You have been out four times with a new love interest. As far as you were concerned, sparks were flying from “hello.” After two lunch dates, a trip to the theatre, and what you perceived as a magical sunset dinner cruise, you are eagerly anticipating your next rendezvous. Brunch at the new French restaurant downtown? A ballgame? Your team has finally managed to make the playoffs. Awaiting your partner´s call or text, you are ready with your suggestions.
But the contact never comes. No call, no text, nothing. Radio silence . . . for one day, two, then three. You check your cell phone battery; maybe it did not charge properly and you missed a call. Then you check your incoming calls, wondering if you were out of range when a call came in. Nope, all systems go.
Finally, you give in and engage in decidedly off-label use of your phone—to actually make a call. Your call is answered (you blocked your number just in case your partner really was avoiding you), and a short conversation confirms your worst fears; your new love interest is “too busy” for a relationship. You accept the news politely and graciously.
After you hang up, however, the disappointment hits you like a ton of bricks. You certainly did not see this coming. But before you begin to doubt your self worth and value as a result of hearing the bad news, consider the good news: you are in good company. Everyone gets rejected. People differ, however, in how they respond, and in how fast they recover.
Rejection: Who Wears it Best
Rejection hurts both emotionally and physically (Kross et al. (2011)).[i] Yet some people bounce back quicker than others. Sure, some of it has to do with self-confidence. A study by Waller and MacDonald (2010), for example, found that individuals with low self-esteem were more sensitive to romantic breakups when they were not the instigator, as compared to when they were.[ii]
Yet regardless of self-esteem or level of confidence, everyone can benefit from proactive methods of healing. Actively processing (not obsessing over) rejection can speed recovery and improve your ability to avoid or deal more productively with relational disappointment in the future.
The Road to Relational Recovery
The song from Frozen that many parents of young children have stuck in their minds contains a common prescription to moving on from rejection: “Let it go.” These words of wisdom are often the advice you receive after a breakup from friends and family. Just shake it off. But how?
The answer is not passively, but intentionally. The road to relational recovery is paved with proactive steps involving positive thinking and behavior. Here are five:
Regroup to recover. To regroup, you need to be part of a group. When you are hit with rejection, a strong support system softens the blow. These caring individuals provide objective validation of your bruised sense of value and worth. The key is maintaining your group during your relationship. Instead of retreating into romantic exclusivity, always stay grounded in your community of faith, family, and friends.
Misery loves company and companionship. Remember that rejection is a shared experience. Members of your support system will have their own rejection stories to share—many of which are no doubt similar to yours. It can make you feel better just knowing that you are not suffering solo. They have recovered; you will too.
Focus without fixation. Contrary to the advice of those who insist you “never look back,” reflecting upon what went wrong in a relationship can be both constructive and cathartic. Live and learn. But here is the caveat: allow yourself to think about, not obsess or wallow in pity over your failed relationship, for a limited, pre-determined amount of time. Acknowledge mistakes, consider alternative behavior in the future, and when the buzzer goes off, move on.
Reframe and refocus. Utilize the power of perspective. You are not defined by defeat. Romantic failure is a small slice of life. Instead of cropping and focusing only on the painful experience, zoom out and consider the bigger picture, which includes all the positive aspects of your life, and the people in it.
Distraction is bliss. Post-rejection diversion is a productive, healthy way to pass the time as your emotions stabilize. Time heals all, and the faster you can pass immediate post-break up time the better. Your support system can definitely help you with this one; many of them are delighted to have you back in their lives.
And remember that although the road to recovery may not always be the fast lane in terms of emotional healing, engaging in intentional, proactive strategies for success will pave the way to quicker restoration of well being and self-confidence.
[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]Katherine L. Waller and Tara K. MacDonald, “Trait Self-Esteem Moderates the Effect of Initiator Status on Emotional and Cognitive Responses to Romantic Relationship Dissolution,” Journal of Personality Vol. 78, no. 4, 2010, 1271-1299.