The Easiest Way to Rebound From Rejection

Why lamenting love lost is easier than bemoaning a missed opportunity.

Posted Jun 10, 2018

Antonio Guillem/Shutterstock
Source: Antonio Guillem/Shutterstock

So you have been rejected. Congratulations: This means you are in the game. Instead of sitting on the bench, you are actively engaged in the game of life. And what you are experiencing is a shared activity, because everyone can relate to the feeling of being rejected. 

Here is why it feels so bad:

Particularly in a social context, we are sensitive to rejection because we are born to bond. Whether you have been stood up or turned down, rejection impacts us emotionally where we are most vulnerable — our sense of self-worth. It makes us doubt our value, which creates insecurity. Your insecurity can be tempered, however, by considering the strength and courage you possess to put yourself out there in the first place. And like a sports injury, when you are sidelined by rejection, you may actually experience physical pain.

Rejection Hurts, Literally 

Research reveals that rejection is painful both emotionally and physically. Kross et al. (2011) compared the experiences of social rejection and physical pain and found that the same brain regions underlie both responses.[i] Their experiment involved showing participants a photograph of an ex-partner after an unwanted breakup as they think about the rejection. In discussing the commonalities in the somatosensory representations they discovered, they compare viewing the photo after the unwanted breakup to spilling hot coffee on your forearm.  

Although the comparison makes the point, most people would rather suffer through the short-term pain of the coffee spill than the lengthier time period required to recover from a lost love. So as wounds heal, how can you make the waiting game more tolerable? One thing you can do is consider what the alternative would have been had you never taken a risk.

Better to Be Rejected Than to Have Missed a Chance for Romance 

Some people argue if you are not rejected, you're not trying hard enough, because success only follows failure. The research supports this sentiment. In a piece entitled “Nothing ventured, nothing gained,” (2017) Joel et al. reported the results of several studies they conducted weighing the fear of rejection against regret over a missed romantic opportunity.[ii] They found that people had more regret over missing a romantic opportunity than they did over enduring rejection. Surprisingly, this was true even among people who were less secure (i.e., those with high attachment anxiety or low self-esteem).  

Joel et al. found that participants perceived missed opportunities for romantic pursuit to be more regrettable than being rejected, partially because they viewed missed opportunities as more consequential in terms of their potential impact on their lives.  

Apparently, when it comes to romance, people can overcome their fear of rejection through the motivation to avoid missed opportunities.  

Reframe: You Are Not Defined by Defeat

Focusing on the sting of rejection is zooming in on one small part of your life. Instead, step back to see the broader picture, and put rejection into context. Reframing involves broadening your perspective to include the positive aspects of your life and see that you are not defined by defeat.  

Reframing also involves perceiving every setback as a learning experience. One person's rejection is another person's education. Decide to learn and grow from negative feedback. Perhaps there is a kernel of truth you can internalize and learn from. If not, shake it off; reframing builds resilience.   

When One Door Closes, New Opportunities Come Knocking 

One thing an unwanted breakup brings is closure. It is easier, in some ways, to be the rejected partner than the partner breaking it off. Consider that while one might spend years agonizing over whether they made the right decision to end a relationship, the rejected partner is powerless to second-guess another person's rejection. Embrace the finality of closure as temporarily painful, but conclusive. The ride is over. You can gather your belongings and exit peacefully before you make your way to the next attraction.  

And the next attraction might be much better. You have heard the saying, When one door closes, another opens. Many people do not see the open door, because they are focused on the one that is closed. Whether personally or professionally, rejection frees up your time to pursue or be open to opportunities that may be even better. So keep your eyes and ears open, because opportunity knocks.

Reframe, Regroup, Recover

Once you place rejection into context, viewing it as a consequence of healthy social engagement, you can huddle with your team, talking through your action plan to get back on the field. With the support of faith, family, and friends, you can process your emotions, keep busy, and strategize your next play.  Learning from rejection also involves identifying the factors that contributed to the relational mismatch in the first place. Consider whether you detect any of these when you are on your next first date, when you are most objective. Once you have reframed and regrouped, you are on the road to recovery.


[i]Ethan Kross, Marc G. Berman, Walter Mischel, Edward E. Smith, and Tor D. Wager, ”Social rejection shares somatosensory representations with physical pain,” PNAS Vol. 108, no. 15, 2011, 6270-6275.

[ii]Samantha Joel, Jason E. Plaks, and Geoff MacDonald, “Nothing ventured, nothing gained: People anticipate more regret from missed romantic opportunities than from rejection,” Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 2017, 1-32.