Rejection is an almost unavoidable aspect of being human. No one has ever succeeded in love or in life without first facing rejection. We all experience it, and yet, those times when we do are often the times we feel the most alone, outcast, and unwanted. In fact, so much of the hurt and struggle we endure isn’t even based on the loss itself but on what we tell ourselves about the experience, the cruel ways we put ourselves down or flood ourselves with hopeless thoughts about the future. Studies even show that our reaction to rejection is also based on elements and events from our past, like our attachment history. As a result, how we react to rejection is often equally or even more significant than the rejection itself. This is why learning how to deal with rejection is so important!
There are many ways to learn to deal with rejection. These include psychological tools and techniques that involve reflecting on our past, enhancing our self-understanding, and strengthening our sense of self in order to feel more self-possessed and strong in coping with a current struggle and facing the future. Here we highlight some of the most powerful personal strategies for how to deal with rejection.
How to Deal with Rejection: Shift Your Perspective
Our ability to see things as “changeable” can have a strong influence on how we deal with rejection. Stanford researchers recently found that a person’s “basic beliefs about personality can contribute to whether [they] recover from, or remain mired in, the pain of rejection.” Their studies revealed that individuals who have “fixed mindsets” and see personality as more set in stone are more likely to blame themselves and their own “toxic personalities” for a breakup. When they experience a rejection, they tend to second guess and criticize themselves and regard future relationships as less hopeful. On the other hand, individuals who have “growth mindset” see their personalities as something that can be altered or developed. They’re able to look at the breakup as an opportunity to grow and change. They’re hopeful that their romantic future will improve, and relationships will get better. People with a growth mindset recover emotionally from a break up much more quickly. If we can embrace this idea that life is flexible and that losses offer us opportunity, we can grow more within ourselves and suffer less when we experience a rejection.
How to Deal with Rejection: Pay Attention to Your Inner Critic
As human beings, we aren’t only affected by what happens to us but by the filter through which we view what happens to us. Dr.’s Robert and Lisa Firestone have both written extensively about the role of a person’s “critical inner voice” in coloring the way they see the world. Like a mean coach living inside our heads, this inner critic is designed to critique, undermine, and sabotage us. Just as positive, nurturing experiences help us form a healthy sense of self that’s “on our side” so to speak, our “critical inner voice” often forms out of negative early life experiences that gave us a fundamental feeling of being bad or wrong in some way. Throughout our lives, it represents a sort of “anti-self,” the side of us that is turned against ourselves.
The “voice” represents a destructive thought process that frequently hurts us in life and in relationships, often attacking us when we are most vulnerable. When we’re dealing with a rejection, for example, the voice is there to tell us, “See? I told you it wouldn’t work out. No one could ever really like you. You’ll never find what you want.” It also gives us bad advice, “You should never have put yourself out there. You can never trust anyone again. You’ll only get hurt.”
We are all human and flawed and most likely have real things we want to work on in ourselves, but this voice is never a friend to us and is not conducive to real change. It perpetuates a cycle of self-destructive thinking, sometimes followed by self-limiting or self-destructive actions. When we have to deal with a break up, we can feel a lot stronger and a lot better able to move on when we’re on our own side. That means making our critical inner voice are number one enemy. Dr.’s Robert and Lisa Firestone have outlined specific steps we can take to identify these voices, make sense of them, separate from them, and challenge them on an action level. Taking this practice seriously can really help us stay in a healthy and realistic mind frame when recovering from a break up.
Read about the steps to challenge your critical inner voice.
Don’t Look Back with Rose-Colored Glasses
When we experience a rejection, we are often more inclined to build up whatever or whoever is rejecting us. Jobs can start to sound better when we don’t get them. Dates may appear more attractive after they don’t call back. And relationships that were rocky or made us miserable may start to seem blissful once they’ve ended. Dealing with a rejection is a lot harder when we are mourning something that didn’t really exist the rosy way we remember it.
