By: Celeste Allies – Social Worker
Rejection is an almost unavoidable aspect of being human. No one has ever succeeded in love or in life without first facing rejection. We all experience it, and yet, those times when we do are often the times we feel the most alone, outcast, and unwanted. In fact, so much of the hurt and struggle we endure isn’t even based on the loss itself but on what we tell ourselves about the experience, the cruel ways we put ourselves down or flood ourselves with hopeless thoughts about the future. Studies even show that our reaction to rejection is also based on elements and events from our past, like our attachment history. As a result, how we react to rejection is often equally or even more significant than the rejection itself. This is why learning how to deal with rejection is so important!
There are many ways to learn to deal with rejection. These include psychological tools and techniques that involve reflecting on our past, enhancing our self-understanding, and strengthening our sense of self in order to feel more self-possessed and strong in coping with a current struggle and facing the future. Here we highlight some of the most powerful personal strategies for how to deal with rejection.
- Shift Your Perspective
Our ability to see things as “changeable” can have a strong influence on how we deal with rejection. Stanford researchers recently found that a person’s “basic beliefs about personality can contribute to whether [they] recover from, or remain mired in, the pain of rejection.” Their studies revealed that individuals who have “fixed mindsets” and see personality as more set in stone are more likely to blame themselves and their own “toxic personalities” for a breakup. When they experience a rejection, they tend to second guess and criticize themselves and regard future relationships as less hopeful. On the other hand, individuals who have “growth mindset” see their personalities as something that can be altered or developed. They’re able to look at the breakup as an opportunity to grow and change. They’re hopeful that their romantic future will improve, and relationships will get better. People with a growth mindset recover emotionally from a break up much more quickly. If we can embrace this idea that life is flexible and that losses offer us opportunity, we can grow more within ourselves and suffer less when we experience a rejection.
- Pay Attention to Your Inner Critic
As human beings, we aren’t only affected by what happens to us but by the filter through which we view what happens to us. Dr.’s Robert and Lisa Firestone have both written extensively about the role of a person’s “critical inner voice” in coloring the way they see the world. Like a mean coach living inside our heads, this inner critic is designed to critique, undermine, and sabotage us. Just as positive, nurturing experiences help us form a healthy sense of self that’s “on our side” so to speak, our “critical inner voice” often forms out of negative early life experiences that gave us a fundamental feeling of being bad or wrong in some way. Throughout our lives, it represents a sort of “anti-self,” the side of us that is turned against ourselves.
The “voice” represents a destructive thought process that frequently hurts us in life and in relationships, often attacking us when we are most vulnerable. When we’re dealing with a rejection, for example, the voice is there to tell us, “See? I told you it wouldn’t work out. No one could ever really like you. You’ll never find what you want.” It also gives us bad advice, “You should never have put yourself out there. You can never trust anyone again. You’ll only get hurt.”
We are all human and flawed and most likely have real things we want to work on in ourselves, but this voice is never a friend to us and is not conducive to real change. It perpetuates a cycle of self-destructive thinking, sometimes followed by self-limiting or self-destructive actions. When we have to deal with a break up, we can feel a lot stronger and a lot better able to move on when we’re on our own side. That means making our critical inner voice are number one enemy. Dr.’s Robert and Lisa Firestone have outlined specific steps we can take to identify these voices, make sense of them, separate from them, and challenge them on an action level. Taking this practice seriously can really help us stay in a healthy and realistic mind frame when recovering from a break up.
How to take care of yourself?
- Practice Self-Compassion
Self-compassion has three key elements.
• Self-kindness vs self-judgment: When we notice our critical inner voice creeping in and coloring our outlook, we should aim to practice self-kindness. Basically, we should treat ourselves the way we would a friend. We can be sensitive and empathetic to our own struggle. This isn’t about feeling sorry for ourselves or denying our mistakes, but it is about not being judgmental or cruel toward ourselves.
• Common humanity vs isolation: Neff emphasizes the recognition that no one is alone in their struggle, even though it can feel like that at times. All human beings suffer, and most have experienced rejection. Remembering this connection can help us avoid the feeling that we are somehow different or isolated. Many people have been down a similar path, and we should feel hopeful and connected when it comes to our future.
• Mindfulness vs over-identification: Mindfulness is a practice of focusing our awareness on the present moment, learning to sit with a thought or experience without judgment. In addition to having almost countless mental and physical health benefits, mindfulness helps us to avoid over-identifying with painful thoughts and feelings that arise. We can feel our feelings without allowing our negative thoughts to take over. We can avoid boarding a train of “critical inner voices” that catastrophize and distort ourselves and our reality. Mindfulness meditation or breathing exercises can also feel calmer when strong emotions or reactions arise.
Self-compassion teaches us that we can be a friend to ourselves when we experience a rejection. We can be honest about ourselves and the situation, while maintaining kindness and understanding.