Understanding Your Response to Rejection

No matter how often we’ve heard that it is a part of life and growth, rejection hurts. The experience is like a double-edged sword with an initial blow and the lingering effects. The tendency can be to mold our routines and lives so that we avoid potential instances of rejection. While this feels like a natural protective mechanism, facing and integrating the rejections we encounter throughout our journeys is another option.

Rejection Has No Boundaries

One of the reasons that rejection feels like such a ruthless phenomenon is that it has absolutely no boundaries. Rejection can rear its razor-sharp head in any area of our lives. It is so sneaky that it can even catch you in your relationship with Self. If we have managed to develop a healthy and consistent relationship with ourselves and the world around us, the common rejections of daily life may pass by unnoticed.

The term ‘rejection’ carries a heavy connotation, but think for a moment about some everyday situations where you might experience it:

  • Sending a text message or email and not getting a response for hours or days.
  • Not being invited to a social gathering until the last minute.
  • Having a friend or partner turn down your invitation.

These instances are not necessarily an indication that you are being jilted and they are often taken in stride more easily than ‘bigger’ rejections. When these moments do register in our minds as ‘rejection,’ it comes down to the emotions we have attached, eventually leading us to assign a concrete meaning to even a passing moment.

Rejection carries a string that it weaves throughout all areas of our lives. This string is the common thread that causes the negative interpretation of rejection. The sensation of being rejected does not feel the same in all instances. Depending on the area of your life or the moment, you may not even register a rejection. In other moments, you may feel as if your world has come crumbling down around you.

Rejection’s ability to shatter all boundaries and show up in any area of your life at the most unexpected moments is what keeps its energetic charge electric.

The Purpose of Perceiving Rejection

As with all emotional experiences, rejection does serve a purpose. The trouble is that the intensity of your response to rejection is often disproportionate to the encounter at hand. This tendency for overreaction can be attributed to the evolutionary importance of perceiving rejection.

Back in the days of hunting and gathering, it was essential to be a part of the tribe. Community and cooperation was the way of life and finding yourself outside of the circle was the worst case scenario. At that point in time, being ostracized from the group, something we now equate with social discomfort or embarrassment, was a matter of life or death. Being shunned from your tribe meant you were very unlikely to survive for long.

Fast forward to modern times and the instinctual and visceral fear response to being rejected seems a bit out of place. Our survival instincts still have a strong hold on our emotional reactions, however, which is why self-awareness is vital.

When you find yourself facing a moment of rejection, remember that your gut is trying to protect you with its intense reaction. Regulate your response by checking in with the specific situation. If it’s significant in relation to the core of your life, act accordingly. If not, acknowledge the feeling of being rejected and allow it to pass through you.

Coping With Rejection Sensitivity

We are all a product of varying evolutionary paths. This means that each individual’s instinctual reaction to rejection will express itself differently. If you find that you have a heightened visceral and emotional response to rejection, you may be dealing with rejection sensitivity.

The need for belonging and acceptance is natural as community gives us a sense of purpose and helps us form our identities. People living with interpersonal rejection sensitivity experience this need in a constant state of what feels like desperation. Their hyper-awareness of the potential of rejection causes misinterpretations and distortions of the actions and words of others, as well as impulsive and imbalanced reactions.

If you or a loved one experiences rejection sensitivity, you can practice regulating your emotional responses by:

  • Deepening your awareness of how your rejection sensitivity affects you and others.
  • Practice mindfulness by invoking the power of a pause before response.
  • Explore alternate interpretations of the perceived rejection. Try to put yourself in the other person’s shoes.

There is no shame in being sensitive to rejection and experiencing powerful emotional reactions. Choosing to work on how you handle rejections will increase your overall quality of life.

Practical Tips for Managing Rejection

We will all face moments of rejection throughout the course of our lives. Rather than spending time and energy thinking about how terrible these moments might make us feel, we can be proactive and prepare ourselves to face rejection with integrity.

Here are a few things you can do to help you meet rejection with grace:

  • Be realistic about your odds of success versus ‘failure.’ Consider the situation ahead of time and imagine all the possible outcomes. Stay optimistic but try not to get caught in denial.
  • Put your eggs in different baskets when appropriate. Situations like applying for jobs can become highly stressful in terms of rejection. If you have sent in many applications versus one or two, you are opening up more possibilities for yourself. Even if you get rejected, you will be less likely to feel that all hope is lost.
  • Separate any rejections you experience from who you are. Rejection does not, in any way, reflect who you are or what you have to offer.

When rejection comes to town, the best thing to do is to check back in with your Self. Before, during and after an experience of rejection, ground and center in your core. Remember that no matter what occurs externally, your inner being cannot be affected. Embrace rejection as an opportunity for learning and growth and be kind to yourself as it passes through you.

Dr. George Lagios

PhD, M.Sc. (CBT)

Dr. George Lagios holds a master’s degree in psychology, specifically in cognitive behavioural therapy, and a PhD in sexology. He is a professor of Psychosexual Therapy and author of two best sellers Would You Choose You as Your Parent? (2018) and Inside Your Mind (2020). He is also a clinical mental health counselor, psychotherapist and speaker. He has received the President’s Achievement Award from the Hellenic American Association and continues his research work on erotic desire.

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