How to Deal With Rejection: Turning Setbacks into Success

Medically reviewed by: Erica Munro, MSc
Tuesday, November 28 2023

Rejection can be hurtful, no matter what form it takes. Perhaps a supervisor dismisses an idea you have at work, or a friend declines your invitation to hang out. Maybe you don’t get accepted to your first-choice college, or the company you just interviewed with decided to go with another candidate.

Understandably, being rejected may lead to strong feelings like sadness, anger, or even jealousy. While these feelings are common, you may find that feeling them too often or too intensely may affect your mental well-being. 

Below, we’ll explore why rejection is so painful and what steps you can take to cope with the pain of rejection more productively.

Why does rejection hurt so much? 

Rejection can cause emotional pain that may feel just as intense as physical pain for some people — and there’s a surprising reason for that. A 2011 study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) journal finds that intense emotional pain activates the same part of the brain as physical pain. 

In other words, rejection can hurt similarly to a physical injury. So, you might feel the sting of rejection when you don’t land the job you wanted or the pang of sadness in your chest when a love interest turns you down for a date. 

However, it’s important to remember that rejection doesn’t define your worth, and most people experience it in some way during their lives. And while that realization may not make these experiences hurt any less, the good news is that you can learn to manage your response to rejection in helpful ways that ease the pain.

The psychological effects of rejection 

Rejection doesn’t just cause painful emotions — it may also affect you psychologically in the following ways: 

Diminished self-esteem 

When you’re so confident you’ll be accepted, rejection can be a major hit to your self-esteem. Maybe you did great in a college interview, but still got rejected. Maybe you go on a great first date, but they reject your invitation for a second. 

Whether they’re professional, academic, or social, rejections can shatter your confidence — or at least lower it a bit. 

Heightened stress and anxiety 

Dealing with day-to-day stress is often enough. When you add in rejection, you could face more stress and anxiety. You might feel nervous about interacting with others, worried that they’ll reject you. You might avoid other people whenever possible or in certain situations. 

The stress that rejection causes might affect you in other ways. If it’s severe enough, you might have trouble sleeping or thinking clearly. Dealing with stress from rejection may even affect your work performance or relationships

Feelings of abandonment or isolation 

Your friends throw a party, but don’t invite you. Your partner unexpectedly decides to leave you. These kinds of experiences may lead to painful feelings of being abandoned by people you care about. You might also feel isolated, resulting in lingering feelings of loneliness and sadness. 

If you have an anxious-avoidant attachment style (wanting to be close to others, but also resisting emotional intimacy), you may have a higher risk of feeling abandoned and isolated after rejection. This may make it harder to build secure attachments in future platonic and romantic relationships.

Maladaptive thought patterns 

It’s common for thoughts to turn inward after a rejection. A seemingly minor rejection (like asking a friend to hang out, but they already have plans) may feel like a huge deal, and you may take it personally. This personalization is just one example of a maladaptive thought pattern that rejection may trigger. 

Depressive symptoms 

It’s common to feel sad after facing rejection. But if these feelings persist, it may lead to depressive symptoms like hopelessness, losing interest in your usual activities, or isolating yourself from loved ones. 

Depression and rejection have a complex relationship. Research shows that rejection may raise the risk of depression or make existing symptoms worse — and depression can make people more sensitive to future rejections. Getting caught in this cycle of depression and rejection sensitivity can be rough, but the right support can help you break free. 

Impact on self-identity 

When others snub you, whether it’s a romantic rejection or social rejection, you might wonder if something is wrong with you. These thoughts and feelings can leave you questioning who you really are or how you might change in order to be accepted. 

Rejection’s impact on self-identity could cause significant distress, as you may constantly try to reach unrealistic or unattainable goals that don’t align with your true self. 

Steps to take when dealing with rejection 

Though rejection can be painful and have significant psychological effects, it’s never too late to build skills to deal with these experiences more adaptively.

