From work to relationships – coping with rejection

Coping with rejection

Rejection can be a hard fact of living whether it’s from a relationship, work or another part of life. But rejection is not necessarily a bad thing.

That’s because there’s a positive phrase to keep in mind if ever rejected – “rejection is protection”. It means that sometimes a rejection is actually for our own good. 

Consider it like this: as children sometimes we wanted to do something but the idea was rejected by our parents. It left us feeling rejected and usually dejected.

Yet if it was such as going for a bike ride alone aged eight into the middle of a busy town, we can now easily see as adults why that idea would be rejected. Quite clearly, to protect us.

Even so, rejection can be difficult to handle. It can even lead to anxiety and depression.

One reason that it can be difficult is that it actually is pain. This has been scientifically proven.

Rejection is pain

A University of Michigan study of MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scans discovered that rejection activates the same parts of the brain as physical pain.

“Spilling a hot cup of coffee on yourself and thinking about how rejected you feel when you look at the picture of a person that you recently experienced an unwanted break-up with may seem to elicit very different types of pain,” said University of Michigan psychologist Ethan Kross, lead author of the article on the research that was published in peer-reviewed journal PNAS. “But this research shows that they may be even more similar than initially thought.”

Some experts believe that the pain of rejection actually helped our ancestors survive. Rejection confounds our basic need to belong.

This is because when we were wholly dependent on being part of a group or tribe, the pain of rejection from that group kept people together because it stopped people doing things that could lead to such rejection.

Of course, our modern world is much different – and that painful feeling that rejection can give still exists. But, thankfully, there are some positive ways to deal with rejection.

Learn and grow from rejection

Learn and grow from it

There’s a mantra that’s worth remembering here: no such things as bad things – just things to learn and grow from.

While it could be discussed if that’s always the case, regarding rejection it certainly can be applied.

Someone who’s emotionally strong will ask themselves: “What did I get from this, what is this rejection telling me?”. In this way, they can learn from any rejection.

It becomes a chance to grow rather than to shrink in pain. Every rejection consequently makes them stronger.

It is as philosopher Nietzsche wrote at the end of the 1800s: “What does not kill me makes me stronger.”

With rejection, we can also look at what part we might have played in it. This is not to be harsh on ourselves, but to understand and then learn from it.

Keep uppermost in mind that self-examination like this is not at all the same thing as self-criticism. The latter will only make us feel worse – so chase away any of these self-sabotaging thoughts.

Feel your feelings

Some people will turn to drink, drugs or a behavioral addiction such as work, gambling, sex or food to deny or push down negative feelings caused by rejection. But this never means the feelings have gone away.

A much better option is to acknowledge the emotions. Attempting to deny the pain by convincing yourself it was nothing significant or by trying to mask or numb it will usually only prolong the pain.

So look at how you feel – head-on. Many people find they need help to do this from a therapist who has expertise in these matters.

Rejection is protection

“There is only one way to avoid criticism: do nothing, say nothing, and be nothing,” said writer and philosopher Elbert Hubbard.

This can also be useful when dealing with rejection when we consider that criticism is often a verbal rejection of someone or something they did. So one way to avoid rejection is to do nothing…

But of course that’s not living at all. Emotionally strong people know that a rejection shows they’re fully living life.

If someone has never been rejected you can be almost certain that they are simply living inside their safe but unexciting comfort zone. They stay there even if it’s actually become uncomfortable and boring.

The next time you’re rejected, also remember another time that you felt the pain of rejection. Yet some time afterwards we can recognize that a rejection was in fact a blessing in disguise.

That job interview led to a rejection letter for the job you really wanted at the time or that business you tried didn’t work – so it was a form of rejection. Yet the rejection was because there was a better job for you that you wouldn’t have applied for if you’d started at the first job.

Or there was a new business idea you put into plan that became a great success and you’d never have thought of it or had time to do it if the other business idea had worked out.

It’s the same with relationships. So you got rejected as a teenager, but then you met your present partner who you probably wouldn’t have got together with had the teenage you not been rejected.

Stay confident and bounce back even better

List your qualities

Speak to yourself in your mind like you would someone you deeply care about such as a friend or one of your children. Shove out that inner critic by repeating useful positive affirmations that will keep you emotionally strong.

A rejection or even series of rejections should never define who you are. You are much more than that.

Something that’s helpful is to list all your qualities. Read through them – and keep them in your mind.

Build yourself up again. Stay confident – and bounce back even better.

Our friendly experienced team has treated people with all types of mental health problems and emotional issues. Get in touch with us to have a chat about how we can help you or someone you love, starting today.

David Hurst - Tikvah Lake Recovery

About David Hurst

David Hurst has four books published on mental health recovery, including 12 Steps To 1 Hero, The Anxiety Conversation and Words To Change Your Life. He has written for national newspapers and magazines around the world for 30 years including The Guardian, Psychologies, GQ, Esquire, Marie Claire and The Times. He has been in successful continual recovery since January 2002.

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