Why rejection hurts so much … and some ways to help cope

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Why is it so important to be accepted? Why is it so important that this person really likes me? Why do I feel hurt, angry and embarrassed when I sense rejection?
 
I would find myself asking these questions over and over again. In spite of this awareness, I would keep getting back on the quest of striving for acceptance. Who was I seeking acceptance from?
 
Rejection might come in different forms at different stages of life from different people. It could be rejection at job interviews, not being invited to a friend's party, being dumped by a romantic partner, not being accepted because of the color of your skin or because you are too tall or too short, too fat or too thin. In some parts of the world a child is sometimes rejected just because she is a girl.

It does not matter how old we are or what part of the world we are from. It always creates the same feeling. The same sense of disappointment mixed with anxiety, anger, jealousy and sadness. It causes a discomfort in our body which tells us that we are not wanted, that we don’t belong.


Why is it so difficult to be alone?

Sometimes we wonder why we crave for company in spite of having been rejected and hurt so many times. Even if we choose isolation to protect ourselves, it does not bring happiness. 

One of the reasons for the survival of our species was our sense of community. We lived in groups and depended on each other for our survival. We are social beings. Many animals that live in groups use ostracism as a way to protect their herd. The ostracized member of the group usually finds it difficult to survive. In the human world as well, ostracism or social rejection was a threat to survival. Although we are living in the modern world where we focus mostly on individual existence. Our basic requirements are the same. We need someone who has our back, someone we can rely on. Even now the sense of rejection brings about similar feelings that it did centuries ago. Isolation threatens our physical and emotional well-being. It makes us feel unsafe and threatens our survival.


Why does rejection hurt so much?

Research has shown a relationship between hurt caused by rejection and body pain.  Kip Williams and colleagues at University of Toledo conducted an experiment which indicated that rejection triggers the same area of the brain that is active when we feel physical pain. DeWall, Eisenberger and colleagues, conducted research to find out if pain due to rejection can be treated in the same way as physical pain. They found that people who took Tylenol in the experiment as opposed to people who took placebo pills had less activity in the pain related areas of the brain when subjected to rejection.

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How to cope with rejection?

Rejection is something all of us have experienced in one form or another. Coping with rejection is a process. It takes time, nothing brings instant relief. However, there are things that we can be mindful of and implement when dressing the wounds caused by rejection.

  1. Showing compassion toward ourselves - A lot of the times when we experience rejection we blame ourselves. We feel like we are not good enough, that our life is hopeless and we will never achieve our dreams. We don’t realize that this negative self talk plays out in our minds over and over again. When we are already feeling low and depressed, all negative self talk does is further demotivate and depress us. We need to listen to what we are telling ourselves and be mindful of how that is affecting us. This is the time when we need to be there for ourselves, be kind to ourselves by understanding that the present experience was difficult and will generate emotional pain. But this does not mean we are worthless. Try to remember that all of us go through this difficult phase of life at one point or another and this too will pass.
  2. Seek support - We tend to isolate ourselves after experiencing rejection. The need to belong is innate in us, and by isolating ourselves we take away this important support. We feel things like “I don’t want to talk about this” or “I need to be alone”. However, this is the time when we need to share our thoughts and feelings with someone we trust. We need to surround ourselves with people who love and care for us. Being around such people will remind us that we are loved and valued.
  3. Reevaluate to see if anything needs to change - In order to evaluate a situation it's important to look at it objectively. For example, are we experiencing rejection in relationships because we are picking the wrong types of people. Perhaps we need to be more mindful of what we want from a relationship and whether the people we are choosing are compatible with that. Sometimes talking to someone else, someone we trust can help us find this objectivity when it’s hard to achieve by ourselves.

Coping with rejection is never easy. It often triggers and reinforces beliefs and emotions associated with past bad experiences. But we can break free from negative thoughts and old patterns by facing the pain and the fear with courage, compassion, support and hope.