No one likes being rejected, but when it happens the sting is a real, painful, emotional response.
“When we’re talking about the term rejection, what we’re really referring to is feelings of shame, sadness or grief that we feel when we’re not accepted by others,” said Dr. Joti Samra, a registered psychologist and founder of B.C.-based company My Workplace Health.
“Like all of our negative emotional states, we developed them from an evolutionary standpoint and they all serve a function. Rejection… is an evolutionary alert that we could be at risk of being ostracized from the community or tribe that we belong to.”
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In other words, it’s a perfectly normal reaction to feel terrible when someone turns you down. But that doesn’t mean rejection is always easy — or fun — to deal with.
“We have strong, evolutionary ingrained emotions, and a trigger can lead to this kind of intense reaction,” Samra said. “When we think about how to best respond to rejection, one is to get perspective and understand, ‘I’m having an intense emotional reaction.'”
How to deal with rejection
While it’s important to be aware of our emotions, it’s not always easy to stay calm right after getting fired or dumped. In fact, when we feel rejected, one of our first inclinations is to turn inward and shut people out, says Demian Brown, a Toronto-based psychotherapist and registered clinical social worker.
This tendency to be alone can only make the feelings of rejection worse, he says, and is actually the opposite of what you should be doing. You need support from others in order to best bounce back from rejection.
“Being part of a social system — whether it’s a romantic relationship, close friendship or a job — meets the fundamental human need for affiliation,” Brown explained. “Talk to friends, family, and ideally, a therapist who is objective and neutral in the situation.”
Spending time around people who support you and are not rejecting you can help mitigate feelings of insecurity and shame. It can also help challenge your negative self-talk, and remind you that you are not a failure simply because you’re going through a hard time.
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Further, being around others also normalizes your experience, Brown said.
“Don’t hesitate to ask those close to you.. to share their own history of losses to find out how they coped with it,” he said. “Group therapy can be especially effective at normalizing these situations since rejection is a universally experienced human phenomenon.”
Even if everyone goes through rejection at some point or another, it can still cause us to act like the world is ending. “When we’re under high stress and experiencing negative emotions, what we do is catastrophize; we make mountains out of molehills,” Samra said.
“If somebody breaks up with us, we may think, ‘Oh my goodness I’m going to die alone.’ Well, that’s a catastrophic thought and it’s going to amplify that feeling of rejection.”
Samra said that not only does catastrophizing feel terrible, it also makes us overestimate the probability of negative things happening. Instead of going down this negative path, Samra says we should try to reframe our thoughts and think of our rejection more objectively.
“Instead if we were to say, ‘OK I’ve been dumped 10 times before the sky is not going to fall down. This probably isn’t a match for me’… we can change the way that we view rejection,” she explained.
Try not to take rejection personally
The ability to see rejection more objectively also makes it less personal. Most of the time, rejection means a situation is simply not a fit. Other times, rejection is just part of the realities of an industry, like sales or acting.
“I have been a model for the last four years and how many rejections I’ve had really hit ,” said Scott McGlynn, a U.K.-based influencer and activist. “I think, ‘Am I ugly? What’s wrong with me?’ took it personally, of course.”
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Brown points out that even though rejection can make us feel terrible about ourselves, it’s important to remember that things in life are often out of our control. Reminding ourselves of this fact can change our outlook of a situation.
This is a mindset that 31-year-old McGlynn has adopted, as he says he’s learned that professional rejection likely means he wasn’t right for a role. “I could go on a casting call today and my head’s saying, ‘This might not work out, but that’s OK,'” he said.
Use rejection as a way to grow
In order to grow, it’s important to objectively think about if you played a role in your rejection, and how you can learn from it. In other words, if you lost a job and your boss constantly reprimanded you for coming in late, take that feedback and try to adjust your behaviour in your next role.
“Assess the situation to determine where you may have contributed to the loss, and be aware of the circumstances fully so you can identify where you are or not to be blamed,” Brown explained.
If you have made some errors, don’t beat yourself up for them. Instead, use your rejection as a launching point for personal development.
McGlynn now sees rejection as a good thing and something that helps build reliance.
“If I just got a ‘yes’ from the first agency who accepted me, I would think, ‘Got it, done!'” he said. “But… fighting for my place makes me want more.”
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