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Bounce back from rejection

How do you deal with life’s disappointments? Writer Juliet Davey has some advice…

by Psychologies

“Never confuse a single defeat with a final defeat” F Scott Fitzgerald

We all experience rejection in our lives; be it through an unsuccessful job application, a relationship ending, feeling undervalued at work or maybe a change in a friendship. Rejection takes many forms but whatever the cause, it can be painful for all of us.

Rejection can affect us profoundly. The emotional pain can also feel physical, and there is a reason for that. Studies show that the regions of the brain activated in response to rejection are the same as those activated by physical pain*.

Do you feel like you can’t think straight, too? There’s evidence to show rejection can affect reasoning and IQ. Following exposure to rejection, volunteers in a study displayed an immediate 25% drop in IQ, a 30% drop in reasoning, an increase in aggression and a decrease in self-control**.

Rejection is also seen to negatively impact the immune system and destroy our self-esteem, leaving us with a diminished sense of belonging.

So, rejection literally hurts, but why? What is the evolutionary point of this? I’ve been pondering this myself recently, having experienced a few rejections both professional and personal: I lost out on a job opportunity, I was disappointed by an old flame, and a friend seems to no longer need me in their life. It was a lot to deal with at once and I’ve been trying to make sense of it all.

Our responses to rejection are believed to come back to belonging. If we look to our ancient past, being part of a tribe was advantageous; being included gave us a sense of identity, support, companionship and better defences against enemies and predators. Rejection from the tribe would drastically affect our chances of survival. So it seems that we are programmed to avoid rejection at all costs.

But how can we bounce back?  Here are some ideas:

  • Reconnect – your instinct may be to hide away from people, especially if your trust has been betrayed, but we can find consolation through reaching out to those we love and trust and sharing what’s on our minds.
  • Accept your situation - do not belittle your feelings, give your circumstances your full awareness and be gentle with yourself. Avoiding the reality and pushing it to the back of your mind will prevent you from moving on. 
  • Acknowledge your successes – we will all fail at some point, but how many of us recognise our successes? Think back to when you did succeed and what it took you to get there.  Revisiting your success can inspire you to take action now.
  • See the potential for growth in rejection – being rejected gives us an opportunity to take stock and consider a new approach. Maybe the way you used to react to life’s disappointments isn’t working for you any more. There are greater possibilities which we can open up to if we see this as an opportunity.

*Eisenberger, UCL 2003. *Roy Baumeister, Case Western Reserve University, Ohio, 2002

Photograph: iStock

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