Dealing with rejection isn't easy. Nobody taught us that. Despite this, we all experience rejection throughout life. Feeling rejected is not pleasant, but neither is it unusual. In fact, although rejection in love is one of the most painful, we can also be rejected professionally or even be marginalized by family, a group of friends or our culture of origin.
Why is rejection so bad?
Rejection literally hurts. A study conducted at the University of Michigan found that rejection and contempt share the same neural circuits as physical pain. Therefore, when we are despised and rejected, the pain we feel is not only emotional, but also physical.
Those refusals not only hurt, but remain deeply etched. Generally, over time we find it difficult to remember exactly the intensity of a physical injury, but we can remember with particular vividness the pain we felt when we were rejected. We can recall every detail and relive the situation with quite similar emotional intensity. In other words, as the memory of physical pain fades slowly, the memory of rejection remains clearly etched in our memory.
Such an intense reaction to rejection can be rooted in our most distant past. When we lived in caves, being left alone was tantamount to a death sentence because we could not survive in such adverse conditions, which is why our brains developed some sort of alarm system to warn us of the risk of ostracism. In this way we can correct our attitude as soon as possible so as not to lose the support and protection of the group.
But the fact that our brains activate the alarm does not mean that we must passively suffer the consequences of rejection. We need social ties, but we don't have to cling to people who make us suffer.
How to handle the rejection?
To handle rejection, we need to make sure we don't become our worst enemies because these situations trigger a self-accusation mechanism in which we constantly complain. Therefore, the emotional pain of rejection is compounded by negative ideas that don't stop spinning in our minds. How to get out of the vicious circle?
1. Self-kindness vs. self-judgment
When we notice that our inner critic activates and begins to distort our perspective, we must gently redirect the internal discourse in more positive and objective directions. Basically, we need to remember that inside us is a small child who has been hurt, so that instead of recriminating and blaming him, we need to treat him with compassion and empathy so he can get through the moment. It is not about feeling sorry for ourselves or denying our mistakes or responsibilities, but about not judging ourselves too harshly or avoiding becoming cruel to ourselves.
2. Denial vs. radical acceptance
Sometimes, when rejection is extremely painful, we have a tendency to protect ourselves by denying reality. In fact, it is likely that we will seek refuge in the past by remembering happy moments or that we will entrench ourselves in an imaginary future where everything is perfect. These attitudes, however, do not allow us to turn the page.
Instead, we need to practice radical acceptance. It doesn't mean being happy with what happened or approving of it, but just acknowledging the fact. As William James said, "Accepting what has happened is the first step in overcoming the consequences of any misfortune". With radical acceptance the pain does not completely disappear, but the suffering dissipates. And when you stop suffering, the pain will be more bearable. Then we will be able to react to stop pursuing something unattainable and set new goals that make us happy and are within our reach.
3. Common humanity vs. isolation
When they reject us, we can feel that the world is coming upon us and that we are alone, but in reality we are not the only ones to have experienced something like this. We all suffered rejection and recovered. Many famous people were also rejected. Remembering this connection can help us avoid feeling that the world is conspiring against us or that we are isolated.
It is also worth seeking the support of close people. Many times we do not tell the experience of rejection for fear that others think we have failed, but in reality most people are more empathetic than we suppose and will reach out to us when we feel bad. Having a friendly shoulder to cry on may be what we need to overcome rejection.
4. Mindfulness vs. excessive identification
Mindfulness is a practice that consists of focusing our consciousness on the present moment to face a thought or experience without judging it. Mindfulness helps us avoid becoming overly identified with the painful thoughts and feelings that come with rejection.
We can feel those negative emotions and thoughts, but without allowing them to take over and suffocate us. This practice will prevent our inner critic from distorting reality and generating catastrophic scenarios that make us hit rock bottom. Instead, it will leave a sense of serenity and control that will allow us to deal with rejection in a more sensible way.
5. Tragedy vs. opportunity
To overcome rejection we must stop focusing on what we have lost to focus on what we can gain. It is difficult at first because negative emotions and thoughts cloud our vision, but we must remember that this is probably not the first time we have been rejected.
A refusal can become an opportunity to do something new and dare to take a different path. The fact that a door closes does not mean that we cannot be happy or achieve our goals, just that this was not the way. Sometimes a rejection can become the push we needed to get out of our comfort zone and do wonderful things or meet great people.