We’ve all been there. A big interview you thought you did so well, only to be told they’ve found a better fit. A heart-wrenching breakup. The boss denying our big project request. Why does hearing “no” hurt so much? And, for that matter, is there anything we can do about it?
The pain of rejection is self-inflicted
You know what I mean: Beating yourself up after getting dumped or being rejected. It’s bad enough that our brains are wired to feel pain from rejection. Scientists placed people in functional MRI machines and asked them to recall a recent rejection, and they discovered something remarkable. It activated the same areas of our brain as physical pain! That’s right – rejection causes you literal pain. Sure, it’s emotional pain, but that’s often the worst kind.
Why does our brain do this to us? Scientists believe it dates back to our time as hunter-gatherers. Back then, if you were rejected by your people, you died. You couldn’t survive alone; you needed those people closest to you. This is probably also why most people have a “herd” mentality and like to follow along with the pack rather than taking charge of their lives and actions.
Of course, rejection causes us more than some emotional pain. It hurts our self-esteem, causes us anger or sadness, and knocks us off course from feeling stability in our lives. But there’s something you need to know. Most of these side-effects are self-inflicted. We call ourselves names, tell ourselves we’re not good enough, and feel downright disgusted with ourselves. It doesn’t have to be that way!
Use pain to your advantage
It is often in moments of extreme emotional pain that legends are born. Take Anna Wintour, for example. Anna is one of the most famous and successful magazine editors in the world. But it wasn’t always that way. She was fired from her role as a junior fashion editor at Harper’s Bazaar, long before she become the success she is today. If only they knew who they were firing!
However, she didn’t let this rejection ruin her. In fact, she now openly states her belief that “Everyone should be sacked at least once in their career because ‘perfection’ doesn’t exist.” Here’s the secret: Rejection can strengthen our mentality and contribute to our future success, if we only let it. Anna used the pain of rejection to push herself to do more with her life. Countless overs have done the same, like Tony Robbins (author, investor, and philanthropist), Howard Schultz (CEO of Starbucks), and Steve Jobs (founder of Apple).
Every one of them has overcome the pain of rejection and used it to fuel their passion for a better life. You can do the same.
3 ways to adjust your mentality to overcome rejection
You’re probably thinking: “That’s great for those people. But I’m not an Anna Wintour or a Tony Robbins. How can I possible do what they did?”
One word: Strategies.
There are proven strategies to make a mental shift and change your outlook. Here are three you can use today:
1. Have zero tolerance for self-criticism
The first thoughts that pop into your head after a rejection are probably things like, “I’m such a loser/idiot/insert explicit word here”. You need to stop that. Right now. Most rejections, whether romantic, professional, or even social, are due to circumstance and really don’t have anything to do with you.
Maybe your partner really isn’t ready for a serious relationship and needs to take time to learn more about themselves (which everyone should do, by the way). Maybe the company you applied for needed someone with a particular skill you just didn’t have yet. Even if it is your fault, beating yourself up isn’t going to make things any better. By all means, review the situation and think about why it happened. But, don’t go to “I’m a loser” as the reason. Be more constructive than that.
Think about things like, “I need to acquire a certain skill for this job first” or “I should give my partner the space they need and take some time to figure out more about myself.” The bottom line is this: Don’t tolerate self-criticism. Period.
Remove it from the list of things you’re willing to accept in your life. If you find yourself thinking these thoughts, tell yourself “These thoughts are self-destructive. Instead, I should think of something constructive I can do so I won’t be rejected again. I’ll see rejection as an opportunity to learn, rather than a failure on my part.
2. Bolster your self-worth
The best way to overcome the pain of rejection is to feel like you matter. In other words, you need to increase your feelings of self-worth. Stop what you’re doing right now and do this simple exercise: Write down five things you like about yourself. Things that make you a good relationship partner (e.g., you are supportive or emotionally available), a good friend (e.g., you are loyal or a good listener), or a good employee (e.g., you are responsible or have a strong work ethic).
Next, pick one of those five things and write down (physically write, don’t just say it in your head) one or two paragraphs about why that quality matters and how you could apply it in a situation like the rejection you just went through.
3. Reach out to strengthen your social connections
People are social creatures. We’re wired to crave social interaction. The reasoning probably also stems from our time as hunters and gatherers. Whatever the reason, a lack of these social connections is sure to spread to everything in our life like a virus. It can sap our physical and emotional health and make us less productive.
Rejection hurts our feelings of belonging and thus dampers our feelings of social connections. We need to take actions to undue the damage done. When your crush doesn’t answer your calls or you just got fired from your job, call a friend or family member, and remember that your voice alone can bring happiness to others. We all have family we haven’t talked to in ages – now is a good time to call them and catch up.
It’s a win-win: You’ll bring them a happy surprise, and they’ll increase your feelings of social connection and importance.
Remember, rejection can cause a lot of pain, but most of it is self-inflicted. The best way to overcome this pain is to take actions! Do something, right now. Write out that list, call that family member, apply for more jobs – whatever. Just don’t sit in self-pity and criticize yourself. You are important. You are loved. You matter.