Often, couples who struggle with closeness are already dealing with some degree of what Dr. Robert Firestone calls a “fantasy bond,” an illusion of connection and security that replaces real love, intimacy, and affection. They settle for the form of being in a relationship, while missing out on the real respect, warmth, and attraction that drew them together in the first place. Eventually, when one partner decides to end the relationship, the other person is left mourning, not only the relationship, but the fantasy they created of being connected to the other. They forget or ignore the ways they struggled, the parts of them that didn’t gel so well with the other person, and the qualities they didn’t like in their partner or about the relationship.
When we feel rejected, even when we feel anger at the other person or the situation, we’re often, on some level more willing to tear ourselves apart, while building up the one who’s rejecting us. We idealize the person or the relationship and long for it, while simultaneously reinforcing the idea that we are less than or unworthy. What we must realize is that this feeling of unworthiness often has much deeper roots inside us, and what’s tormenting us often has less to do with the actual reality of what we lost and more to do with a fundamental negative feeling about ourselves that drives us to believe fantasy over reality.
How to Deal with Rejection: Practice Self-Compassion
In a University of Arizona study, researcher David Sbarra discovered that people who’d gotten divorced but had a high level of self-compassion “reported fewer intrusive negative thoughts, fewer bad dreams about the divorce, and less negative rumination.” His findings led Sbarra to conclude, “If you pick all of the variables that predict how people will do after their marriage ends, self-compassion really carries the day.”
Self-compassion as defined by lead researcher and author of Self-Compassion, Dr. Kristin Neff, involves three key elements.
- Self-kindness vs self-judgment: When we notice our critical inner voice creeping in and coloring our outlook, we should aim to practice self-kindness. Basically, we should treat ourselves the way we would a friend. We can be sensitive and empathetic to our own struggle. This isn’t about feeling sorry for ourselves or denying our mistakes, but it is about not being judgmental or cruel toward ourselves.
- Common humanity vs isolation: Neff emphasizes the recognition that no one is alone in their struggle, even though it can feel like that at times. All human beings suffer, and most have experienced rejection. Remembering this connection can help us avoid the feeling that we are somehow different or isolated. Many people have been down a similar path, and we should feel hopeful and connected when it comes to our future.
- Mindfulness vs over-identification: Mindfulness is a practice of focusing our awareness on the present moment, learning to sit with a thought or experience without judgment. In addition to having almost countless mental and physical health benefits, mindfulness helps us to avoid over-identifying with painful thoughts and feelings that arise. We can feel our feelings without allowing our negative thoughts to take over. We can avoid boarding a train of “critical inner voices” that catastrophize and distort ourselves and our reality. Mindfulness meditation or breathing exercises can also feel calmer when strong emotions or reactions arise.
Self-compassion teaches us that we can be a friend to ourselves when we experience a rejection. We can be honest about ourselves and the situation, while maintaining kindness and understanding.
How to Deal with Rejection: Allow Yourself to Feel Your Pain
While hating ourselves is a waste of time, trying to cut off or brush over our feelings doesn’t usually serve us when we’re experiencing a painful event in our lives. It’s important to allow ourselves to feel the sadness or anger that’s stirred up in us when we feel rejected. Some of these feelings may go deeper, because they trigger old, core emotions. We may be afraid to feel these feelings, because of this, and therefore steer ourselves more toward attacking ourselves or the person who rejected us on a surface level. We can always choose how we act, and while we shouldn’t allow our feelings to take over how we behave, we shouldn’t try to shut them off entirely. A more adaptive strategy may involve allowing ourselves the freedom to feel our feelings, while remembering that feelings come in waves.
If we are ever in a lot of pain or feel overwhelmed by emotion, seeking help is always a strong and wise idea. Often, we feel relieved when we allow ourselves to really feel our sadness. We may feel cleaner about the situation itself as well.
How to Deal with Rejection: Avoid a Victimized Mindset
While it’s very important to acknowledge and feel our real feelings, it never serves us to ruminate in our suffering or feel victimized by our circumstances. After a rejection, it can be tempting to indulge excessively in our anger or brood over our circumstances, but this can lead to a victimized mindset in which we get stuck in our suffering and don’t particularly feel like we have much power. Whether we’re charged and heated or lethargic and demoralized by our victimized feelings, neither attitude is adaptive to feeling like an adult and moving on in a healthy way. It’s important to have a sense of integrity in our actions even when we feel our most hurt and vulnerable. While we should continuously embrace the practice of self-compassion, we should recognize that this is very different from feeling or acting victimized.
