Why Rejection Hurts and How To Move Forward
The pain of rejection can trigger or intensify symptoms of eating disorders, depression, or anxiety.
Research reveals that rejection is extremely upsetting not because we are over emotional, but because of our brain’s wiring.
When study participants were hooked up to MRI machines and asked to dwell on a recent experience of rejection, their thoughts activated the same parts of the brain that respond to physical pain. This helps explain why being disregarded by others hurts so much.
Yet, much of the intense pain following a rejection is self-inflicted. When our sense of worth takes a hit, we tend to bruise it further with unrelenting self-criticism.
A Healing Response
Fortunately, according to psychologist Guy Winch, humans are not at the mercy of their brain’s wiring. We can ease rejection’s ache by reacting to it in life-affirming ways. Here are three of Winch’s recommendations for limiting self blame, soothing the pain, and restoring self esteem.
- Review. Beating our self up after a rejection serves no purpose. However, reviewing the experience - without self recrimination - to discover what we might do differently next time is helpful. For instance, realizing, “I’d be better off listening more and talking less on my first dates,” is constructive. Thinking, “I’m such an idiot,” hurts, and helps no one.
- Re-engage. People thrive when they feel connected to and appreciated by others. Since rejection leaves us feeling disconnected and unappreciated we must actively engage with people who care about us and value our presence. If colleagues go out after hours without us, we can call a sibling or friend to meet us for supper at a favorite cafe, or we might make our parent’s or grandparent’s day by calling to see what they’re up to.
- List Likes. After a bruising rejection, we can bolster our sense of self-worth by writing down five things we like about our self, plus a brief sentence about why these favorite attributes matter. For instance, we may be a loyal friend, a responsible employee, a good listener, see the best in others, and be an excellent problem solver—qualities that strengthen relationships, inspire trust, and generate respect.
Though affirming our value, re-engaging with others, and avoiding self-criticism cannot remove the sting of rejection, they provide emotional first aid that reduces discomfort, builds us up, and moves us forward constructively.