Rejection is painful. There’s no other way about it. And most of us face it on a daily basis, whether it’s that job you didn’t get or a partner that broke up with you.
Whether the rejection is large or small, it still hurts, and it’s often more painful than we expect.
Psychologist Guy Winch is the author of the book ‘Emotional First Aid: Healing Rejection, Guilt, Failure, and Other Everyday Hurts,’ which outlines why we feel so bad when we’re rejected and what we can do about it. He shared some of his ideas in a recent blog post for TED.
Read on to find out why rejection hurts so much and what you can do to ease the pain.
According to a psychological study, the experiences of social rejection and physical pain are very similar in our brains. Researchers found that the same areas of our brain light up in an MRI machine when we experience rejection as when we experience physical pain.
That's why rejection can feel like a punch in the gut, or a knife to the heart; you're literally using the same part of the brain as when you hurt yourself physically.
Early human hunter-gatherers were unlikely to survive alone. Evolutionary psychologists believe that being ostracized from the tribe was basically a death sentence, and so our bodies have developed a warning mechanism to alert us when we're facing the possibility of being 'kicked out.'
This mechanism appears to have stayed with us throughout our evolution, because those who experienced more painful rejection were more likely to change their behaviour and remain in the tribe as a result. These lucky individuals could eventually pass on their genes while those who were banished died alone.
Unfortunately, it's not usually the rejection itself that does the most damage; it's what comes afterwards. When we are rejected, many of us tend to become self-critical, and rather than project the anger and disappointment outwards, we blame ourselves.
We scold ourselves for not doing enough work, not being pretty or funny enough, and we call ourselves names and punish ourselves. This isn't helpful when our self-esteem is already on the floor, and everyone knows this, but Winch says that barely ever stops us doing it.
The good news is there is something you can do about it the next time you feel yourself getting sucked into a self-hate spiral. There are healthier ways to respond to rejection that Winch outlines which can help us rebuild our self-esteem and make us feel better again.
Winch says the first thing many people do after experiencing rejection is to start listing all their faults, and this is their first mistake. While it can be constructive to review what happened and act differently next time, there is no reason to blame yourself for what happened and think there is anything wrong with you.
Constructive criticism like, 'I probably shouldn't talk about my ex on my next first date,' is fine, but 'I'm such a loser, nobody will ever like me,' is not.
Also, just because you were rejected doesn't mean it was personal. Winch says most rejection, be them romantic, professional, or social, are due to circumstances and finding the right fit. It's probably not about you, so exhausting yourself by listing everything you think is wrong with you is unnecessary and will just cause you further stress.
Your self-esteem probably took a hit when you rejected, so Winch recommends you remind yourself of what you have to offer. The best way to do this is to think about all the aspects of yourself that are positive and valuable.
You could make a list of five qualities you have that make you a good friend, partner or employee, such as being loyal, emotionally available or responsible. Pick one and write a short paragraph about why this quality matters to others and how you can make sure you express it in the right situations.
Winch calls this 'emotional first aid,' and says it's a good and effective way to boost your confidence.
Humans are social animals, and so we need to feel wanted and valued by our friends and family. Rejection can destabilize these feelings, which can make us feel worthless and that we don't belong.
Winch says it's important to remind ourselves we are appreciate and loved by many because it will help to ground us.
If you're not invited out with one group of friends, invite someone else round for a cup of tea. If your date doesn't return your texts, why not give your grandparents a call to remind yourself that you bring joy to plenty of other people.
If you apply these tips next time, you might just find rejection is easier to overcome. Winch believes re-affirming your self-esteem in these ways is key to helping you recover sooner and moving on with confidence when it's time for the next challenge.
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