Do you remember how you felt when you failed that math test back in 5th grade?
Or when your application for inclusion in that sports team was rejected?
Or more recently, when that job application didn’t work out?
Even more recently, when you felt rejection in your relationship as your last girlfriend dumped you?
We’ve all been there. Rejection has been, and will be, as normal a part of your (or anyone’s) life as your daily mail.
Still it hurts. Even though we’ve experienced it a hundred times, each rejection is a new wound.
Rejection hurts and it’s real
What is rejection?
Rejection (in the context of a relationship – social or romantic) basically means exclusion – from a group, an interaction, information, communication or emotional intimacy. When someone deliberately excludes you from any of these, your brain tells you that you’re experiencing rejection. The psychological term for this type of rejection is Social Rejection.
Does rejection hurt? We all know it does – it feels lousy, especially in the context of a romantic relationship.
Should it hurt? Many self-help gurus and personal development books will tell you that it shouldn’t, using one or more of the following myths.
Myth #1. Happiness is a choice, not an outcome. You can choose to be happy irrespective of external circumstances.
Myth #2. You don’t need anyone’s approval in order to feel happy. The only person whose approval you need is yourself.
Myth #3. If you’re not happy alone, you’ll never be happy in a relationship.
Truth is, that each of these has been proven as scientifically untenable through psychological research.
According to Prof. C. Nathan DeWall, PhD, of the University of Kentucky, the need to belong, or the need to have strong and fulfilling relationships is as fundamental to human nature as is the need for food and water. (Source: http://www.apa.org/monitor/2012/04/rejection.aspx)
Research establishes that it’s not only natural to experience severe mental agony as a result of rejection, but it’s also as “real” as physical pain (Source: Eisenberger, N.I. & Lieberman, M.D. (2004). Why rejection hurts: A common neural alarm system for physical and social pain. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 8, 294-300, http://www.scn.ucla.edu/pdf/WhyRejectionHurts(TICS).pdf).
How to handle rejection
So does that mean there’s no way to alleviate your pain of rejection?
Fortunately, that’s not the case. You can’t wish away the pain of rejection, but you control when you feel rejected, before the pain sets in. Here are 7 proven steps to do just that.
1. Be conscious of differences – Each person in this world has a different reality. In any given situation, two people can never think or react in (exactly) the same way. No one else sees the same world as you do. Hence it’s not only possible, but in fact likely, that people will behave differently from how you expect them to behave (in other words, how you would’ve behaved if you were them) in a certain situation. This expectation-reality gap often gives rise to feelings of rejection and hurt in people. The first step to avoid unwarranted feelings of rejection is to acknowledge this difference.
2. Force yourself to think of more than one possible outcomes – The rule of thumb that I follow to avoid surprise reactions from people in any situation is, instead of having one particular expected outcome in mind, I force myself to objectively imagine at least two possible reactions, one mandatorily less positive than the other. I also try and find a few supporting reasons why each reaction could occur.
3. Have reasons for each possible outcome: Let me explain with an example. Let’s say, you’re going to ask a girl out. Don’t expect that she’ll accept (in which case you’ll feel rejected if she doesn’t), but don’t expect that she’ll reject either (in which case you might be so under-confident while asking her out that she might reject you anyway! ).
Tell yourself, “There are two possible outcomes of this situation. First, she could accept my offer because I’m a handsome, smart, fun guy (use whatever reasoning you want, but make sure you come up with at least 2-3 reasons). Second, she might also reject me because at the moment she might not be interested in dating at all, she could be already seeing someone else, or she might need different qualities in a potential date/boyfriend than the ones which I have.”
4. Be objective in your analysis: As you can see, this reasoning exercise achieves two goals. One, it forces you to visualize, objectively, both the positive and negative outcomes of any situation, thereby mentally preparing you for the negative outcome. Secondly, it also looks at the negative outcome in a way which is as objective as possible, thereby minimizing the feelings of personalization associated with the negative outcome. Notice that in this particular example, you’ve identified three possible reasons for a rejection-two of which are entirely unrelated to you or your qualities. At the same time you’re also being honest and realistic by including one possible reason which involves you. However, even in that case you’re being highly objective by rightly pointing out that it’s not about whether you and your qualities are good enough for her or not, it’s just that she might need something different from what you’ve got to offer.
5. Avoid personalization of every outcome: This brings me to one of the most important aspects of handling rejection successfully, which is totally avoiding feelings of rejection where they are unwarranted and unnecessary. Again, I’m not here to tell you that you can avoid feeling hurt by feeding yourself some distorted version of reality (in other words, some variants of “positive self-talk”). I’d only like to draw your attention to the fact that often you (and I, and most eople) interpret a situation as a rejection (your exclusion from something) when it is not. I’m talking about the common human tendency of over-personalizing negative outcomes.
Going back to the earlier example, it’s important that you recognize that any rejection in general is largely unrelated to whether you are good enough for something (or someone) or not. It only means what you’ve got to offer, and what is needed by someone (or something) are not the same. Look at it as the lid of Bottle 1 not fitting Bottle 2, simply because it’s not made for that purpose, rather than for not being “big enough”, or “small enough”.
6. Actively seek alternative connections: However, when it comes to relationships, unfortunately all possible sources of rejection are not so simple. Feelings of rejection can be caused by issues like your everyday expectations not being met by your partner, an incidence of infidelity or a real shocker like a sudden announcement by your partner of their desire to leave. In such cases it’s not possible for you to be prepared for the feelings of rejection.
And you have to deal with it.
The healthiest and quickest way to recover is to find a sense of belonging through other connections. According Prof. Eisenberger from UCLA, lead researcher in the domain of psychological research on rejection, positive interactions with people cause a definite mood boost in humans, by releasing chemicals which facilitate pleasurable reactions in the brain.
Actively seek out friends and family if you’re going through a phase of experiencing feelings of rejection from your partner. Try to invest yourself emotionally in these relationships.
7. Reduction in emotional dependence actually strengthens love: Shift your focus from your partner. Use the pain of rejection to find other reasons to live. Pick up an old and forgotten hobby, maybe. Pursue it and connect with like-minded people.
In some time you’ll find you’re able to derive emotional nutrition from these connections. That will not only help you recuperate from your emotional hurt, but also prepare you for solving any issue at hand together with your partner in the near future.
Am I telling you to force yourself to fall out of love with your partner? No. What I am telling you however, is to stop being emotionally needy. Remember, loving your partner and being unable to function without their emotional support are not the same thing at all. The first is healthy, while the second is not. In fact once you’ve been able to overcome your emotional needy-ness, your relationship will improve greatly as your partner finds fresh reasons to fall back in love with the new you.
Next time you face rejection (and trust me, there will be a next time, ‘cause that’s how life is) try to apply these techniques and you’ll find you’ll be way better off in handling it – channeling it constructively even – if you can do it right.
Author’s Bio: Sulagna Dasgupta has been writing about self-improvement and relationships for more than 5 years. Her website “www.loveinindia.co.in” is India’s first dedicated relationships & marriage blog, also offering FREE unlimited anonymous relationship counselling. Her mission is to facilitate more open thinking about love & relationships in India in the long run.