Embrace Your Individuality
After a rejection, particularly when we listen to our critical inner voice, it’s easy for insecurities to pop up and for us to feel less sure of ourselves. If we break up with someone, we may find ourselves feeling out of place. It may be painful to revisit certain places, people, or activities for a time. However, this moment in time presents an opportunity to really connect with our individuality. Whatever it is that lights us up and makes us who we are we should pursue, whether that’s old friends, places, and activities or new. Trying new things can show us in large and small ways that new opportunities exist. We can discover new parts of ourselves. Maintaining old connections that matter to us shows us that we have a whole life outside of whatever rejection we experienced, and that life will go on.
Make Connections to Your Past
Looking at our history can help us understand how we process a rejection. Painful present events can often trigger emotions from our past. For example, we may be more inclined to suffer with a loss when we experienced an insecure attachment style early in our lives. As adults, we often unconsciously seek out and recreate the emotional climate of our past, even though it was painful. We may select partners who are less available or more rejecting. We may feel more longing toward people or circumstances that make us feel the same negative way we’ve always felt about ourselves. The following personal account from a person who experienced a rejection illustrates how having insight and making connections to our past can actually help us deal with a present-day rejection.
The Powerful Seduction of Rejection
All I want is him. He’s the only one that I will ever love, that I will ever feel this way with. What went wrong? Why did he stop loving me? Stop wanting me? How can I get him to love me again? If I could just figure it out. If I get in better shape, wear the clothes he likes, try to look my best, do his laundry, make him food, will he love me then? What is it? What’s wrong with me? He wanted me, and he loved me, and now it’s gone. This is making me crazy. I have to figure it out. I have to fix it: I need to get his love back.
Only I can’t. He’s done. He’s changed, his passion, his wanting me, it’s gone away. He lost it. Who knows why. Really he stopped wanting me several years ago; he started to repel against me, turn me away when I came towards him, when I wanted him. I laid awake so many nights wanting, empty, lonely. His body next to me there, but the warmth, the desire, gone.
But why, why do I want someone who doesn’t want me? What am I yearning for? Why am I so compelled to get this love back? How can a man who doesn’t want me be the object of my whole focus and desire? I realize, suddenly, something is wrong. It’s too much; he’s too much. It’s out of proportion. He doesn’t deserve this level of my need and want and focus. Why? Why am I doing this? And then I understand. I realize his not wanting me, but more than that, his changing…the love being there, and then being gone… that’s what’s so compelling.
Fixing this, getting the love back… I am back home. I’m 4 years old, in a house with a mother who doesn’t want me, who has no love for me, and a father who can only show his feelings for me when she is out of sight. I’m so confused. I had my father’s love and attention, and then, it went away. He had nothing for me; he was protecting her. Maybe I could have known it wasn’t me – that they were lacking and unable to give me love, consistent, trustworthy, genuine love. But instead, I felt the rejection, the aloneness, and I knew deep down there was something wrong with me. With her, I was too much. With him, I was not enough. There was no way to be that was okay. I lost the love, and in its place, found desperate, lonely self-hate and insecurity.
This is what I’m trying to fix. It’s not about the man in my life today. I can handle that. The reality is, I wasn’t happy. I wasn’t getting what I want. I’m a desirable woman. I can have more. It was me, the old me, the child me, hoping and needing to fix myself and get the love, strategizing for love. That’s not what a child should ever have to do. Now I look at him, and he starts to fade. My attention broadens. He is just a man who rejected me. The desperation dulls. Now, he is less often in my thoughts. He is just a person. He is off the pedestal that his rejection of me elevated him to.
I’m done being seduced by rejection. Getting his love is not what I need. Loving myself, knowing who I am, how I was hurt, seeing my parents’ deficiencies back then, instead of taking them on as my own. Not trying to get that reassurance from someone else, not putting my needs on others. I don’t need to fix this old pain to make me okay. I’m okay now, and I was okay then.