Rejection feels hard.
It feels scary, like a pass/fail test. We imagine that if we pass, we are victorious! Glory! But if we fail, we can never recover... and will forever be worth less.
Fear of Rejection is a fundamental thing we struggle with in every relationship area of life-
- Romantic relationships- especially in dating, but even with a long-time partner.
- Work and career relationships- with your boss, co-workers, and clients.
- Family relationships- with your parents, or your children, or your larger family.
- Even our relationship with our self.
It's so central to our thinking that I believe...
The Fear of Rejection holds us back from more great things in life than possibly any other limiting belief.
So let's kick this fear.
Why does Rejection hurt?
In understanding any part of your psychology, and making it work for you, I think it's very important to understand why it works the way it does.
These are my own theories, based on research, coaching, and my own life experiences, add your own insights, and lessons from your own personal experiences.
I'm certain you know the feeling of rejection itself.
There is a kind of deep-in-your-belly kind of pain, a knot, when we lose or are rejected. ( See the Addendum below for an interesting discussion of the sensation itself. )
Here's why I think acceptance and rejection are so important to us.
Mammals are Naturally Competitive
Within a tribe, there is a natural mechanism, based on serotonin, which is designed to identify the strongest and boldest members and promote them to the top. The ones who are most willing to confront danger get promoted to leadership, and their job is to protect the pack.
Humans have this too, and you have a built in sense, the moment you walk into a room, who the leader is. Who is the most confident person there, who are "in the middle" of the social hierarchy, and who is trying to fade into the background, unnoticed?
You can pick this up in minutes of entering a room, and you're aware of it automatically, which means its subconscious, mammal-brain activity.
I think all of this is based on serotonin. and the natural tribal-hierarchy mechanisms that are part of our mammal-brain psychology.
Two important things which affect your serotonin are;
- Winning & Losing
- Social Approval & Rejection.
Note- from here, I'm going to focus largely on dating and romantic relationships, since it's perhaps the most strongly relate-able situation in which we fear rejection. For simplicity, I'll also focus on the example of a man approaching a woman and expressing romantic interest- though I think everything here would relate equally for a woman approaching a man.
Winning & Losing
If you feel like you have acquired more... social status, wealth, property, credibility, even self-respect, you feel good.
If you feel that you have lost something, you feel badly. This happens even if you've lost the opportunity at something (and never made an attempt) - but it feels especially bad if you've lost that opportunity to someone else.
Let's explore this. Below is a ranked list of similar scenarios to which I've assigned a score. Positive scores go up to +10 and indicate a wonderful feeling. Neutral feeling is 0, and Negative feelings are negative values.
I think I can safely say that most people, both men and women, would generally find this true;
- +10 - Winning the attention of a romantic interest, even though someone else was also competing for their attention.
- +8 - Winning the attention of a romantic interest, when there was no one else competing for it.
- -2 - Losing the attention of a romantic interest, due to inaction- you didn't try
- -8 - Losing the attention of a romantic interest, because they weren't interested
- -10 - Losing the attention of a romantic interest, to someone else
What do you think? Roughly accurate?
Of course there are other factors as well- such as how interested you are in that person, how big your expression of interest was, the specifics of how they responded, and who your competition was.
Look at the above diagram for awhile, compare your own experiences, and how they match up. Add levels if you like, and score them based on your own experiences.
Social Approval & Rejection
Overlapping this to some degree, but distinct to itself, is social approval & rejection.
Let's take the above scenario again, and add a social element.
Instead of just approaching a love interest, you're asking someone to marry you. This is your biggest expression of interest, ever. You're putting it all on the line.
And, you're doing it on the jumbo-tron at a major sporting event, so 50,000 people are watching on a giant screen while you do it.
- How do you feel if she says YES? +100 ?
- Now do you feel if she says NO? -100?
- How do you feel if she says "oh, I'm dating your brother..."?
Maybe negative infinity.
You can feel it, can't you, in your gut right now? Even though... I sincerely hope... this has never happened to you.
Try not to throw up.
The entire point of this scenario is to help you see the connection between your emotions, winning & losing, and social acceptance or rejection.
Don't worry, once you get past that nauseous feeling, continue reading... I'll show you how to fix this.
You can be emotionally bulletproof to rejection, even in the worst situation.
How can I make Rejection hurt less?
This is super easy actually, and it simply involves correcting three misconceptions.
#1 - Realize that Rejection does not mean you've lost anything
Being Accepted is not winning, and being Rejected is not losing.
Guess what- if she says "no," nothing has changed. Your relationship is still exactly the same as it was 10 seconds ago. The only thing that will harm your relationship is if you decide "I can't deal with the uncomfortable feelings," and choose to avoid that person.
