How to Deal with Rejection: 4 Strategies That Can Help
This article is part of a series on how to cope with common feelings that can be tough to experience. Here, experts provide simple strategies for acknowledging and managing feelings of rejection.
A friend stops inviting you to meet for coffee. A crush turns you down. You don’t land your dream job. All these situations have one thing in common: They can cause feelings of rejection. Whatever the situation may be, rejection can be heartbreaking.
What Is Rejection?
Rejection is a feeling that can happen when someone doesn’t respond in the way you had hoped they would, says Tina B. Tessina, Ph.D., a psychotherapist who practices in Long Beach, California. “It’s easy to feel unwanted and rejected,” she says. “Even when there may be many reasons for the other person’s response, or lack of response, or ghosting.”
Often, these feelings crop up when we hear no when we ask questions like, May I join your group? Will you go out with me? or Do you like my painting? Rejection can affect our self-esteem, sense of well‑being, and sense of control over our circumstances, says Kipling D. Williams, Ph.D., a distinguished professor in psychological sciences at Purdue University, in West LaFayette, Indiana.
In short, it hurts to be rejected socially. In fact, findings from a University of Michigan study suggest that the strong feeling you get after social rejection hurts in much the same way that physical pain does. That's because intense instances of social rejection stimulate activity through the same brain region that's active in response to pain. Researchers say that looking at a person who recently dumped you can generate similar pain as spilling a hot beverage on yourself.
What to Do When You Feel Rejected
Although feelings of rejection are common, it’s important not to let them become so intrusive that they prevent you from living your life or have a negative impact on your self-esteem. In those cases, feelings of rejection can be detrimental to one’s relationships and health.
“Rejection can bring out the worst in a person,” says Fran Walfish, Psy.D., a child, couples, and family psychotherapist in private practice in Beverly Hills, California. “Feeling left out of a party or group social event stings harshly and can leave an imprint on an individual’s self-esteem and identity. Rejection is a powerful discarding of a person that can feel like abandonment because you’re not good enough.”
4 Ways to Deal with Rejection
Still, there are ways not to let rejection get the best of you. “It’s your choice to feel that you’ve been rejected,” Tessina says. It just might take some time and self-care to work through those feelings. Here are some ways to cope with feeling rejected.
1. Write About Your Emotions
Get your feelings about rejection out of your head and onto paper. “Journaling is something I always recommend because it helps you to become more aware of your thoughts and feelings, understand them more deeply, and explore how to deal with them in a more helpful way,” says Cortney S. Warren, Ph.D., a board-certified clinical psychologist and adjunct professor of psychiatry at the Kirk Kerkorian School of Medicine at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
Tessina agrees, adding that it’s okay not to censor yourself and, instead, to put your most negative thoughts on paper. Then, reconsider each of those thoughts in a more objective, balanced way and plan what you can do or think differently in the future. This exercise can make you more resilient when faced with situations that don’t go your way.
2. Challenge Your Tough Thoughts
It’s common to dwell or ruminate on rejection—but this can make you feel worse and slow your ability to move past tough feelings. When you constantly relive the experience, you’ll only feel badly about yourself, Kipling says.
Instead, challenge your intrusive thoughts. For example: If you think a breakup means you’re unlovable, tell yourself that’s a thought, not a fact. If you didn’t get a job, list your career strengths, like a strong work ethic or reliability. This exercise can help affirm your self-worth.
You might also have to learn to move on past your previous hopes for the situation. “Letting go when something isn’t working frees you to find someone [or something] more suitable,” Tessina says.
3. Learn from Your Mistakes
Remember: You can benefit from a bumpy situation. “After the initial upset, review the dynamics of the relationship or situation and analyze what went wrong, what you could have done differently, and what you learned,” Tessina says. “Don’t give yourself a hard time about it. Just process the information so you don’t repeat mistakes and can adopt a new attitude.”
During this learning process, it’s important to turn your awareness to whether you have a history of turning to situations or people who aren’t a good fit, says Matt Lundquist, licensed psychotherapist and founder/clinical director of Tribeca Therapy, in New York City. “If there’s a pattern, likely that pattern will need to be identified in order to make real change.”
4. Remember All the Ways You’re Included and Valued
When you’re rejected, you may feel like you don’t belong. Spend time with those who accept you for who you are, and who value you. These are people who support you and whom you should also support. You only need a few people in your inner circle to feel mentally healthy and happy, Williams says.
Also, focus on self-care and self-love. “Make sure you’re one of the people who value you,” Tessina says. “Look at it as the other person’s loss because they won’t get to know more about you.”
Turn your attention to the good aspects of your life. “When we feel rejected, it’s really easy to focus on the specific event that makes us feel unwanted or refused,” Warren says. “Don’t forget the things in your life that make you feel included, loved, valued, wanted, and supported.”
When to Seek Help
You can seek help from a mental health professional at any time, but it’s especially important to do so if your feeling of rejection lingers and becomes more painful over time. “Rejection is a problem when you don’t resolve your disappointment and grief, and it all piles up and starts preventing you from moving forward,” Tessina says.
Pay attention to how your feelings might be affecting your daily life. “If you stop wanting to interact with people or meet new people, or do new things, it may be resentment from the rejection holding you back,” Tessina says. “If you feel stuck or unmotivated, that’s a great time to seek therapy.”
Lundquist adds that if you notice a pattern of rejection repeating itself even when you feel you’ve worked to change its course, that’s another reason to get help.
And if you feel so angry that you want to hurt yourself or other people, get help. “Although deep feelings of resentment and even desire to get revenge or even with people who hurt us are common and even understandable, they won’t help your mental health over time,” Warren says. “Finding a good therapist or anger management resources might help.”
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