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Last Updated on May 14, 2020

How to Handle Rejection and Overcome the Fear of Being Rejected

How to Handle Rejection and Overcome the Fear of Being Rejected

We have all experienced rejection at some point. It can hurt and can take years to heal from. As human beings, we innately want to be loved and accepted. A sense of belonging to a community is one of our fundamental ingredients for survival, so a fear of rejection has naturally grown into our psyche.

Receiving rejection today is certainly not what it used to be. With technology, we are somehow more connected than ever yet more socially isolated as well. 

In the split-second instant we post on social media, we’re unconsciously broadcasting our desire to be seen and to connect. But when that Instagram selfie or Facebook post doesn’t receive the number of likes or comments we thought it might, we feel disappointed, overlooked, and left behind.

We then flog ourselves with self-blame, debilitating guilt, over-accountability, and hopeless thoughts about the future. Romantic rejections are where we tend to be most vulnerable and left raw to our core. However, it doesn’t have to be this way. You can recover.

So can you learn how to handle rejection? Absolutely! Here are six ways to help you rebalance the washing machine of emotional and mental turmoil you can be thrown into (sometimes without any warning) so that rejection can become one of the most positive life-changing gifts you can receive.

1. Allow Yourself to Acknowledge and Feel Emotion

After twenty-five years of marriage and a couple of adult-age children, being told “I don’t love you anymore” would and should feel like a dagger piercing your tender heart. The psychological blow can hurt just as much as the physical pain of a right hook to your jaw or punch to the stomach.

To overcome the sting of rejection, stop trying to avoid feeling that sting. Stop pretending you’re unaffected if you are. Acknowledge that the sharp, heavy emotional pain you feel is as valid and real as any physical pain. Trying to sugar coat what you feel and experience will do you far more harm than good.

Listen to the voice inside you that describes the injustice you feel. Give it air time. Allow that voice to talk and lick the emotional wounds.

If you don’t, that emotional energy will continue to tug at you like the child constantly pulling at the mother’s skirt to grab her attention. Listen to the voice’s mix of rage, sadness, loss and loneliness. You will start to feel relief simply by no longer pretending you’re invincible and allowing the flood of your feelings to flow.

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2. Don’t Connect With Rumination

If your friends are rolling their eyes and sighing when you describe to them for the fifth time in minute detail the story of how you were unfairly treated in your dream job interview process, it’s time to shift. You’re wasting time and energy — theirs and yours — and stopping yourself from moving on. Instead, enlist the help of your partner, family, and friends.

Make a contract with someone who cares about you, allowing them to catch you in the throes of verbal diarrhea and stop you purging yet again.

Work out three or four different activities that will distract you and turn your attention to something productive. Choose the activity wisely, though. It’s not simply about distracting yourself and keeping yourself busy. Choose something that catalyzes good energy within you, occupies your mindset and shifts your mood. Physical activities are great examples.

Some other activities you can engage in for distractions include:

  • Exercising
  • Listening to music or a podcast
  • Playing a favorite sport with friends
  • Volunteering

Also consider starting a small project completely unrelated to your rejection experience that engages you to purposefully contribute.

By activating neural pathways that increase a healthy mental state, the shackles of rumination will start to lose their grip. Use your friends and family to keep you accountable and break the debilitating rhythm of rumination.

3. Regulate Your Exposure to Rejection

We all have a different threshold of the amount of rejection we can handle. Repeatedly receiving the notice “we regret to inform you that your application has been successful” becomes a soul-destroying exercise before too long if you’re desperate to find a new job.

When times are particularly tough, you need to protect your mental and emotional states. Wisely considering how much more you can handle is essential. Before you take another step forward, ask yourself if you have the right resources and support in place to catch you.

In his popular TED Talk, “What I learned from 100 days of rejection,” Jia Jiang describes how, after finding that his threshold for rejection was too low to allow for any genuine growth, he decided to seek out rejection for 100 days, ultimately desensitizing himself to it.[1]

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Now, this approach isn’t for everyone, but there is something to be said for identifying how much rejection you can take and how much you should seek out to grow.

If you have stood at desperation station, hoping to board the train and it keeps passing you by, sometimes the best thing you can do is stop trying to board for a while. Take a rest. Allow your mind and your thoughts to breathe.

If you’re completely battered by rejection, turn your attention to activities and opportunities that don’t put you at risk again of rejection, at least for a short period. During the rest periods, your muscles repair and become stronger after a weights workout. Your mind and heart are the same. You must allow them to breathe before you put them at risk of future battle and bruising.

Know that you will always have a different capacity and resilience to handle rejection than your neighbor, so be careful of setting goals to step back into the boxing ring before you’re truly ready.