Focusing your energy on preventing rejection may not be helpful (or possible); it’s a normal part of life that everyone experiences at some point. Rather, with the steps outlined below, you can put your efforts toward facing it with self-confidence, self-compassion, support, and strong coping skills. 

Acknowledge your feelings and emotions 

Acknowledging our emotions and feelings can be the foundation for emotional healing and effective coping. This means admitting to feeling sad, embarrassed, angry, or jealous (or whatever other emotions you’re experiencing) in response to rejection.

Identifying your feelings means you can work on processing them: recognizing them, accepting them, and moving on. 

Practice self-compassion

Practicing self-care can help boost your physical, emotional, and mental health so you’re better equipped to deal with rejection. Self-compassion is a powerful tool that you can use to build resilience and can treat yourself with kindness after being rejected (rather than being your own worst critic). 

Show yourself the same empathy and kindness you’d show to a friend or family member — you’re worth the same compassion.

Seek support from loved ones 

When you’re dealing with rejection, don’t hesitate to seek emotional support from friends and family. Your support network can see you through tough times and raise your spirits.  

They can lend an ear so you can talk about what you’re feeling. They can reassure you or boost your confidence if your self-esteem takes a hit. Your loved ones know you best, and can often offer the perspective needed to help turn around a sad mood. 

Challenge negative thoughts 

It’s one thing to identify maladaptive thought patterns, but challenging them can be a bit trickier. When you find yourself falling into a negative thought pattern following a rejection, do your best to take it at face value rather than assuming it’s right or true. Instead, consider these thoughts from an objective point of view.

For example, let’s say that one person rejects your invitation for a date. A maladaptive thought pattern may be assuming that no one wants to date you because one person declined. 

Then, you might take a step back and challenge that thought: One ‘no’ might still sting, but there are plenty of other fish in the sea.

Recognizing and challenging maladaptive thoughts can help you reframe your mindset. You might have an easier time focusing on adaptive or positive thoughts rather than negative ones. You can also regain a sense of self-worth instead of taking unhelpful thoughts to heart. 

Consider processing with a therapist 

Professional help from a therapist can give you more guidance and support as you build better coping strategies for rejection. While your personal support network can be helpful, you might not feel comfortable discussing everything with them, such as intimate relationship details or a traumatic experience

This is where therapy comes in handy. Therapy offers a structured, supportive, and judgment-free environment for processing complex experiences and emotions. 

You can connect with a therapist quickly and easily with SonderMind. SonderMind accepts many leading insurance providers and also offers self-pay options, making online and in-person therapy more accessible.

Stay engaged socially 

While you might want to run and hide after rejection, do your best to resist that urge. It’s understandable to feel that way. But staying socially engaged — even when it’s tough — is a great way to become resilient, which is a powerful part of the healing process.

Maintaining social connections can help you handle fears of being rejected more productively, especially when you combine social engagement with the other suggestions outlined here. You may find that positive social experiences outweigh and outnumber rejections — and even if you do face rejection, you’ll be in a better mindset to cope with it. 

Accept the loss and keep moving forward 

Accepting rejection is an important part of healing. This can take time and effort, depending on how painful the rejection is, but you’ll get there. When you accept the loss, you can move forward rather than dwelling on the rejection. 

You can also use rejection as a catalyst to help you grow and discover new opportunities. Let’s say you applied for a job you really wanted and got passed over for another candidate. Instead of dwelling on this loss, consider it a chance to explore other job opportunities. You might not have gotten that job, but a better opportunity may be right around the corner.

Embark on your path to healing with SonderMind 

Accepting rejection as part of life might not be fun, but it can help you gain a better perspective on these experiences and grow from them. Rejection may be painful, but you can develop the coping skills to deal with it with the right support.

SonderMind can help you move toward coping with feelings of rejection more adaptively. Simply tell us a bit about yourself and your goals, and we’ll connect you with a therapist to help you get there. Connect with a SonderMind therapist today

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