Think back to a time in your life when you were rejected. It might be from that time you asked a crush out on a date, only to be shot down. Or maybe it was that rejection email from the company you really wanted to work for. Perhaps, it was an even smaller incident, such as getting picked last for the dodgeball team in third grade.
Chances are, the moment of rejection is still vivid and raw—something that you distinctly remember. You may even feel a muted sense of pain or panic, like an echo of what you felt at the time. It’s unpleasant and unwelcome, but it’s also something we have to learn to live with and overcome.
Why does rejection hurt so much? Whether you’ve been rejected by friends, a company, or a loved one, that feeling is not something unique. In fact, according to researchers at the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States (PNAS), when you experience social rejection, the brain responds in a similar way to when you feel actual physical pain. Think of rejection like an emotional wound that has real-world effects. And when you know its impact, it becomes important to overcome rejection quickly.
In this article, find out more about the different types of rejection, its mental and physical effects, and the best ways to overcome it.
The Many Types of Rejection
“As I look back on my life, I realized that every time I thought I was being rejected from something good, I was actually being redirected to something better.”Steve Maraboli
Rejection comes in many forms, but they all attack a sense of belonging. We all want to feel accepted—to be part of a group. Dr. Kelly-Ann Allen, an educational and developmental psychologist, states that no matter what stage of life we are in, that need never goes away. “Human connections are important across the lifespan,” she writes. “They begin early, constantly evolving, and extend through old age. They are impacted internally through human development, externally through changing social landscapes, and are dynamically impacted by interactions with and responses from others.” When we experience rejection, it tears at those connections we desire.
Unfortunately, we often face rejection on a variety of fronts. The following are just some of the types of rejection that can cause hurt feelings and even social pain.
This type of rejection can happen in any social group no matter your age. If you’ve ever been a victim of bullying, you’ve experienced social rejection. While some may wear the title of “social reject” with pride, more often than not, this exclusion can feel painful when trying to make friends and form connections with others.
When someone is rejected by their own family, the sting can feel especially deep. Familial rejection often comes in the form of abuse, whether through neglect, emotional abuse, or abandonment. Those affected by familial rejection often deal with the consequences for most of their lives. Studies have even shown that familial rejection is one of the main causes of mental illness.
In this case of romantic rejection, the rejection takes place before a relationship forms. The most common example is when someone asks another person on a date, only to be told “no.” This can lead to frustration, upset, and even cause a blow to a person’s self-confidence.
Rejection in a relationship—one that is already established—can be particularly painful as well. This may be the result of a breakup, or it may take on a more insidious form, such as one partner withholding love and affection as a form of punishment.
Rejection may not happen in one seismic event but rather in smaller instances every day. Chronic rejection may happen at your job when your ideas are constantly denied for no explained reason. Or you may have experienced it at school with classmates who didn’t allow you to sit at the same lunch table as them.
You may experience feelings of rejection when you were denied a promotion or didn’t get into the college of your choice. This is momentary rejection—something that feels terrible in the moment. Most of the time, the setback is temporary, but that idea does little to console you at first.
The Mental and Physical Impact of Rejection
“Don’t take rejection overly personally. If that doesn’t work out, there’s something else waiting for you.”Sierra McCornick
Sadly, it isn’t rare to experience short-term rejection at some point in your life. Long-term rejection, however, can be even worse and lead to significant problems. The following are just some of the impacts people may experience.
- Depression: When people feel rejected, they lose a sense of belonging. This can lead to feelings of depression. One study discovered that rejection sensitivity is strongly associated with symptoms found in depression.
- Anxiety and Stress: You may feel an increase in anxiety and stress when dealing with rejection. These are often your body’s responses when confronted with an unpleasant experience.
- Trauma: Rejection trauma is another thing to be on the lookout for. The trauma you experience may be a type of PTSD, with all of its accompanying side effects.
- Increased Physical Pain: As mentioned above, feelings of rejection can lead to the same effects that come from physical pain. The study has been replicated and even expanded upon as time has gone on.
- Increased Alcohol Use: Being rejected can also lead to more alcohol use. One study found that people who experienced rejection from those closest to them were more likely to resort to drinking alcohol.
- Rise in Aggression: When people feel rejected, a common response is to become aggressive and hurtful toward others. That’s the result researchers found when looking at the phenomenon.
6 Ways to Overcome Rejection
“Rejection doesn’t have to mean you aren’t good enough; it often just means the other person failed to notice what you have to offer.”Ash Sweeney
Overcoming rejection is no easy process. It takes facing extreme adversity and turning it into a learning opportunity. Even then, the pain can still be felt for many years after the initial rejection happens. Here are some ways that you can grow stronger and overcome rejection in your life.
