So you have been rejected. Congratulations–this means you are in the game. Instead of sitting on the bench, you are on the field, actively engaged in the game of life. And like a team sport, you are experiencing a shared activity. That´s right, everyone can relate to how it feels to be rejected. Here is why it feels so bad.
Particularly in a social context, we are sensitive to rejection because we are born to bond. Whether you have been stood up or turned down, rejection impacts us emotionally where we are most vulnerable: our sense of self-worth. It makes us doubt our value, which creates insecurity.
Insecurity can be tempered, however, by considering the strength and courage you possess to be out on the playing field in the first place. And like a sports injury, when you are sidelined by rejection, you may actually experience physical pain.
Research reveals that rejection is painful both emotionally and physically. Kross et al. (2011) compared the experiences of social rejection and physical pain and found that the same brain regions underlie both responses.[i]
Their experiment involved showing participants a photograph of an ex-partner after an unwanted breakup as they think about the rejection. In discussing the commonalities in somatosensory representations they discovered, they compare viewing the photo after the unwanted breakup to spilling hot coffee on your forearm.
Although the comparison makes the point, most people would rather suffer through the short-term pain of the hot coffee spill rather than the lengthier time period required to recover from love lost. So as wounds heal, how can you make the waiting game more tolerable? One thing you can do, is consider what the alternative would have been had you never taken a risk.
Better to be Rejected Than Miss a Chance for Romance
You never know until you try. Some people argue if you are not rejected, you are not trying hard enough. Success follows failure. Research supports this sentiment.
Joel et al. in a piece entitled “Nothing ventured, nothing gained” (2017) reported the results of several studies they conducted weighing the fear of rejection against regret over a missed romantic opportunity.[ii] They found that people had more regret over missing a romantic opportunity, than enduring rejection. Surprisingly, this was true even among people who were less secure, i.e. those with high attachment anxiety or low self-esteem.
Joel et al. found that participants perceived missed opportunities for romantic pursuit to be more regrettable than being rejected partially because they viewed missed opportunities as more consequential in terms of potentially having more of an impact upon their lives.
Apparently, when it comes to romance, people can overcome fear of rejection through motivation to avoid missed opportunities.
Reframe: You Are Not Defined by Defeat
Focusing on the sting of rejection is zooming in on one small part of your life. Instead, step back to see the broader picture, putting rejection into context. Reframing involves broadening your perspective to include the positive aspects of your life. You are not defined by defeat.
Reframing also involves perceiving every set back as a learning experience. One person´s rejection is another person´s education. Decide to learn and grow from negative feedback. Perhaps there is a kernel of truth you can internalize and learn from. If not, shake it off. Reframing builds resilience.
When One Door Closes, New Opportunities Come Knocking
One thing an unwanted break up brings is closure. It is easier, in some ways, to be the rejected partner than the partner breaking it off. Consider that while you might spend years agonizing over whether you made the right decision to end a relationship, you are powerless to second-guess another person´s rejection. Embrace the finality of closure as temporarily painful, but conclusive. The ride is over, you can gather your belongings, and exit peacefully, before you make your way to the next attraction.
And the next attraction might be much better. You have heard the saying when one door closes, another opens. Many people do not see the open door because they are focused on the one that is closed. Whether personally or professionally, rejection frees up your time to pursue or be open to opportunities that are even better. And keep your eyes and ears open—because opportunity knocks.
Reframe, Regroup, Recover
Once you place rejection into context, viewing it as a consequence of healthy social engagement, huddle with your team, talking through your action plan to get back on the field. With the support of faith, family, and friends, you can process your emotions, keep busy, and strategize your next play.
Learning from rejection also involves identifying factors that contributed to the relational mismatch in the first place. Consider whether you detect any of these when you are on your next first date, when you are most objective. Once you have reframed and regrouped, you are on the road to recovery.
[i]Ethan Kross, Marc G. Berman, Walter Mischel, Edward E. Smith, and Tor D. Wager, ”Social rejection shares somatosensory representations with physical pain,” PNAS Vol. 108, no. 15, 2011, 6270-6275.
[ii]Samantha Joel, Jason E. Plaks, and Geoff MacDonald, “Nothing ventured, nothing gained: People anticipate more regret from missed romantic opportunities than from rejection,” Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 2017, 1-32.