Get familiar with what your thresholds are and honor them. If you need to take a few days off from doing job application after job application, do so. Your mind will be refreshed, better focused, and relaxed so that you can put your best foot forward next time.

4. Reconsider the Meaning You Attach to Rejection

Several research studies by Carol Dweck and Lauren Howe at Stanford University have revealed that individuals with fixed mindsets in romantic rejection contexts experience negative effects of rejection for longer.[2]

Participants who believed personalities were generally set in stone and unchanging ascribed “faults” in their personalities, as opposed to identifying that the rejection could be an opportunity for positive change or growth. They believed these “faults” were permanent and also worried about how future relationships would be continually affected.

If you feel experiencing a rejection means there is something wrong with you, you’re far from alone. But this doesn’t mean your thinking is accurate. Invite yourself to consider:

  • Is it possible that the deductions I am making about myself are actually not true, that they are simply fueled by the intense emotions I am feeling in these moments?
  • Is it possible that this rejection is just an indication that what I wanted to belong to and be part of is not a suitable fit for me?
  • Could this rejection be a guide to steer me back to the course I am truly meant to be on, or something even better I have not yet been able to imagine?
  • Could this actually be a grand opportunity to grow and expand into a better version of myself?

When Steve Jobs was rejected and sacked from his own company in 1985, he went on to generate his first billion dollars with Pixar Animation Studios after purchasing it from Lucasfilm in 1986.[3] Today, Pixar is the most successful animation studio of its kind.

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By being rejected and insulted colorfully by the seemingly attractive man or woman you approached at the bar, you could have saved yourself a marriage of heartache and abuse. In fact, the door is now open for you to continue your journey of finding someone who is a much better potential complement and at the very least has far superior manners!

Where rejection is possible, hold a card containing the above questions in your pocket to access a reality check. See if you can step into a growth mindset and practice thinking more widely about the consequences of your being rejected.

What have you learned and discovered about yourself? What have you learned from the rejection experience? What opportunities can you now see that perhaps you weren’t able to see before? When you feel ready to step forward again, will you go in the same direction again or will you pivot? Might you do things differently this time?

Rejection can, in fact, be a glorious unveiling of new possibilities.

5. Stop Idolizing 

Think about times when you have wanted something that has been out of your reach. There was a risk, a gap, or an obstacle that was in the way of you getting what you want. Do you want it more?

The scarcity of your being able to reach the prize or reward you’re stretching for seems to become more attractive and valuable when it’s harder to obtain. It’s a key sales psychology feature businesses use to effectively sell to their customers; they market to your fear of missing out[4]

When you get the defining negative answer, the yearning for that thing you so strongly desired somehow becomes stronger. The reality, however, is that nothing specific changed about the person you longed to date. The job description or remuneration package remained the same whether you were the chosen candidate or someone else was. However, in your mind and heart, you feel a greater sense of loss.

Can you recognize if you do this? If so, ask yourself these two questions:

  • Did I idolize the situation or person which has now led me to feel a sense of loss and unworthiness? 
  • Are there negative attributes about the situation that I was not seeing because I wanted this so badly?

It’s only after you have allowed some time to pass after the initial experience of your rejection that you will be able to more objectively answer these questions. Only reflect when the initial intensity of the sting has subsided. It’s only then you’ll be able to see the other side of the coin.

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Sometimes it’s only through rejection that you can see the grass is not as green as it appeared after all. Your loss is not as great, and you’ve not fallen as far as you thought.

6. Build Resilience and Self-Confidence

You can grow confidence through being rejected. It comes down to proactively reviewing your behavioral patterns and resources and forecasting your recovery strategy should you be in the firing line to take a fall in the future.

After you have licked your wounds, take time to reflect and look at how you reacted and responded. What were your patterns? How well were you resourced to handle the fall? Did you withdraw and isolate yourself to recover? Was this helpful or would talking with close friends or family have helped you? Did you have a plan prepared for the potential rejection?

If you don’t have a plan, develop one.

By predicting how your emotions and thoughts could be sent into a spin, you give yourself a stronger sense of maintaining self-control should rejection hit. You lessen the shock of the blow if you also know you’ve got a first-aid plan in place.

Write down what thoughts and emotions you could experience in the face of a rejection. If it’s anger, have a healthy strategy prepared to process the energy of that anger. If it’s sadness, build time in your schedule to allow yourself to feel the sadness either alone or in the company of a supportive friend, colleague, family member, or therapist.

Once you’ve managed to process a fair amount of the emotional and cognitive fallout, now invest in things which restore your energy, strength, and willingness to bounce back. Then, consider stepping back into the boxing ring.

When you have plans and strategies in place, overcoming rejection and the fear of it becomes more like cruising over a small speed bump rather than giving up hope completely of walking again after tumbling to base camp from the summit of Mt. Everest.

