Jennifer Hickson is currently a licensed clinical social worker in the state of Georgia. She has been providing treatment since 2008. She has worked with a diverse group of clients in various settings to include mental health hospitals, outpatient therapy settings, community settings, and school settings. In addition to therapy, she has provided services as a social service provider, care advocate, case manager, and special education teacher.
Everyone will face rejection at least once in their lives, but not everyone will know how to manage or cope with it. Rejection is something that can be very painful not only emotionally, but psychologically and physically as well. There are several types of rejection that people can face in their lives from career rejection, rejection from dating/friendships to even rejecting yourself!
Rejection will always be something that’s unavoidable, but with the right coping skills and tips, anyone can successfully overcome the negative effects of it.
Why Is Rejection So Painful?
According to Garland, pain can be a very unpleasant feeling and can derive from events that affect people emotionally or physically.1 Experiencing pain can actually be a result of being rejected. The way that physical pain impacts people is not that much different from the impacts of emotional pain.2
When we encounter something unpleasant, our sensory receptors send a message to our brain where the feeling of pain is processed and experienced.1 Like pain, rejection can also produce and send messages to the brain that trigger negative feelings and responses. The negative feelings associated with rejection come from wanting to belong and to be accepted but not being able to.
Humans have an innate desire for belonging and close relationships, and when those desires are not fulfilled, it can leave a void in their lives.3
People tend to gravitate towards being a part of a system that they feel connected to and can identify with. Baumeister and Leary believe that relationships are fulfilling when encounters with others are pleasant, positive, and stable.3
People can often experience rejection when relationships are unstable, short term, or if they are unhealthy.3 People tend to thrive in relationships that are consistent, warm, and accepting. When these factors are not present in relationships, in addition to feeling rejection, people can also experience other negative emotions such as depression and anxiety.
Feelings Associated With Rejection
Rejection is a negative feeling that can also produce other negative emotions or occur with them simultaneously. According to Kirsten Weir in her article on social rejection for the American Psychological Association, “receiving [the] end of a social snub causes a cascade of emotional and cognitive consequences,” which can lead to emotional instability or even mental health concerns.2 When people do not feel their emotional needs are being met in relationships and experience rejection, it can have some adverse effects on how they see relationships and how they see themselves.
People who have dealt with rejection can oftentimes experience hurt feelings. Hurt feelings can develop from unmet expectations or when an individual is intentionally or unintentionally hurt from those who they are in relationship with. When someone who is hurt by someone they are close to, the “rejection emotion” is triggered because of the disappointment and hurt caused by someone they hold dear to them.4
Usually, the closer someone is to you, the more damage they can do to you emotionally. People who feel rejected by having their feelings hurt are usually more vulnerable in close relationships, because they put more into relationships and have higher expectations in these relationships. When these expectations are not met, that is when people are more likely to experience hurt and rejection.
Another response to rejection can be jealousy. An example of jealousy can be when someone has something that you desire, and you feel slighted because you don’t have it, or you are unable to obtain it. This “something” could be some material thing, wealth, talent, status, knowledge, beauty, or even a relationship.
An individual can have a relationship with another individual and become jealous when a third individual becomes present.4
The presence of the third person can make the jealous individual feel like their relationship is being threatened and that their relationship could be in danger of losing the relationship altogether.4
Another feeling that can be present when experiencing rejection is loneliness. Many times, when people feel rejected, they may feel that there is no one that may be there for them or who understands them. They may feel that the relationships they have don’t make them feel a part of a community nor do they feel they belong.
Leary believes that people feel lonely when the people that they usually depend on for support and friendship are not present and/or are unable to meet their emotional needs.4
When people feel lonely, they may feel as if they have no one to talk to, that no one is present, or feel that no one can identify with them.
