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Rejection Sensitivity

4 Strategies to Cope With Rejection

Rejection hurts; here's how to bounce back.

Key points

  • Rejection contributes to feelings of inadequacy or unworthiness.
  • Fear of rejection leads to avoiding intimacy and anticipating more rejection.
  • Cope with rejection by grieving, not assuming you caused the rejection, building resiliency, and remembering that everyone experiences rejection.
Omid Bonyadian/Unsplash
Source: Omid Bonyadian/Unsplash

Rejection hurts. We’ve all experienced the pain of rejection—perhaps a job you didn’t get, being ghosted by a friend, or not being invited to a social event—and then seeing your friends post about it on social media.

What is rejection?

We feel rejected when we’re not included, accepted, or approved of. Rejection involves the loss of something we had or wanted. And rejection, like abandonment, leaves us feeling unwanted and not good enough.

Did you experience any of these common childhood or teenage rejections?

  • Being bullied
  • Trying out for a team or school play and not making the cut
  • Having no one to sit with at lunch
  • Being the last one chosen in phys ed
  • Not being asked to prom or invited to a party
  • Not getting into the college you wanted
  • Having a partner cheat on you or break up with you

Unfortunately, some children also experience rejection at home. This adds another layer of pain. Rejection from your parents or family might have included:

  • Being criticized, told you’re not good enough, or called derogatory names
  • Being abused, neglected, or abandoned
  • Being placed for adoption (even though it’s done with love, it can feel like rejection)
  • Being ignored
  • Being told your feelings, ideas, or beliefs are wrong or don’t matter
  • Your parents favoring your sibling
  • Being sent away because you were “difficult” or “troubled”
  • Being told you’re not talented and should give up your goals and dreams
  • Lack of support or disapproval of your sexual orientation or gender identity

Rejection leads to false beliefs

Generally, the greater the frequency and the younger you were when you were rejected, the more impactful it is.

Young children are just developing their self-concept and self-worth, so they’re especially vulnerable. Even if people didn’t overtly tell you that you’re inadequate or unlovable, you may have jumped to this conclusion when you were rejected because young children lack the reasoning skills and life experiences to fully understand all the possible reasons for being rejected.

Being repeatedly rejected as a child can lead to a belief that you’re inadequate. And these false beliefs add to the pain of being rejected and can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Rejection leads to putting up emotional walls

Because rejection is so painful, we naturally want to protect ourselves from future rejection. We do this by putting up emotional walls or not sharing vulnerable things—things we feel insecure or self-conscious about, our problems, hopes, and dreams. We falsely believe that this will take the sting out of rejection—as if holding people at a distance will keep us from getting attached or falling in love, or that rejection won’t be as painful if the other person didn’t know us deeply.

The other thing that happens is we start to anticipate rejection. We think rejection is inevitable, so we jump the gun and reject the other person before they can reject us. Again, we think this will spare us the pain of losing someone we care about or wanted to get to know better. Rejecting others can give us a sense of being in control, having the power position, but it doesn’t make the loss hurt any less.

Putting up emotional walls and prematurely rejecting others doesn’t help us create fulfilling relationships and it doesn’t protect us from the pain of rejection.

How to cope with rejection

1. Acknowledge the pain and grieve the loss

Rejection is the loss of something or someone you had or hoped to have. Often, we feel ashamed or embarrassed when we’re rejected and just want to put it behind us. Sometimes, this results in suppressing our feelings, denying that we’re in pain, or doing things like drinking or eating too much to cope.

Grieving involves feeling your feelings, not denying, suppressing, or numbing them. Crying, journaling, therapy, exercising, being in nature, extra self-care, and creating goodbye rituals can help. Give yourself time to let your feelings exist and be processed. The duration and intensity of the grief will depend on what you’ve lost; it could last just an hour, or you may grieve a major rejection for months.

2. Don’t blame yourself

It’s natural to want to know why you were rejected. However, in my experience, there aren’t always clear reasons for rejection. And usually, when we don’t have answers, we blame ourselves; we assume that we screwed up, we weren’t enough, we’re unlovable, difficult, stupid, etc. Remember that you may have been conditioned early on to believe that you’re inadequate and to blame yourself for being rejected. These are beliefs that you can now choose to discard. As an adult, you’re better equipped to consider alternative hypotheses—other reasons for rejection. There are so many possible reasons for rejection and even the most attractive, smartest, accomplished, and likable people get rejected.

Sometimes it can be useful to take a look at your behavior and how you present yourself; that doesn’t mean rejection is because you did something wrong. Sometimes you don’t get the job because the CEO decided to hire his niece, or a first date doesn’t call you back because he feels insecure. It’s not always about you—and it’s unfair to blame yourself or take responsibility for things that were out of your control or to assume you did something wrong.

3. Strengthen your resiliency

Resiliency is your ability to recover or bounce back from a setback. And psychologists believe it’s a quality that you can learn. Things like having an open mind, avoiding all-or-nothing thinking, focusing on solutions and what you can learn from the experience, seeking support, maintaining a sense of humor, remembering your strengths, seeing mistakes as necessary steps on the road to success, and practicing self-care contribute to resiliency.

4. Keep putting yourself out there

Writers and artists are notorious for persisting despite being rejected over and over again. Part of their ability to do this is their mindset—they accept that rejection is part of the process; it’s necessary to get published or launch a successful career. And because they see it as normal and necessary, they don’t take it personally. This type of acceptance and repeatedly “putting yourself out there” can help make rejection less painful.

A combination of grieving the loss you feel when you’re rejected, not assuming you caused the rejection, focusing on your strengths and resiliency, and accepting that rejection is a normal experience, can help you to cope more effectively with rejection.

More from Sharon Martin, DSW, LCSW
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