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We have all had to face rejection at different points in our lives, with varying degrees of severity. Something as simple as a text message not being answered by someone we deemed important, or not getting the job we wanted can sting. Other kinds of rejection are more painful such as the ending of a relationship we want to keep working on, or a parent who was absent throughout our lives. Rejection hurts so much because it involves relationship with others. In relationships, our feelings and sense of self can be mixed in, and it can feel as if our entire personhood is being rejected when others tell us no.

Many of us spend a great deal of effort and energy in our relationships, and we want to win others’ love and approval. When we receive rejection from those who are valuable to us, it can be devastating.  How we interpret that rejection can impact how we see ourselves, and if we do not see it through a healthy lens it can become a negative message about who we are.  A present rejection can have the power to open up any number of old messages we may have heard about ourselves from the past, which can compound the pain of what we feel. We need to be aware of how what is happening in the present is connected to the past, and know that this does not have to be the end of the story.

When the initial rejection occurs, stop and assess the situation in order to figure out how you are feeling. Take time to process your feelings, regardless of whether they are irrational or rational. Do this by yourself or reach out to someone you trust so that they can help you see the situation from a different angle.

Brene Brown, in her book The Gifts of Imperfection, gives four great questions to ask after experiencing an event that brings about shame, hurt, or embarrassment.

  1. Who do you become when you’re backed into that shame corner?
  2. How do you protect yourself?
  3. Who do you call to work through the mean-nasties or the cry-n-hides or the people-pleasing?
  4. What’s the most courageous thing you could do for yourself when you feel small and hurt?

The mention of the ‘mean-nasties’, the ‘cry-n-hides’, or the ‘people-pleasing’ covers how we handle the shame and embarrassment of rejection. We feel hurt so we lash out and criticize others. We may cry and hide or pretend the rejection does not mean anything to us. Or we become ‘nicer’ and try to please people even harder so that we will be accepted by others.  Allow yourself to acknowledge the embarrassment or hurt of how the rejection has impacted you so that you can come up with a plan of how you can move forward with it.

Martin Seligman, in his book Learned Optimism, mentions the three P’s of pessimism: Personalization, Pervasiveness, and Permanence. When bad events happen, we can Personalize them and believe that there is something connected to who we are in our core that deserves or causes bad things and the rejection that happened.  We can believe the rejection is Pervasive, that this instance impacts our entire life. We also can believe that the rejection we experience will be Permanent. Thinking or using words like ‘always’ and ‘never’ can be an indicator that we are making a situation permanent.  These are false assumptions that keep us stuck. When we are rejected by others, we must realize that this is one event, even if it is very painful. One rejection is not our entire life. What has happened now or in the past does not have to be a predictor of the future.

Some other questions to ask in order to pull us back into the present may be, “Is there a reason in reality that this has happened?” and “Are there things that I may need to change in order to increase my chances of getting what I want in the future?” These questions can aid us in applying for a job, developing a future relationship, or even communicating a request in a current relationship.

When we are rejected, it usually means we are loving someone, investing in a relationship, or trying something new. These are good things! Keep pushing yourself to go outside your own limits and comfort zone when it is appropriate. Don’t attempt to avoid the pain of what might come in the future because of fear. Use rejection as a tool to learn more about yourself and others. In this process, acknowledge the hurt of what has happened, but don’t allow one experience to tell the whole story of who you are.

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-Nicole Smith, MA, LPC-MHSP