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The Painful Art of Dealing With Rejection

By: Danielle Bertini, LPC

Rejection—it’s painful. Whether it’s not being offered a position at a company, not being invited to a friend’s party, or even just having one of your ideas shot down, every “no” feels like a door closed to us. Most people struggle with finding the best way to regroup and recover after any kind of rejection. 

A 2003 study done by researchers from Purdue University and the University of California, Los Angeles, found that being socially shunned or turned down by others actually activates the same regions in our brains that are associated with experiencing physical pain (the dorsal anterior cingulate and the anterior insula). Similar studies have replicated these findings, including a 2011 study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science which demonstrated how pain experienced from hot coffee spilled on one’s arm is similar to the pain that they would experience from seeing a photo of a former partner after an unwanted breakup. 

Rejection hurts. 

And aside from pain, rejection can also lead us to feel more insecure in ourselves, our decisions, and our choices. As humans, security is one of the most basic needs, and when it’s jeopardized by something like rejection, we can start to doubt ourselves. 

The fact is that rejection is going to happen. Not all relationships and situations we face in life will work out well. However, oftentimes, with distance we are able to see that rejection was a good thing for us, even if it doesn’t feel good at the time. Flaxington (2015) offers five tools to handle the pain of rejection. 

1. Self-confidence is key.

Most of us know the importance of self-confidence. However, knowing it’s important and having it are two different things. Unfortunately, many people grow up in environments where they were told they were worthless or useless. These messages can often carry over into adulthood and other relationships. It can be helpful to start small with building it back. For example, make a list daily of at least two or three things you have done well. Write them down and then review them before you go to bed each night and again when you wake up the next morning. 

2. Change to positive self-talk

Another part of rejection is that it can enhance whatever negative thoughts you say to

yourself. Notice what these things are, such as “It’s all my fault” or “What’s wrong with me?” Not only are these statements not useful, but they only bring you down. The truth is that rejection happens to everyone, even the most successful and confident people. However, the difference is that these people acknowledge that the rejection is outside of them and don’t tell themselves how horrible they are. Notice what you say to yourself and choose to build yourself up rather than tear yourself down.

3. Remember, this too shall pass.

You are not worthless, and you are not a failure, this is just a point in time. Don’t let one disappointing experience diminish the worth of everything else you’ve succeeded at and achieved. No one is defined by one experience! Remember to give yourself credit for your skills and accomplishments. 

4. Practice reframing.

Try taking a step back from the situation and just breathe for a few minutes. Many times

a situation seems worse than it is because you react and then “frame it” as a negative about you. Instead, try distancing yourself from the situation and begin deep breathing. Choose to reframe it. Instead of seeing the situation as “No one will ever love me, I’m unlovable,” try reframing it by thinking, “Relationships are hard for everyone, and I’m no different. This was hard for me, but I’ve learned something from it. Let me focus on what I can continue to learn.”

5. Let it go. 

It’s okay to feel upset about rejection. You are human, and you should let yourself feel those negative emotions. However, it’s also important to put a limit on how long you mourn the rejection. Literally set a time frame, such as, “I can mourn until next Thursday at 12:30pm and then I will choose to let go of it.” This is helpful because it still allows you to feel the emotions you need to feel, but also not letting them park and become long-term visitors. 

If you would like to meet with a compassionate and skilled therapist, contact Symmetry Counseling today for therapy in Chicago



Flaxington, B. D. (2015, December 10). 5 Ways to Shake Off the Pain of Rejection

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