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How to Deal With Rejection: A Guide to Emotional Resilience

Cain Parish

In This Article:

Whether it’s a declined job application or an unrequited love, the emotional toll can be devastating. But what if I told you that rejection isn’t the end of the world? In fact, it can be a stepping stone to personal growth and emotional resilience. In this article, we’ll explore the psychology of rejection and provide actionable steps to handle it gracefully.

A man standing with a shield against soundwaves, representing how to deal with rejection

The Emotional Impact of Rejection

Rejection can trigger a range of emotions, from sadness and anger to confusion and shame.

It’s crucial to acknowledge these feelings rather than suppress them. Suppressing emotions can lead to long-term mental health issues. For more on this, check out Mental Health Makes Everything Easier.

To best find a way to personally cope with rejection, it’s important to understand how being rejected by something or someone impacts your subconscious emotional processes. If that just sounds like a lot of words, fair enough. Here’s a flowchart that explains what I mean.


A Flowchart For How To Deal With Rejection

The flowchart outlines your potential journey from rejection to personal growth, grounded in psychological principles. Let’s examine what it means.

The First Step: Your Emotional Response

rejection flowchart

The initial emotional response to rejection is often visceral and intense. This is because the brain perceives social rejection similarly to physical pain. The anterior cingulate cortex, a region of the brain associated with pain detection, becomes activated during moments of rejection.

We understand this intuitively. Our brains are trained to recognise and avoid threats, and since rejection is an event that causes us pain, we tend to start fearing and doing everything we can to run away from it. This emotional response comes from past experiences.

When we’re hurt, or affected by things that have happened in formative periods of our lives, we take those lessons and store them for later. Our brain is excellent at pattern recognition, and will often see similarities in situations, even before you recognise them consciously.

Your emotional responses to rejection, or even the threat of rejection, are a sign of how you’ve been hurt in the past. This can be things like past relationships, issues with parents or significant figures, or social situations that didn’t go the way you wanted them to. Identifying and understanding these previous traumas is the key to letting go of the significant hold that rejection has on your emotions.

Coping Mechanisms

Once the emotional response is triggered, coping mechanisms come into play. These can be both adaptive (e.g., seeking support) and maladaptive (e.g., substance abuse). The choice of coping mechanism can significantly impact one’s emotional well-being.

Again, these coping mechanisms will be strongly related to what has comforted you in the past. Many people turn to things like food or alcohol to comfort and quiet their negative emotions. It’s also equally as likely that you’ll have a reaction that seeks support from other people. Trying to suppress negative emotions and stimulate positive ones to replace them is the cornerstone of a coping mechanism.

These mechanisms are your brain stepping in to protect itself. Contrary to popular belief, by pushing you to do things that you might not consciously want to do, it’s actually your brain working as intended. Those behaviours are things that your brain has depended on to protect itself in the past.

Self-Reflection

This stage involves introspection and self-assessment. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) principles suggest that how we think about a situation affects how we feel and behave. Self-reflection allows for a reevaluation of the rejection event, potentially leading to more adaptive coping strategies.

Whether you choose to use therapeutic principles or not, it’s important to use self-reflection and awareness to train yourself to identify the patterns we’ve just discussed. If you understand something, you’re able to have power over it. Your coping mechanisms work so autonomously because they happen in the background, without your awareness.

By reflecting on your negative emotions, dwelling on where they came from and why, and understanding the consequences, you begin to increase your awareness of the issue, and with time will be able to stop yourself before you engage in similar coping behaviours.

Growth

The final stage is personal growth. According to the concept of Post-Traumatic Growth, adverse experiences can lead to positive psychological changes. In the context of rejection, this could mean developing greater emotional resilience or a more nuanced understanding of interpersonal dynamics.

In general, through a better understanding of yourself, your patterns and your emotions, you gain control over the negative influences in your life and free yourself from counterproductive coping mechanisms. Your emotions begin to work for you, not the other way around.

For a look at a method of decision-making that comes from a secure, intuitive place, consider reading Trusting Your Gut: How to Listen to Your Intuition and Make Better Decisions.

How to Cope with Rejection

So now that we understand the psychology behind rejection, we can start to look at ways to actively cope with it.

If you’ve been following along, you should hopefully understand that your current coping mechanisms might not be doing a perfect job. Here’s a broad strokes strategy that works for me.

  • Accept Reality: The first step in dealing with rejection is accepting it as a part of life.
  • Seek Support: Talk to friends or family members who can provide emotional support.
  • Reflect on the Situation: Take some time to think about what led to the rejection.
  • Plan Your Next Steps: Whether it’s applying for another job or asking someone else out, plan your next move.
  • Move On: Don’t dwell on the rejection; use it as a learning experience.

Accept Reality: We understand that negative feelings are painful or unhelpful, but we can’t ignore the fact that they exist. Dealing with negative emotions is a part of life, and the healthiest way to deal with those emotions is to just let them run their course. You’re likely to want to find a counterproductive outlet or coping mechanism, which are both bad ideas. Getting in control of how you handle negative emotions is not only a fantastic method for dealing with rejection, but negativity in your life as a whole.

