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6 Ways to Deal With Rejection

Learn why some of us feel so rejected and how to cope with it.

Growing up in survival mode and dealing with rejection has been one area of my self-healing journey that I consistently come back and do self-work on. Have you recently been rejected? Rejection involves being excluded from a social relationship or interaction. It can be active—for example in acts of bullying or teasing. Or it can be passive—for example in the acts of giving the silent treatment or ignoring someone (DeWall & Bushman, 2011). We might respond to rejection with feelings of hostility, dejection, withdrawal, and even jealousy (Downey & Feldman, 1996). My sister and I grew up in different cities. I lived with our mother in Houston and she lived with our grandparents in Beaumont, TX. Beaumont is where the majority of my mom’s relatives live, so I loved going to visit and spend time with them. I often felt rejected because they had developed a closer relationship to my sister whom they saw more.

Although rejection is often deliberate—that is, the rejector does it on purpose—it doesn’t have to be. We actually differ in the extent to which we are sensitive to rejection and may think that someone is rejecting us when they are not. For example, the lack of a smile or laughter at our jokes may be perceived as rejection even though the person is not intending to reject us. For me, I remember one visit to my grandparents house that caused me to have an outburst. Our younger cousin had come to play with us (me and my sister). I had perceived my cousin's closeness to my sister as rejection of me. I yelled at my sister saying, “Noone loves me. They only love ‘Rachael’.”

We feel rejection because human beings have a fundamental need to belong. Some believe that this is because in our history, being part of a group helped us survive. Those of us who were more group-oriented were more likely to survive. This may explain why modern humans are all very group-oriented (DeWall & Bushman, 2011) and why we try to avoid rejection whenever possible. What I wanted was to feel like I belonged because they’re my family, regardless of how far away I lived. I was too young to convey my feelings and just say, “I want to be closer to you both and have just as much fun together.”

And rejection is indeed quite unpleasant. Some fascinating research shows that social rejection actually feels similar to physical pain. It activates regions of the brain involved in both the sensory components of pain and the emotional components of pain. The more intense the rejection, the more intense the pain response. Specifically, thinking about a recent romantic relationship breakup elicited both emotional and physical pain responses in the brain (Kross et al., 2011). So, when people say rejection is painful, they really mean it!

Although my story is over 20 years old, the experience was painful enough that I held onto it. As I got older, my life became hard and it shifted my mindset to one of survival mode. In this state, it was even more difficult for me to share my true feelings. Oftentimes I would just be a people-pleaser and at other times I would just listen to others share their feelings and never open up and be vulnerable for the fear that I would be rejected.

What Is Rejection Sensitivity?

It turns out that we differ in the extent to which we perceive and react to rejection. While some of us might perceive our friend’s failure to invite us to lunch as a rejection, others may rationalize that they forgot or didn’t realize we would want to come.

Those of us who tend to notice when we are rejected in even the smallest ways—or even perceive that we are being rejected when we are not—are said to be rejection sensitive. Therefore, rejection sensitivity is defined as the tendency to “anxiously expect, readily perceive, and overreact to rejection” (Downey & Feldman, 1996). This tendency to be rejection sensitive likely arose in childhood as a result of rejection from parents or others in our environment.

How to Deal With Rejection.

Regardless of whether we are rejection sensitive or not, we can benefit from learning to deal with our rejection in healthier ways. This can help us decrease both the emotional and physical pain that accompanies rejection. We might use these strategies to handle job rejection, rejection in romantic relationships, and social rejection from friends or family. Here are some tips that have helped me:

1. Write about your rejected feelings. Research suggests that writing about your feelings and the potential implications following an experience of rejection may be an effective way to process those feelings more quickly and move past them (Rude, Mazzetti, Pal, & Stauble, 2011).

2. Practice accepting rejection. Accepting rejection (versus evaluating it or describing it) may help decrease negative emotional responses more quickly (Rude, Mazzetti, Pal, & Stauble, 2011). Acceptance does not mean being a “doormat” or tolerating an unhealthy situation. Acceptance simply means that you acknowledge and accept yourself, your thoughts, and your emotions. Then from a place of acceptance, you can take action if needed.

3. Focus on the positive. Although rejection can feel terrible, some evidence suggests that it can make positive emotions more accessible (DeWall et al., 2011). This may mean that trying to increase positive emotions—for example by doing an activity you enjoy—may be beneficial.

4. Try emotionally distancing yourself from the rejection. Emotional distancing involves imagining your rejection as if you were a fly on the wall or a stranger on the street. When you take a look at your situation from an outsider’s perspective, it can help the negative emotions dissipate more quickly (Ayduk & Kross, 2010).

5. Talk with a trusted friend or relative who can help you process your feelings. I will talk with my cousin about my feelings because she is securely attached, when it comes to attachment styles, so her emotions and thoughts typically come from a healthy standpoint. I am anxious-avoidant when it comes to attachment styles, so rejection and other negative emotions can be very difficult for me to process and occasionally self-soothing takes me a longer time to complete.

6. Talk with your counselor or therapist. I love my therapist and it helps that if I’m having a particularly rough time, she will try and fit me in that same day. I can get stuck ruminating over thoughts and she helps me sort them out. To some, it can feel silly paying someone to listen to you. However, they are trained to help you get through emotionally difficult situations. There is no reason to feel ashamed for seeing a medical professional.

In Sum

Rejection hurts and it’s unpreventable. Luckily, there are some things we can do to diminish the pain or reduce how long it lasts. Hopefully, the tips here will help you deal with rejection more easily.


* Ayduk, Ö., & Kross, E. (2010). From a distance: Implications of spontaneous self-distancing for adaptive self-reflection. Journal of personality and social psychology, 98(5), 809.

* DeWall, C. N., & Bushman, B. J. (2011). Social acceptance and rejection: The sweet and the bitter. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 20(4), 256-260.

* DeWall, C. N., Twenge, J. M., Koole, S. L., Baumeister, R. F., Marquez, A., & Reid, M. W. (2011). Automatic emotion regulation after social exclusion: Tuning to positivity. Emotion, 11(3), 623.

* Downey, G., & Feldman, S. I. (1996). Implications of rejection sensitivity for intimate relationships. Journal of personality and social psychology, 70(6), 1327.

* Kross, E., Berman, M. G., Mischel, W., Smith, E. E., & Wager, T. D. (2011). Social rejection shares somatosensory representations with physical pain. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 108(15), 6270-6275.

* Rude, S. S., Mazzetti, F. A., Pal, H., & Stauble, M. R. (2011). Social rejection: How best to think about it?. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 35(3), 209-216.

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