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Why Does Rejection Hurt?

I’ve experienced it. You’ve experienced it. Yet every time it happens, we’re reminded again how NOT fun it is to be rejected. Rejection knows no bounds, invading social, romantic and job situations alike. And it feels terrible because it communicates the sense to somebody that they’re not loved or not wanted, or not in some way valued. Plus, the more people learn to expect rejection and become concerned about it, the more sensitive they are to it, which can eventually lead to self-rejection. It makes you feel bad about yourself, and it makes you feel like nobody wants to be around you. It makes you feel angry. Many times the rejection does 50 percent of the damage and we do the other 50 percent of the damage. We start with this high volume of negative self-talk and criticism that takes the rejection to another level.

Let me educate you all, the human experience of rejection goes back to our ancient roots. When we were hunter-gatherers and living in tribes, the price of ostracism was pretty much death. You wouldn’t survive without your tribe; you wouldn’t have the warmth of hearth, the protection of fire. Therefore, we developed an early warning system…the feeling of rejection…to alert us when we might be at risk for ostracism. The more painful the experience of rejection, the more likely humans were to change their behavior to avoid ostracism, and be able to survive and pass on their genes. Meanwhile, those who didn’t experience rejection as painful were less likely to correct their behavior and pass along their genes.

And then there’s the fact that humans are social animals, which makes rejection all the more emotionally painful. It’s a form of shunning…so anything that keeps us out of the group in an overt way, we’re going to have a hard time with. It’s an important aspect of who we are. There’s a physiological basis to the pain of rejection, too. Rejection triggers the same brain pathways that are activated when we experience physical pain.

Everyone is sensitive to rejection, to a point. I totally agree. And when people feel bad or have other things go wrong in their lives, they may be even more vulnerable to rejection. But still, some people do seem to be more sensitive to rejection than others. I used to be VERY sensitive to rejection, I don’t know why because my whole life was nothing BUT rejection after rejection. Self-esteem plays an important role also. I used to have no self-esteem whatsoever, I’m guessing maybe because I been rejected most of my life with things I tried to achieve. But, my self-esteem now isn’t as bad because I could care less what others think of me now. People whose self-esteem is lower will experience rejection as more painful, and it’ll take them a little longer to get over it. This is a true statement, because rejection used to be very painful for me in some situations. But I learned to be strong, shrug it off, and move on or try again later.

People who are sensitive to rejection may fall into patterns of behavior that only make the rejection worse. For instance, if a rejection-sensitive person is having a conversation where he/she experiences rejection, he/she may stop paying attention during the rest of the interaction because he/she has become so preoccupied with the rejection. Another true statement. My mind still shuts off when I experience rejection because one, I’m no longer interested because what I was hoping to be a positive outcome is no longer going to happen…two, I’m trying to think of plan B…and three, I’m only focused on one thing still…the rejection!! And in the meantime, I’m thinking “How can I get myself out of this situation?’ when really, that person may be giving you cues a little bit later in the conversation that everything is OK.” For rejection-sensitive people, it may be self-protective to take your mind out of there, but it may not be good for your relationship or your interaction. This same avoidance tactic can also backfire.

When people are sensitive to rejection they tend to avoid a situation in which they can experience it, which then puts them at a higher risk for loneliness. They are more at risk for developing anxiety around social situations because the more we avoid something, the more anxious it makes us, speaking from experience.

A real-world example: A rejection-sensitive person who has a strong desire to find a significant other may decide to give online dating a try, like I did. But after several “Nos” in response to requests for dates, he/she may take the rejections hard and decide to eschew online dating altogether. However, this doesn’t help with finding a significant other. So how can you tell if you’re rejection-sensitive or not? Deep down, you probably already know. You just need to be honest with yourself about whether you’re avoiding situations because you’re concerned or because you don’t want to deal with rejection.

There’s two ways to best rejection: Yes, I said BEST rejection!!  Don’t let it bother you in the first place, and then minimizing its effects after it’s wreaked its havoc. Using a date as an example, first make a list of five qualities you possess that a dating prospect would find valuable. For instance, are you considerate? A good listener? Are you emotionally available? Then, choose one of these qualities, and write one or two paragraphs about why this particular quality is important and why it would be meaningful to another person.  When you do that and remind yourself of your worth, then you are more resilient to rejection that comes thereafter. This method would likely work only for immediately approaching situations (in other words, don’t do this expecting effects for a situation occurring a year out). This is something I learned in therapy.

The tactic of reminding yourself of how much you are loved. For instance, children who have been bullied at school could benefit greatly from having friends come over to hang out immediately after the bullying event. That will remind them immediately, ‘No, there are people who value you, who care about you, and you do belong somewhere.’ That reminder is really important, so you want to address those wounds. Another good tactic for dealing with rejection is to keep in mind that it’s not always about you. I used to always think everything was about me, when in fact, it doesn’t always work that way. I used to get criticized for thinking this, besides now that I think about it, it’s selfish. So, try to move yourself out of the immediate feelings that you have, and think about what might be going on for the other person. Are they having a bad day? Is it something that is really directed toward you, or is it something that’s going on with them?

It’s also important to keep in mind that people change their reactions based on YOUR behavior toward them. If you expect acceptance and convey positivity, and perhaps come off as more upbeat than you actually are, that can actually change others’ behavior. The thing we know is that people who expect acceptance, versus rejection, are more likely to get it. They may never end up accepting you, but at least you have engaged in the kind of behavior that draws people toward you. You’re taking control and behaving toward people the way you want them to behave toward you. Something else I’m learning in therapy too.

Folks, it’s important to have a good support system if you’re especially sensitive to rejection. And it doesn’t have to be many people, even if you have one person for your support system, that should tell you that person will stick around with you for everything and totally support you. I only have one person as my support system and they’ve been on my team for 10 plus years now. I can’t argue with that, in fact, I’m grateful, thankful, and blessed. I call this person my angel!! You see, finding someone you can trust to serve as a sounding board can help you gain perspective. They can use this other person as a sort of reality test. They can ask, ‘Am I overreacting?’ or “Does this make sense to you?’ And that way, they can get some perspective.

When I wrote this blog, I was speaking from experience…I was talking about myself!! But, I hope I was speaking for you reading this as well as others. Ellen Degeneres says it best: “Be kind to one another!!”

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