If that solution isn’t satisfying enough for you, there is another option, but it works a little bit in reverse. Where most solutions one would naturally consider work as cures or band-aids for negative events, the best solutions are preemptive. 

By working on your self-esteem and mental health and philosophy on rejection that we’ll cover in a second, individual instances of rejection cease to have the same kind of sting to them. You might still feel disappointed by the result, but it won’t have the same kind of internally distressing pain that we’re used to.


Seek Support: As with any negative event, rejection can be mitigated by having a strong support system around you. Friends and family can provide a safer outlet than the more destructive coping mechanisms we described earlier. By having a space to examine your emotions and gain perspective from the people around you, it can often disperse some of the uncomfortable emotions that you’re experiencing.

Do note that not everyone in your life is going to be an appropriate support structure. Most friendships and relationships are not built on consistently having deep conversations and providing comprehensive emotional support. Instead, be a bit more discerning, and find the people in your life that are willing to validate your feelings and experiences and discuss your emotions seriously.

You’re in a sensitive and vulnerable position, so someone invalidating your feelings or experiences is going to hurt. Trust your support people, but choose them carefully.


Reflect on the Situation:
So, we’ve talked about how to mitigate the negative emotions. This is the bit where we try to stop them from happening the same way next time. Using the flowchart I gave you earlier, or whatever strategy you’ve found to work for you, take stock of what happened. Try to dive deep into the events and the reactions that you had. Ask a lot of questions that start with “Why?”.

The more reflection and processing you can do for yourself, the faster you’ll see improvement. We can’t stop rejection from happening, but we can control how it affects us.


Plan Your Next Steps & Move On: Many people learn the wrong lessons from rejection. It’s very common to think that a single rejection indicates something about a person, whether it be their attractiveness, suitability for a job, or something else fundamentally core to an individual. This is, in 95% of cases, entirely false. Rejection just happens. People aren’t always compatible or in the right place in their life to develop compatibility.

Don’t ignore the fact that it happened, and try to take steps to improve. You can always strive to minimise rejection, but never truly eliminate it. But certainly, above all, don’t give up or sink into doom and gloom. The conclusions you draw in the heat of the moment are almost always incorrect or emotionally biased.

Rationalising Rejection

It’s easy to take rejection personally, but often it’s not about you.

It could be due to circumstances beyond your control. Rationalising the situation can help you gain perspective and reduce emotional stress.

The key to understanding rejection is to genuinely internalise that it truly isn’t about you. Even in instances where the rejection seems personal, such as on a date or during a job interview, the act of being rejected is based on two things: Their appraisal of you, and their compatibility with your image.

These two things have very little to do with you at the core of your being. Sure, your external perception is a part of you, but it’s ultimately not the same as being judged on your internal values or a more fundamental part of your identity. We judge ourselves constantly, because we’re in a position to do so. We have the information.

Someone rejecting you is only able to capture a snapshot and interpret it in their own way. Their education, biases, preferences, values, all of that plays a role in how they perceive information that you’ve given them. And just because they’re not interested doesn’t mean you’re not interesting.

Someone that has slept with fifty individual people over the course of their life is not going to be fundamentally suited to a traditional, religious Catholic looking for a similarly minded person to pursue marriage with. The Catholic would be incredibly likely to reject this person, based on their conclusions about the values of sex, religion and commitment. 

Whilst they might be rejecting the person, the more promiscuous individual doesn’t need to internalise that information. The two people simply have different values. There’s no issue with that at all.

When you’ve delved deep enough into your mental health to genuinely internalise that lesson and accept it without your ego getting in the way, rejection is no longer a threat to you, but a conclusion. We date to test our compatibility, and being rejected is just a sign that two people aren’t compatible. That’s not an indictment, but a simple stopping point.

Conclusion

Rejection is tough, but it’s not insurmountable.

By understanding its emotional impact and learning how to cope, you can turn rejection into an opportunity for growth. Remember, every rejection is a step closer to a yes.

Feel free to have a look at How to Break Up with Someone, if you’re on the other side of the rejection process.

F.A.Q.s

What is the emotional impact of rejection?

Rejection can trigger a wide range of emotions, including sadness, anger, confusion, and shame. It’s important to acknowledge and not suppress these feelings to avoid long-term mental health issues.


How can I cope with rejection effectively?

Coping strategies include accepting reality, seeking support from friends or family, reflecting on the situation, planning your next steps, and moving on. Developing a healthy perspective on rejection can reduce its sting and help you learn from the experience.


Can rejection lead to growth?

Yes, according to the concept of Post-Traumatic Growth, adverse experiences like rejection can lead to positive psychological changes. This might include developing greater emotional resilience or a more nuanced understanding of interpersonal dynamics.

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About

Cain Parish

Cain Parish is the owner of cainparish.com. A prolific writer, educator and relationship coach since 2019, he specializes in dating, relationships, emotional intelligence and social skills. He is also the author and creator of the world’s largest and most comprehensive database for dating and relationship advice, which can be found on his website. His first book, I’m Sorry I Egged Your House, is due to be published in 2024.

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