Recovering From Rejection: A Step-By-Step GuideMay 18, 2017
When you think of rejection, you probably think of big life events such as being turned down for a job you really wanted or being dumped by the love of your life. However, with the proliferation of electronic communications and social media platforms, each of us is now connected to hundreds, even thousands of people, all who could potentially make us feel rejected by ignoring our posts, messages, or dating profiles.
Make no mistake about it – big or small, rejection hurts. In fact, in a 2011 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, rejection activates the same parts of the brain as physical pain. In the study, researchers invited 40 participants who had recently gone through an unwanted breakup and put them in an MRI brain scanner. When showed photos of their exes and told to think about being rejected, the participants’ brains lit up in the secondary somatosensory cortex and dorsal posterior insula. These are the regions of the brain that are activated by sensory pain.
Neurology aside, there are also evolutionary explanations for the pain of rejection. Evolutionary psychologists posit that in our hunter/gatherer past, being ostracised from our tribes was akin to a death sentence because we were unlikely to survive for long on our own. As such, our brains developed an early warning system to alert us when we were at risk of being ostracised, so that we’re more likely to correct our behaviour and remain in the tribe.
Now that you know why you experience so much pain when you face rejection, find out how you can cope when …
You get turned down for a job you really wanted.
After receiving the news, your first instinct is probably to hit the bar or fire up LinkedIn to send out your resume en masse.
A more productive approach would be to take a step back to appraise the situation. Even if you thought you had the job in the bag, there could be a myriad other factors that contributed to you not getting selected.
Ms. Ho Shee Wai, Director and Registered Psychologist of The Counselling Place, suggests getting feedback from the recruiters. She says, “If possible, find out from the company the reasons you didn’t get the job so that you can either address it or apply their feedback to future job searches. As you evaluate what you can do to improve your job hunt, come to the acceptance that perhaps there is another (better) path for your career. Be open to new experiences that can come from taking alternative paths.”
Your friends rejected your ideas.
Sharing our ideas—be it for creative or professional pursuits—can be an act of vulnerability, because it feels like we’re sharing a piece of ourselves. So when people we trust and admire reject our ideas, it can feel like they’re rejecting a part of our identity.
However, Ms. Ho reminds us this is not necessarily true. She says, “Everyone is entitled to their ideas and just because they rejected your ideas, it doesn’t mean they reject you. They simply have a preference that is different from you. A difference in opinion does not make you wrong or lesser.”
Your romantic partner broke up with you.
We left this scenario for last, because often, this is the one that hurts the most. While it can be easy to personalise this rejection as “I am unwanted” or “I am unlovable”, know that this is simply not true. During this traumatising period, you may find yourself wanting to hole up at home and not face anyone. However, experts agree it’s important to seek out the people who love you and affirm you. This helps you feel less unmoored, and boosts your sense of social connection.
In fact, seeking support from our loved ones is one sure-fire way to soothe our bruised egos, whether the pain is inflicted by an uncaring partner or a callous job recruiter. However, if feels too much to even reach out to another person, you can actually turn inwards by extending a hand of friendship to yourself.
After all, another reliable method of recovering from rejection is to practice self-compassion. Allow yourself to feel whatever you’re feeling without judgment, and practice kindness towards yourself. Dial down on that critical inner voice and remind yourself that what you’re going through is normal. Above all, be gentle with yourself and remind yourself everything is transient – this, too, shall pass.