We've all been there. An unexpected breakup, the dream job that goes to someone else or a friend who stops returning your calls.
Rejection comes from all angles — and whether it’s from a crush, job or anything (or, anyone) else, it doesn't feel good when it happens.
That said, rejection is, unfortunately, an inescapable part of life.
"It is part of being a human. There's no way to live your life without experiencing any kind of rejection," Sharon Martin, LCSW and psychotherapist tells TODAY.com. "Rejection comes with the territory of any relationship, any goal, anything you set out to do."
But knowing how to deal with rejection isn’t always easy. To make matters worse, in some cases we don’t know the cause, which prompts us fill in the blanks with negative assumptions about ourselves.
“Essentially, I’m not good enough, I’m not as smart as the other person, I’m not as qualified, I’m not as much fun at the party, I’m not as pretty as whoever is,” Martin says.
While there isn't one way to heal the hurt and disappointment that can result from being rejected, there are steps you can take to help put it behind you and get back to the business of living.
Understanding rejection and why it hurts
“The problem about rejection is it’s painful. It gets us hung up one on one person, one relationship,” Jia Jiang, speaker, author and founder of Rejection Therapy tells TODAY.com.“We desire what we don’t have and feel like if you get that one person, that one thing, our lives will be good."
The context of the rejection is also important. In the absence of an explanation, Jiang says it's easy to assume it's about you.
The truth, as Martin puts it, could be "a thousand, thousand different things." There's also a chance it's nothing personal. "Maybe it was really just an oversight that you didn't get a call or an invitation," Martin adds.
Along with the more obvious forms of rejection, Martin says social media has gone a long way in fostering what she calls "micro-rejections" or subtle rejections that come from feeling left out of happenings posted online or not getting "likes" and other types of positive feedback.
When that happens, people enter a vulnerable state and question their flaws.
"There is something wrong with me," Martin says. "I'm flawed in some way, there's something personal about me and my character that is not right."
In reality, it's might be due to something completely unrelated.
A step-by-step guide on how to deal with rejection
Although rejection can have a lasting impact, there are little things you can do to cope — and eventually move forward. When the inevitable happens, follow the steps below.
1. Acknowledge your feelings
Take a cue from Martin and treat rejection like a grieving process.
"Whether it's time to self-reflect or allow yourself to cry or to journal about it, talk to a friend or a therapist," she says. "Give yourself the ability to process that experience." Keep in mind that grieving looks different for everybody, so find what works best for you and lean in.
2. Determine what the rejection means for you
After acknowledging the loss, take some time to reflect on what happened along with the narrative you're attaching to the situation.
"Being able to look at it and see if that's actually fair and accurate, or whether you're being too hard on yourself," Martin says. "Even if you realize that it wasn't you that was the problem, it still just hurts."
3. Reach out for support
Certain kinds of rejection, like a breakup, are visible to the eye. Others may be less obvious, like being passed over for a promotion or not getting a job you applied for.
"Sometimes we don't get as much support from friends and family around those kinds of things because they can't really see it," Martin says. "The people around you don't necessarily recognize that loss in the same way or understand that it's hurting as much as it does.
This makes it even more important to reach out for support when you need it.
4. Ask for feedback
While it might make you feel vulnerable, asking for feedback can be beneficial. Jiang suggests framing it by saying you're hoping to improve or learn something from the rejection, rather than focusing on the rejection itself.
Jiang recommends saying:
- "I would love to have some feedback for my own benefit, so I can improve on my end."
- "I'm trying to take this to my next opportunity so I know what I can work on.'"
Positioning it that way can lessen the guilt of the rejector while helping you better understand the reasons behind their decision.
If it's a personal relationship, Jiang suggests: "I would really like to know what happened, it would make me feel much better about moving on and not holding it in."
5. Put it behind you
The final step of dealing with rejection is finding acceptance and moving on.
"Sometimes people say the best way to get over getting dumped is find another love," Jiang says. "Or the best way to overcome a job you didn’t get is to find a dream job."
It's not as simple as it sounds, but Jiang says broadening your outlook and seeking out new opportunities is part of the process.
"The world is so much bigger than just one person, one job or one relationship,” Jiang says. "It's so much bigger."
How to cope with being rejected
One of the most difficult types of rejection is the kind that has no explanation, like a friend or partner who suddenly stops returning calls, or a hiring manager who never circles back after multiple interviews.
“It says a lot about the person who’s ghosting you,” Jiang tells TODAY.com.”When they do that, they don’t talk to you because it’s uncomfortable for them. Just like people have the fear of being rejected, people have a huge fear of saying ‘no’ to others.”
Rather than have confrontation, the rejectors avoid you — and for that very reason, Jiang says you shouldn’t take it personally.
Just like people have the fear of being rejected, people have a huge fear of saying ‘no’ to others.
“When they’re not telling you the reason, there’s a reason for them not telling you the reason, and it says a lot about them because they’re not really good communicators,” Jiang says.
Even so, this lack of communication adds another layer of hurt. According to Martin, the best thing to do is to treat yourself in the same way you’d treat a friend going through a similar situation.
For example, when someone you love doesn’t get their dream gig or goes through a breakup, Martin reminds us that we support them by offering different perspectives like suggesting the job went to an internal candidate or the relationship might not have been a good match.
“Whatever those scenarios might be, it’s often not that hard to help other people do it, where we see there’s other possibilities than the one I’m assuming to be true,” Martin says.
But if you see a pattern in your rejections, it’s may be a good time for some self-reflection.
If you continue being turned down for jobs, then giving your resume a once-over can’t hurt. Or if a potential suitor repeatedly ghosts you and then comes crawling back, then it’s probably a sign that they’re not the one for you.
“We need to be open to the potential that we could be doing something better in these situations, but it’s a balance,” Martin says.
At the same time, Martin points out that you shouldn’t make changes just to accommodate others. “We also want to stay true to ourselves and not feel like we have to bend over backwards to be whatever somebody else wants us to be,” Martin adds.