Updated: Apr 29, 2021
Rejection. Ah yes, even the mention of the word makes us cringe as we think back to times when we were rejected. Whether it was from some we loved, friends, a potential job application, or university application, at some point we have all faced rejection. And let’s be honest it ain't fun folks. Now I wish I could I say “don’t worry it’s all over now”, but I can’t, and the reality is you’ll probably have face it again one day.
But what is rejection? Why do we feel it? Why is it a thing that happens and makes us feel crappy? Well depending on what approach you take, rejection can serve a purpose. Looked at from an evolution perspective, being accepted by your tribe meant safety, food, shelter and potentially creating offspring. In other words you had to take on enough of the tribe’s ways in order to not die, and rejection is seen as the valuable early warning sign that your chances of survival are at risk.
Okay so that’s a why, but what about a how? How is does rejection play out in our brain on a biological and neurological level? Have you ever felt rejection so bad that it felt like the worst pain you’ve ever felt? Well, brain imaging studies have shown that when experiencing social rejection the same brain pathways are activated as when we experience physical pain. Furthermore, those brain pathways that are activated when we experience social rejection are the same ones that are activated when we see someone else experience social rejection.
Now what can we do about it? Handling rejection begins with your frame of mind, and modalities that have been shown to be the most helpful are those that work towards reframing rejection. This could look along the lines of “he may have said no to dinner, but he may just need some time alone right now” or “I didn’t get it this time so next time I will need to try hard” or “I know I didn’t get the job but I am proud of having done it despite my fear and anxiety”. Whilst rejection can feel personal, we need to work on not taking it personally. Our frame of mind will make all the difference as to how we feel and what we choose to do after experiencing rejection.
So, I urge you to contemplate and explore your past experiences of rejection. What did you think? What did you feel? What did you do? Now how does that compare to how you would have wanted to be in the face of rejection? Do they match up or are they polar opposites? If your finding that there’s a pattern playing out that seems to have a theme of ‘reacting’ instead of ‘responding’ don’t worry there’s hope, and might I say good on you for having the courage to explore this with yourself. Now you have most likely heard of mindfulness, the act of being presently aware of your senses, thoughts, emotions, and surroundings. Well mindfulness has been shown to help you be more in control of your responses to rejection. Mindfulness is the act of one’s attention to the present awareness in a non-judgemental way. Doing so allows up to watch and observe our thoughts and emotions linked to rejection. By simply observing them we stop fighting them and in turn let them pass through.
Lastly, I want to encourage you., encourage you to remove yourself from your comfort zone and have a go at either changing your thoughts process or practice being mindful of the thoughts and emotions that occur next time you experience rejection. Hey, you just may surprise yourself in what you achieve.