1. Practice Self-Care
It can be easy to focus on the pain and how much you hurt when you’re rejected. In those moments, you should turn to self-care as a way to get past the pain. According to therapist Lisa Bahar, self-care should involve addressing each of your senses. “It’s about creating a safe, emotionally safe area for yourself,” Bahar says, “really taking a multi-sensory experience of your living environment, wherever that is, so that you have a place to heal.”
Techniques can include listening to calming music, looking at pleasant pictures, and lighting a scented candle. Meditation can also prove effective. By caring for yourself, you remind yourself why you matter and lead yourself down a brighter path.
2. Become Familiar With Your Emotions
You know yourself better than anyone else. You also know what triggers certain emotional responses. As you become more familiar with your emotions, you’ll learn how to better control them. This will help you process difficult situations as they arise.
All of this leads to strengthening your self-awareness. Some common practices you can use to increase self-awareness include journaling, goal-setting, and engaging in artistic activities. Committing to these practices will contribute toward building trust with yourself and your emotions.
3. Build Up Your Self-Esteem
When you experience rejection, it can be tempting to think you somehow deserved it. It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking you’re not good enough. When dealing with this type of crisis, you need to build self-esteem instead of tearing yourself down.
Here are just some of the ways you can improve your self-esteem:
- Embrace positive thinking
- List off your positive attributes
- Take time to care for yourself
- Note when people compliment you
- Be kind to others
- Celebrate small victories
- Demonstrate gratitude
4. Find a Support System
You don’t have to deal with rejection on your own. Finding a support system can give you a needed boost when you’re feeling at your lowest. This support system can come in the form of your family, friends, a mentor, or the community around you. Obviously, do not expect your support system to come from the same source as the rejection. For example, you probably shouldn’t look for family support if you suffer familial rejection.
Another way to get support is through professional help. A therapist can be a trusted and effective ally to help you regulate your emotions. With a professional by your side, you can work through the issue and come out stronger in the end.
5. Focus on the Positive
It’s easy to dwell on the negative. Dark thoughts can creep into the mind surprisingly easily. However, focusing on the negative can reinforce rejection as something you deserved. Move away from that type of thinking, and focus instead on positive thoughts.
When you focus on the positive, you can change your perspective. Yes, you may have suffered a setback, but that just gives you one more valuable learning experience to take with you. Tell yourself that you’ll bounce back quickly. Give yourself support and encouragement. With that level of positivity, you’ll find yourself in a good position to make progress.
6. Never Stop Trying to Achieve Your Top Goals
With rejection comes the temptation to give up. For example, you might think that if your dream job turns you down, then it’s time to abandon the job search. Dismiss those feelings quickly, pick yourself up, and get back out there. Never accept defeat as permanent. There will always be another opportunity right around the corner.
Above All, Be Kinder to Yourself
“Successful people reject rejection.”John C. Maxwell
Those who can’t handle rejection find themselves at a disadvantage in life. Instead of taking it personally, you should be kinder to yourself. Forgive yourself for any mistakes you’ve made and learn from them. Practicing perfectionism all of the time doesn’t allow room for growth. As you show kindness to yourself, you’ll find that kindness passes on to other people as well. In this way, you can overcome rejection and become a better, stronger person.
To learn more about how to think positively, check out the following article:
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- “Social rejection shares somatosensory representations with physical pain.” https://www.pnas.org/doi/pdf/10.1073/pnas.1102693108.
- Kelly-Ann Allen, FAPS. “The Importance of Belonging Across Life.” Psychology Today, 1 Jan. 2023, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/sense-belonging/201906/the-importance-belonging-across-life.
- “Impact of Familial Rejection.” NursingAnswers.Net, https://nursinganswers.net/essays/familial-rejection-8883.php.
- Kraines, Morganne. “Rejection Sensitivity and Depression: Indirect Effects Through Problem Solving – PubMed.” PubMed, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28409720/.
- “The Biggest Cause of Inflammation That No One Talks About.” Healthline Media, https://www.healthline.com/health/mental-health/inflammation-and-stress-social-rejection.
- Simran. “Rejection Trauma: Meaning, Types, Impacts And Treatment.” Therapy Mantra – Online Therapy Counseling, 13 Feb. 2022, https://therapymantra.co/relationship/rejection-trauma/.
- Laws, Holly. “Social Rejection and Alcohol Use in Daily Life – PubMed.” PubMed, 2 Mar. 2023, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28253539/.
- “Link Between Social Rejection And Aggressive Behavior Explained.” ScienceDaily, 23 Jan. 2009, https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/01/090121122936.htm.
- Dermendzhiyska, E. (2023, February 15). Health warning: social rejection doesn’t only hurt – it kills | Aeon Essays. Aeon. https://aeon.co/essays/health-warning-social-rejection-doesnt-only-hurt-it-kills.
- Jeon, Hannah. “There’s a Specific Scientific Reason Why Rejection Can Make You Spiral.” Good Housekeeping, 30 June 2022, https://www.goodhousekeeping.com/life/relationships/a30719895/how-to-deal-with-rejection/.