How To Deal With Rejection

Billy Joel once said, “I really wish I was less of a thinking man and more of a fool not afraid of rejection” . That is to say, it would be easier for us to live our lives without the fear of failure, but evidently, many are crippled by this thought. Rejection is universal in that everyone, at multiple points in their lives, has experienced it. However, it is often not the physical act of being rejected which is substantial to us, but how we react to that rejection. Whether it be romantic, social or professional, we are all familiar with the sense of defeat and disappointment that is to follow.  Feelings often cause us to negatively cope with rejection by criticizing ourselves, over analyzing the situation, placing blame…etc. So, why are we like this?

Psychologists claim that our brain is wired to elicit a set of emotions (i.e. disappointment, defeat…etc.) once we have been rejected. In an experiment where individuals were placed in a functional MRI, and asked to recall a time where they were rejected, they discovered that the same areas of the brain attributed to physical pain, were activated. Evolutionary biologists hypothesize that our fear of rejection evolved out of our hunter/gatherer ancestors, when humans lived in tribes. In this environment, becoming marginalized from a group was a threat to one’s survival and thus something to be avoided at all costs. Therefore, a “warning signal” was developed as a coping mechanism for survival, which are the bad feelings we associate with rejection. However, we no longer adhere to the lifestyle of the hunter/gather, so how do we deal with these anxieties in our current society where rejection is just as relevant?

Although there are many ways in which one may cope with rejection, here a few positive strategies:

1.  Change your mindset

Adopting a “growth mindset” is crucial to bouncing back from rejection. That is, one must view their experience as an opportunity for development, rather than something which has deflated them. Those who possess a growth mindset will learn from their rejection and embrace new challenges with fortitude. Conversely, individuals with a fixed mindset are those who do not view their situations as ones which may develop, or change them. They are more likely to criticize or blame themselves for their “failure”. However, these are unproductive methods of coping with rejection, which will ultimately prevent an individual from progressing.

2. Change your Inner Dialogue

All humans have an inner critic which tells them when they have done something good, when they have done something bad…etc. While it is important to be able to self-reflect upon situations, it is very easy for one to let their inner critic become destructive rather than constructive. By possessing a positive dialogue, individuals may change how they react to rejection, so they may bounce back more effectively from it. For example, rather than saying “you should have never put yourself out there, I told you it wouldn’t work”, a more productive stream of thought would be “although it did not work out, I understand that my worth is not defined by this moment and I will accept this as a learning experience for next time”. This is a very important cognitive switch, which redirects your thoughts to ones which are constructive and positive. Self-kindness is far more effective than self-judgment when it comes to getting over rejection.

3. Don’t take it personally

Individuals often take rejection to be personal. That is, we think about the reasons as to why we were denied and attribute it to our own “faults”. However, this may be misleading, as we may not always understand the reason for our rejection. For example, if someone didn’t take you up on your offer for dinner, it could be because they recently got out of a long-term relationship and don’t want to pursue anything serious at the moment. Therefore, the decline was not due to your integrity as a person, but because of their own personal baggage. We ought not jump to conclusions when dealing with rejection. While it is important to analyze our situations, we must understand that we cannot assume the other individual’s thoughts, motives and personal experiences.

Due to the fact that rejection is not something humans can avoid, it is important to learn how to deal with it productively, so you may take your experiences in stride and grow from them. By implementing these strategies, one may not only be able to handle rejection more effectively, but also see it has an opportunity to learn.