In fact, in my experience, when I've expressed my interest in someone and then discovered they were already in a relationship... or even married (gah!), I was very surprised to discover that your friendship grew after that.
People enjoy being noticed, and appreciated, whether or not they are interested in - or available for - a relationship.
If she says "yes", all that's happened is a door has been opened. You don't know what's next, where the relationship will go, how far it will go, or whether you'll enjoy it.
Anything you are imagining right now is just a fantasy. You simply don't know.
To illustrate my point, here's an example from my own life...
I got married at a very young age, and was over the moon that my girlfriend said YES when I proposed to her. I'd won! I'd made it in life! Woohoooo!
7 years later, I was picking up the shattered bits of my dreams, wondering how in the world I'd been so blind to our differences in values, life goals, and personalities.
In truth, it was pretty much doomed from the beginning. We were different people in every way that mattered.
But I didn't know, neither my knowledge or my experience were able to give me meaningful perspective. I'd simply thought I'd won.
In fact, I can say that about many things in my life- things I though would be GREAT sometimes sucked. Things I thought would be HORRENDOUS sometimes turned out better, more special, and more important to me than I could ever have imagined.
In a word...
Your brain's ability to predict the future is just terrible, so imagined consequences of "winning" and "losing" are always a fantasy.
There is no win/lose in changing a relationship. It's just a change in relationship. Whether you grow closer to someone, or become further away, you have not become a better or worse person due to that. You are still just you.
Think back to your past for a moment, and try to remember the worst relationship you've ever had. Did it start out that way? Or did you just discover the reality of your differences as the relationship progressed?
You can see what I mean.
The hard truth is, getting rejected may be the luckiest thing that ever happened to you. It could have you from a terrible relationship, or a terrible job, and 10 years of your life spent in misery.
And... viewed properly, rejection simply gives us an opportunity to reflect, grow, become a better person, and find a more meaningful relationships for our lives.
#2 - Rejection is Not About You
When we're rejected, we often scramble to explain the rejection.
But the truth is, we can't read minds, and we just don't know. So our brain tries to be helpful and imagine likely answers...
"You must smell bad. Breath maybe? Did you dress well today? Food on your face, that must be it. Argh, you must not look buff enough- I knew I should have gone to the gym before going out tonight. Actually, you know what, you just suck- you're just not good enough."
That inner dialogue can be vicious- and I want to point out that it's this dialogue- and not the rejection itself- that causes you pain.
We know nothing about this person's thoughts, so we work with the only information we have- she saw me, I invited her to X, she rejected that, thereforrrrre...
It must be something about me.
Really? That's a pretty big leap.
- ...she's in a relationship.
- Or confused about someone else in her world and processing what she wants to do about it.
- Maybe she just had a bad day, and isn't feeling social.
- Maybe you're a close friend, and she's afraid to lose that if a romantic relationship doesn't work out.
- Maybe she doesn't like guys.
There are so many possibilities, that have absolutely nothing at all to do with you.
Just understand that you can't know, and that you don't need to know.
You did your part, you invited her into your moment.
That was enough. Be proud.
#3 - Approve of your self- no one else defines your worth
If you just went out, bared your soul, and laid everything on the line - all with the intention of creating a beautiful relationship, I have one thing to say...
You the man.
That took balls. Even if you're a lady, the sentiment stands.
Courage is its own reward...
Do what you know is right, without expecting it to lead where you want.
It's the action that matters. Take the shot.
Learn to measure you value by the shots you take, and not whether you scored. There are too many things outside of your control, so simply doing your best to create the life you want, is what matters.
No one can take that away from you, and no one else can give that to you. You can only give that to yourself.
BROJO: Confidence. Clarity. Connection.
Join BROJO - the premier international self-development community - it's completely free!
- Connect with like-minded people who will support you with your goals and issues
- Overcome people-pleasing and Nice Guy Syndrome to build strong social confidence
- Get access to exclusive email courses to learn advanced social skills, how to master your psychology, proven career progression techniques and more!
The Physical Sensation of Rejection
You may not be aware, but a good bit of study has been done around the physical sensation of emotions.
My own sensation of rejection, or even fear of rejection is deep in my belly. This makes a good deal of sense, as the thought generally go;
- "Crap, I've failed, or done something wrong" - feeling of Shame
- "I think there will be consequence to this" - feeling of Anxiety
- "How could I be so stupid?" - feeling of Disgust
Note below that all three of these correlate to physical sensations in the stomach area.
Moreover, look at the top left of the emotional space- the emotions which we identify as most negative, and simultaneously most "mental" (meaning we're aware of them rationally), include Losing, Failing, Disappointment, Fear, and Shame.