, yes...but you get to decide what to make of it. Here is how.
1. Give Yourself Time To Process The Hurt
Acknowledge that you are going through a painful experience. Disappointment, a diminished sense of hope, and even feelings of being discouraged or embarassed- you are a human being and allowed to feel them all.
Suppressing the challenging emotions in an attempt to convince yourself you are unaffected might prolong the process of accepting the rejection.
Try journaling, voice journaling, or taking a moment to close your eyes and identify the complicated wave of emotions that surface when you think of the rejection.
Name the feelings, and give them space to exist.
2. Believe The Rejection For What It Is
It can be tempting to find the 'hidden meaning' behind rejection, particularly if it's coming from a potential romantic partner.
"I know they want me, but they are self-sabotaging"
"I wish they could see how good I will be for them"
Taking the 'no' at face value is important. Despite that person's ability or inability to process their emotions, the ouward action points to a 'no'. It's not even 'not now'....it's 'no'.
We often spend a lot of time over-contextualizing and making excuses for people when they truth is thier actions speak for themselves. Taking this at face value can help us move on.
3. Rejection Does Not Mean There Is Something Wrong With You- It Is Proof You Are Living
Rejection means you took a chance and stepped outside your comfort zone.
The experience of rejection signifies you are pushing yourself and are willing to take the risks we often need to take in order to grow. Whether you get turned down for a date, passed up for a job, or take any kind of shot that does not land, take heart in the fact that you are putting yourself out there.
By taking a risk and being willing to handle rejection, you are living your life with courage- and this always eventually pays off.
4. Be Compassionate With Yourself
Challenge the negative self-talk that often follows experiences of rejection. It's easy to beat yourself up when you are in the throes of challenging emotions. However, it's possible (and important!) to treat yourself kindly after rejection.
If we can rely on ourselves to be our own safety net when life becomes challenging, we are more likely to continue seeking growth.
Speak to yourself like you would speak to a friend. It helps to visualize someone you love and imagine what advice you would give them if they were going through the same thing.
Then, replace their name with yours and say the compassionate words outloud- sometimes we need to hear ourselves say them.
5. Try Not To Overgeneralize The Rejection
Do you think of yourself as incompetent if you get turned down for a job? Or maybe you consider yourself to be 'unloveable' after a long-term break up or getting turned down for a date.
Try keeping the rejection in perspctive. No one incident defines who are or what you are worth.
Additionally, it's not always personal. Rejection from dating app experiences means a stranger took maybe 10-30 seconds to scan your profile. Sometimes it really does have more to do with the person thatn it does with you!
Be Willing To Learn From The Rejection
Turn your rejection into an opportunity for personal growth. It might look like taking some responsibility for your role in the rejection. It can also involve realizing that experiencing rejection is not the most awful thing that can happen. Knowing you can sit with the pain is powerful.
Perhaps rejection can lead to self-examination. What are areas in your life that could use some work. Or maybe rejection helps you understand your own worth.
Either way, the experience has a lot to teach us is we are willing to go there.
What Else Can Rejection Point To?
If it looks like rejection, talks like rejection...it could be...something else? Yes!
The instinct after experiencing rejection might be to think there is something inherently wrong with us. Let's challenge this, though! What else could that experience of rejection mean for you? Here are a few ideas:
- Perhaps this wasn’t meant for me
- It's better that this happened now rather than later, when I would be more invested
- The delay can prepare me better so that when I have another opportunity, I feel more confident
- This could be a redirection to something I probably missed before, but could make time to see now!
Wrapping Up: Thank You, Next
Dwelling on the rejection won't help you move on and grow from the experience. Emotions are powerful! The guide how we interpret what happens to us. At the beginning of a rejection experience, it's natural to feel consumed by them.
A 'thank you, next' attitude on the other hand can help you brush things off and bounce back. Take in the lesson, interpret what the rejections means with a sense of perspective, and try moving on with grace.
Will it hurt less? Perhaps not in the short term. In the long-term, however, you are bound to look back and feel proud of yourself for handling a difficult situation well. You've got this!
Until next time!
Mental Health Content Specialist