Rejection can also be accompanied by feelings of shame. Shame can be a feeling of embarrassment or feeling disappointed in yourself for not living up to basic expectations you feel you should have been able to live up to. Shame can also come from feeling that other people judge you in a way that will diminish and devalue who you are as a person.4
When people feel they are being judged, this can often lead to feeling rejected because people feel that they are being put on trial or put under a microscope to magnify their flaws.
Types of Rejection
Rejection can come in so many forms and stem from various situations. However, some of the more typical examples of rejection are related to rejection from job/career advancement, rejection in dating, social rejection, and even self-rejection. Since careers, intimate/social relationships, and self-acceptance appear to be vital to the human experience, what happens when people experience rejection in any of these areas?
For the most part, many people will agree that having a job or career supports their livelihood. An individual’s job/career provides money in which he/she can use to purchase what is wanted or needed. In addition to providing needs and wants, jobs/careers can also offer opportunities for growth, advancement, and even financial increase. Jobs/careers can also give people a sense of security and purpose, so not getting a position that one hoped for could feel like rejection.
There are even times when people have well prepared themselves, met the requirements of the job, and sold themselves well to employers. But sometimes, no matter how much skill, knowledge, talent, competence, and confidence you exude, you just don’t get the job.5
Rejection in Dating/Intimate Relationships
Many people seek that special someone to share their lives with. However, there can be times when the process of finding a partner to have a close relationship with can be difficult or even exhausting. Although the internet and other advances in technology give people the ability to meet numerous people, it does not necessarily guarantee stable, quality, or long-term relationships and therefore rejection is still possible.
There could be multiple reasons why people may feel rejected by others they want to pursue a relationship with; or there could be times when people don’t have options at all when it comes to dating.
According to Cameron and Stinson, people seek out intimate relationships to satisfy emotional needs, but when these needs are not met, people can experience painful rejection.6
Rejection in Social Life/Friendships
Friendships and socialization are important and can be vital in our day to day interactions. Friendships are based on common qualities, interests, and mindsets that people share. When people feel that their social needs aren’t being met this can lead to feelings of social rejection. When people are socially rejected, it can have a negative influence on their emotions, mental health and physical health.2
Unstable mental health and emotions coupled with limited social support can be a recipe for disaster. When people do not fit in socially, it can sometimes lead to isolation, anti-social behaviors or other problematic behaviors.2
Also, when people are cast out or ostracized, it can lead to aggressive or even violent behaviors towards others or even themselves.2
When people typically think of rejection, it is usually thought of others who may reject an individual. However, there are times when individuals may even reject themselves. Individuals may dislike how they look, dislike their interaction with others, or may tend to be over-critical of themselves. There can be times when rejecting one’s self can even lead to concerning or dangerous behaviors.
According to two different studies by Joiner et al. and Turnell et al., people who reject themselves often suffer from mental health issues and it was found that there is a high correlation between self- hate and suicidal symptoms.7,8 However, with that being said, not every individual who has issues with self-rejection struggles with suicidal symptoms. Nevertheless, if not effectively managed, rejection could very well lead to these symptoms.
How to Deal With Rejection
As mentioned before, there can be many situations and events that can lead to or cause someone to have feelings of rejection. Most people will experience rejection at least once and how one handles rejection can make all the difference if they will successfully cope with it or not. There are ways that people can handle rejection correctly in the generic sense, but there are also helpful tips on handling rejection in more specific scenarios.
Many people who suffer from rejection may feel like they are worthless or that what they have to offer doesn’t match up with what others can offer. In order to conquer rejection, people must focus on the characteristics and traits that make them special or valuable.9 When people only focus on the negative aspects or perspectives about themselves, that is all they can see; therefore, they believe that is all everyone else sees in them.