More Tips on How to Handle Rejection

Featured photo credit: Michael Afonso via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Malachi Thompson

Executive Leadership and Performance Consultant

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Last Updated on August 6, 2020

6 Reasons Why You Should Think Before You Speak

6 Reasons Why You Should Think Before You Speak

We’ve all done it. That moment when a series of words slithers from your mouth and the instant regret manifests through blushing and profuse apologies. If you could just think before you speak! It doesn’t have to be like this, and with a bit of practice, it’s actually quite easy to prevent.

“Think twice before you speak, because your words and influence will plant the seed of either success or failure in the mind of another.” – Napolean Hill

Are we speaking the same language?

My mum recently left me a note thanking me for looking after her dog. She’d signed it with “LOL.” In my world, this means “laugh out loud,” and in her world it means “lots of love.” My kids tell me things are “sick” when they’re good, and ”manck” when they’re bad (when I say “bad,” I don’t mean good!). It’s amazing that we manage to communicate at all.

When speaking, we tend to color our language with words and phrases that have become personal to us, things we’ve picked up from our friends, families and even memes from the internet. These colloquialisms become normal, and we expect the listener (or reader) to understand “what we mean.” If you really want the listener to understand your meaning, try to use words and phrases that they might use.

Am I being lazy?

When you’ve been in a relationship for a while, a strange metamorphosis takes place. People tend to become lazier in the way that they communicate with each other, with less thought for the feelings of their partner. There’s no malice intended; we just reach a “comfort zone” and know that our partners “know what we mean.”

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Here’s an exchange from Psychology Today to demonstrate what I mean:

Early in the relationship:

“Honey, I don’t want you to take this wrong, but I’m noticing that your hair is getting a little thin on top. I know guys are sensitive about losing their hair, but I don’t want someone else to embarrass you without your expecting it.”

When the relationship is established:

“Did you know that you’re losing a lot of hair on the back of your head? You’re combing it funny and it doesn’t help. Wear a baseball cap or something if you feel weird about it. Lots of guys get thin on top. It’s no big deal.”

It’s pretty clear which of these statements is more empathetic and more likely to be received well. Recognizing when we do this can be tricky, but with a little practice it becomes easy.

Have I actually got anything to say?

When I was a kid, my gran used to say to me that if I didn’t have anything good to say, I shouldn’t say anything at all. My gran couldn’t stand gossip, so this makes total sense, but you can take this statement a little further and modify it: “If you don’t have anything to say, then don’t say anything at all.”

A lot of the time, people speak to fill “uncomfortable silences,” or because they believe that saying something, anything, is better than staying quiet. It can even be a cause of anxiety for some people.

When somebody else is speaking, listen. Don’t wait to speak. Listen. Actually hear what that person is saying, think about it, and respond if necessary.

Am I painting an accurate picture?

One of the most common forms of miscommunication is the lack of a “referential index,” a type of generalization that fails to refer to specific nouns. As an example, look at these two simple phrases: “Can you pass me that?” and “Pass me that thing over there!”. How often have you said something similar?

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How is the listener supposed to know what you mean? The person that you’re talking to will start to fill in the gaps with something that may very well be completely different to what you mean. You’re thinking “pass me the salt,” but you get passed the pepper. This can be infuriating for the listener, and more importantly, can create a lack of understanding and ultimately produce conflict.

Before you speak, try to label people, places and objects in a way that it is easy for any listeners to understand.

What words am I using?

It’s well known that our use of nouns and verbs (or lack of them) gives an insight into where we grew up, our education, our thoughts and our feelings.

Less well known is that the use of pronouns offers a critical insight into how we emotionally code our sentences. James Pennebaker’s research in the 1990’s concluded that function words are important keys to someone’s psychological state and reveal much more than content words do.

Starting a sentence with “I think…” demonstrates self-focus rather than empathy with the speaker, whereas asking the speaker to elaborate or quantify what they’re saying clearly shows that you’re listening and have respect even if you disagree.

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Is the map really the territory?

Before speaking, we sometimes construct a scenario that makes us act in a way that isn’t necessarily reflective of the actual situation.

A while ago, John promised to help me out in a big way with a project that I was working on. After an initial meeting and some big promises, we put together a plan and set off on its execution. A week or so went by, and I tried to get a hold of John to see how things were going. After voice mails and emails with no reply and general silence, I tried again a week later and still got no response.

I was frustrated and started to get more than a bit vexed. The project obviously meant more to me than it did to him, and I started to construct all manner of crazy scenarios. I finally got through to John and immediately started a mild rant about making promises you can’t keep. He stopped me in my tracks with the news that his brother had died. If I’d have just thought before I spoke…

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