Rejection is a fact of life.
No matter how successful, everyone will face this painful reality at some point. And while nothing can take away the sting of someone brushing you and all your qualities off, it doesn’t have to knock you for a loop.
In fact, there’s little difference, neurologically speaking, between the physical pain of injury and the emotional ache of rejection on an MRI.
Learning how to deal with rejection in a healthy fashion is a valuable life skill you can use in all facets of your life – personal, professional, and romantic.
Why it hurts to be rejected
Being turned down by a friend, hiring manager, or potential romantic partner is painful. It’s called rejection trauma for a reason — the agony you feel is genuine. Whether you’re experiencing hurt caused by rejection or cutting your finger, the same area of your brain activates when you’re processing this information.
Beyond the physical sensation, rejection also strikes at our need for acceptance and belonging. Humans are social creatures, and our desire to connect developed through evolution. Beginning when humans lived together as hunter-gatherer groups, individuals who easily integrated into the tribe were more likely to survive and reproduce.
Those that couldn’t forge close bonds with others were more likely to be abandoned or viewed as an outcast. Over time, the need to be included became hardwired into the human brain. When rejection happens, conditions don’t mesh with your evolutionary need, causing anxiety and self-doubt.
You’re not emotional or weak if you experience these feelings when someone rebuffs your presence. It’s biology. Your emotional reaction to personal disappointment isn’t under your control, but how you respond to the situation creating these feelings is.
What are the 5 stages of rejection?
Before you can accept your feelings, it helps to understand rejection. From an emotional standpoint, coming to terms with rejection is a process, much like grieving a loss.
As you process your feelings, you’ll move from one phase to the next until you’re eventually past the thoughts and feelings of anger, disappointment, and self-doubt you’re experiencing to move beyond the situation and find peace.
The amount of time you spend on each phase of rejection depends on you and the situation. Some may pass quickly, others less. It’s important to be patient with yourself. There’s no optimal rate for getting over rejection.
Here are the five phases of rejection.
Your first reaction to discovering someone is turning you down will be disbelief. There must be some mistake. You deserve this person’s regard and respect, so you might feel something’s just off.
That’s denial, and once you realize that your rejection isn’t a misunderstanding, you’ll move on to feeling angry. Once you realize the person spurning you isn’t recognizing the error of their ways, you might be mad.
At this point, it might be tempting to go off on the person rejecting you. Don’t do it. Ultimately, venting your negative emotions at them will only cause more hurt for yourself. Take a deep breath and work to calm yourself down. This is a situation where you need to let cooler heads prevail and try to manage your anger.
You’ll get to the point where you begin to think that the person who disappointed you did so because of a faulty assumption or a lack of information. You’ll think that if you could just talk to them, you’ll win them over.
This phase can easily devolve into something frightening for the other person if you let it. You need to give the person who turned you down space. They don’t owe you an explanation for their rejection, but for the sake of your future relationship — should you both choose to have one — you need to accept their decision with grace.
Rejection comes with a tangled knot of emotion. On top of feeling angry and disappointed, you’re sad, embarrassed, confused, hurt, or all of the above. Your self-confidence has taken a hit, and you may be questioning your worth. All these feelings are a valid response to rejection that might lead to feelings of depression.
Now is when you need to pull out all the stops in your self-care routine. Burn candles, take a bubble bath, or surround yourself with friends. Whatever gives you a sense of comfort.
Once you feel comforted, begin examining your feelings to identify which emotions are driving your depression and make a plan to address them. It could be as simple as reminding yourself why you are a wonderful human being and of all the people who love and value you.
Now that your emotions have rebounded and you’re feeling more like your old, confident self, it’s time to take a critical look at the situation. Maybe the rejection stemmed from the fact you weren’t a good fit or other factors beyond your control.
You may spot a mistake you made and know it’s a learning opportunity. It’s also possible that you will never fully understand the whys and hows of the situation. And that’s OK.
Regardless, you’ve learned and grown from the experience. You now understand the process, and the next time you face rejection, you’ll be better able to recognize what you’re feeling.
How to deal with rejection
When you’re in the throws of it, it can be easy to declare: “I can’t handle rejection,” and do everything you can to avoid it. But if you don’t experience rejection, you’re playing it safe and not taking risks.
Pursuing the career of your dreams can mean going from interview to interview and not landing the job. Finding your life partner can mean months of loneliness or time spent healing before you find the one.
It’s discouraging, but you have a choice. You can either choose to remain where you are, safe yet unfulfilled, or recognize that rejection is part of the process of creating a life you want to live.
Making that choice to open yourself up to disappointment isn’t easy, but learning what to do after getting rejected will help you build a resilient mindset and keep moving forward. Who knows? Next time it could be you turning down a job offer or cutting out a toxic person.
1. Recognize that rejection is a part of life
Some things aren’t meant to be. And rejection can lead to positive change. It means you’re pushing your limits, taking risks, and leaving your comfort zone behind. If you’re living a life free of rejection, you’re doing something wrong.
2. Accept what happened
The worst way to cope with rejection is to deny it. The longer you delude yourself by claiming it doesn’t matter, the harder it will be to overcome the pain and disappointment. You’ve been let down. Acknowledge it and all the other feelings that come with the pain of rejection.
3. Process your emotions
Work towards understanding and positively managing your feelings. You don’t want to become angry and take it out on the other person. Yes, rejection hurts, but that doesn’t give you the right to hurt others.
4. Treat yourself with compassion
It’s OK to cocoon for a little when dealing with rejection. You need time to look after your well-being and return to an even emotional keel. Don’t beat yourself up or overthink the situation. Be compassionate, and know that you’ll learn something new when you’re ready.
5. Stay healthy
Keep an eye on your health, both physical and mental. It’s easy to become so wrapped up in disappointment that you let things slip. Exercising or learning a new skill keeps you from ruminating about rejection and focuses your brain. You focus on the present, not dwelling on the past.
If your low mood lasts longer than two weeks despite your best efforts, it’s time to seek professional help. Don’t be afraid to reach out to a mental health professional. A counselor or psychotherapist can help you develop coping skills and strategies to get you past the negative thoughts and feelings of rejection without looking back.
6. Don’t allow rejection to define you
Understandably, your first reaction to rejection might be to wonder what’s wrong with you. A shy person’s response to social rejection might become even more of an introvert.
Remember: you could be the sweetest peach on the tree, but there will be people who don’t like peaches. Keep being your authentic self, and you’ll attract those who appreciate everything you bring to the table.
7. Grow from the experience
Rejection hurts, but dwelling on what you did wrong doesn’t do you any good. Try to look at the situation objectively. Is there something you can learn from this? If someone passed you over for a job opportunity, seek constructive feedback to help you identify areas where you can beef up your resume.
Were there red flags you missed along the way in the relationship that didn’t work out? Use that information as a building block towards preparing yourself for the next time you decide to put yourself out there.
You have work to do
The pain of rejection is a real emotional bruise. It can undermine your confidence and self-worth. If you’re finding it hard to bounce back, you may need time to build your sense of self-love and esteem.
Someone who’s intimately aware of their self-worth can better rebound from rejection healthily. You can move forward with confidence, knowing that at least one person appreciates your qualities, and that person is you.
Confidence and a healthy sense of self don’t mean you’ll never again feel the sting of rejection. That’s impossible. But when the inevitable happens, you’ll be able to accept and process the emotions that the experience generates, understand where they come from, and recognize that no matter the initial discomfort, you’ll be all right.