People also need to shift their way of thinking from self-criticizing to self-acceptance.10 This can be accomplished by people controlling their negative thoughts about themselves, having compassion for themselves, and allowing room for error, since they are only human.10
When people suffer from rejection, they may curl back up into a ball and fear trying something new again because of the disappointment of things not turning out the way they wanted. Individuals can overcome rejection by not taking everything personal and by putting themselves back out there after they’ve been hurt or disappointed.9
Sometimes it may be helpful for us to shift the blame from ourselves and identify a more rational way of looking at things. It’s ok to guard yourself from rejection by sometimes allowing yourself to think that things worked out the way they were supposed to, which shifts the blame from you.9 Fredric Neuman for Psychology Today states that “rejection is not always a reflection of who you are,” and that you should learn to mentally prepare yourself if rejected and never get into the habit of putting all of your eggs into one basket.11
Coping With Professional Rejections
Being rejected from a job can have people second guessing their qualities, skills, and competency. Rejection from professional advancement can impact someone’s confidence as well as their financial and social status. Wallowing in your sorrow from not getting the position you wanted can actually hold you back from moving forward.
Here are some tips for moving forward after rejection:12,5
- Don’t get in a slump and immediately get back in your job search
- Do a self-evaluation of yourself and look for areas of strengths/weaknesses
- Have a resume editor review your resume and help you create a knockout resume
- Use this time to sharpen your interview skills and to practice selling yourself
- Apply for positions in which your skills are a great match
- If possible, ask for feedback from your interviewer
- Most importantly don’t take it personally and give yourself a break!
Dealing With Rejection in Dating
A number of people will eventually face rejection or disappointment as far as dating and intimate relationships are concerned. People may try various methods of finding love by sowing time and energy into the dating process. However, although time and energy are spent, some people may still feel they are short changed when they don’t receive the results they desired. No matter how much disappointment people face while dating, they still must push past their rejection and learn to utilize skills to increase their chances of meeting the right person.
Here are some tips on coping with disappointments and rejection while dating and pursuing relationships:6,13,14
- By still putting yourself out there despite negative experiences you’ve had
- By thinking more highly of yourself and not basing your confidence off of what others think
- To be willing to do self-reflection and work on yourself
- To go into dating with high but realistic expectations
- Having the mindset to be accepted and not expecting to be automatically rejected
- Being open-minded, optimistic, and mentally prepared if things don’t go the way you want them to
Handling Rejection From Social Connections
Some people may have better skills to cope when social interactions and relationships don’t work out the way they hoped. Not being accepted in certain social settings or circles can impact someone’s self -concept and cause them to feel like an outcast. To cope, people must learn skills to connect better with others and also learn from the rejection that they have received in order to establish better relationships.
Here are some ways of coping with social rejection:15,16
- Find social networking groups online to connect with people locally and/or remotely
- Find local meetup groups to get to meet new people by doing different activities and going to different events
- Identify your interests/hobbies and look for events in the community that reflect your interests
- Becoming apart of social/local/national organizations to connect with others
- Find small groups to connect more intimately with others
We have all heard the quote that “we can be our own worst critic.” However, there are some people who can only criticize themselves and always view themselves in a negative light. When love and acceptance of yourself begins, that is when the rejection of yourself can end. People sometimes must start seeing themselves in a better light before expecting others to do so.
Here are some ways in which someone can potentially turn their self-rejection into self-acceptance:10
- Challenge the inner critic in you and replace self-loathing thoughts with more positive ones
- Engaging in activities you enjoy or excel in to build up your self-worth and confidence
- Learn more about yourself, treat yourself, and show yourself compassion
- Look for the positives about you and surround yourself with others who can appreciate your good attributes as well
- Find a therapist to work on challenging negative thought patterns about yourself.
In closing, rejection of any kind can be very painful and can sometimes negatively impact your self-esteem or the way you view the world. Rejection is a common part of life and is unavoidable. However, what makes the difference is how you cope or manage your rejection. It’s good to value yourself, be open to new things, and have high expectations, but you should always be prepared for disappointments and maintain expectations that are also realistic. Just remember that being rejected isn’t necessarily a reflection of you, it’s just a reality of life. You can always overcome rejection without letting it overcome you!