Rejection sucks. Most people do anything they can to avoid it. But here’s the thing: you need to get rejected.
Did you know that physical pain and pain from rejection light up the same part of your brain? Even when it’s something as passive as just seeing pictures of strangers with expressions of rejection.
WTF, right? I know. But it’s not a neurological mistake; your brain is actually functioning like it’s supposed to.
(Check out this study for more details about the similarities between emotional and physical pain)
So what can we do about rejection if our brains are hard-wired to feel it so intensely? Experience it.
Here are three reasons why we need to get rejected:
1. Your brain is catching up
A long time ago, those intense feelings we experience when we are rejected helped us stay alive because being a part of a group meant survival.
Our bodies caught onto that and developed signals to say DANGER, WILL ROBINSON whenever we experienced social rejection. The reaction we feel when we are snubbed used to warn us to stop acting weird and fall in line with our prehistoric buds.
Hunter-gatherer groups are called “immediate return” societies because they exist on what they collect and hunt right now. Although you can potentially leave to join another group, you rely on others to serve specific roles. That’s why the stakes were so high 12,000 years ago: if you were shunned and alone, you were dead.
But now that we’re not hunting and gathering food together, our brain’s response to rejection just makes us feel bad.
So bad, in fact, that some people feel such extreme shame and distress that it keeps them from functioning normally or moving forward.
(This condition is called Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria. Learn more about RSD and how it interacts with other conditions)
That’s why we need to understand rejection, expose ourselves to it more often, and, ultimately, be ok with being denied.
2. More rejection, less pain
Rejection is going to happen all the time. If you avoid it, it will feel worse the next time you’re rejected.
One guaranteed way to get cool with rejection is to experience it often about small things. If you hear “no” all the time, when someone important says it, it’s no big deal.
Here are some things you can do to experience more rejection:
- Ask for ridiculous things. Ask your teammate to do your laundry, ask a stranger to give you their shoes, ask for a million dollars. Make it fun. You can even get a friend to try these with you and see who can get rejected the most.
- Imagine the worst-case scenario. If you ask yourself what is the worst that can happen, you may realize what you’re dreading is not that bad.
- Make a plan to bounce back. Create a list of things that make you feel good or boost your confidence. Next time you’re rejected, you can work through the list and get over the pain faster.
3. Rejection isn’t about you
It is incredibly easy to find fault in yourself when you experience rejection. We turn ourselves into punching bags the moment someone cancels a date or does not respond to a text.
But is it really about us? Nope. When someone does not choose you, it’s not about what unique qualities you have to offer. You are just not a good fit for what they want or it’s the wrong time. You have to realize that’s ok! Everybody has preferences. It’s fine to feel sad but don’t let rejection affect your self-esteem.
We can’t be perfect for every single person, every team, or every opportunity. That would be too much. It’s better to wait and find the right person, the right group of friends, or the right opportunity.
It’s important to recognize that rejection will always burn. Thanks, brain! If we are armed with the knowledge that being excluded is going to hurt, even when it’s something small, it will be much easier to face rejection that is more serious.
So, the question you have to answer is: Are you going to let it affect you and your self-worth or are you going to embrace rejection and minimize its impact?
Learn more about rejection
- Emotional First Aid – Psychologist Guy Winch talks about the similarities between physical and emotional pain, and the importance of healing in this fascinating TEDtalk.
- How to deal with rejection – Journalism Carolyn Joyce breaks down how to handle being rejected and use compassion to overcome the pain in this article.
Need more inspiration? Check out the rejection and negativity activities in the Be Happy, Babe workbook.