A Therapist Explains How To Not Let Rejection Bring You Down
We can all benefit from 'rejection-proofing' our mental outlook.
By Jourdan Travers, LCSW | September 1, 2022
Many clients come to therapy with severe wounds of rejection. They may say things like, "I simply don't understand why anyone would ever treat someone that way" or "what have I done to deserve this?" or "why can't I just feel wanted for once?".
It's an unfortunate place to be as these feelings can be extremely demotivating and isolating. But rejection sensitivity is not an insurmountable problem. In this article, I'll talk about three ways to rejection-proof your attitude.
#1. Keep your focus on the present and the future, not the past
There's one thing that all of our rejection experiences have in common: they happened in the past. Whether it was a relationship that didn't work out, a job interview that went south, or a test that did not go as planned — it's over and done with.
While that may sound dismissive (sure, these things don't feel great and can certainly hurt in the present), it's the honest truth. It's up to you to leave the past in the past.
Psychologists talk about people having different "time perspectives." Some of us, by personality, focus more on the present and the future. Others are more nostalgic, preferring to spend their mental energy reminiscing about good times.
Other people fall into the unfortunate category of 'past-negatives.' These people tend to replay past experiences that are hurtful or anxiety-provoking, such as the times they experienced rejection. These are often the people who have had a debilitating experience with rejection. They come to fear rejection to the point that they shut themselves off from others or they pass up potentially rewarding experiences because they don't think it will work out for them.
But the only thing separating someone who has a 'past-negative' focus from being more future-focused or present-focused is themselves. Your thoughts and emotions flow from your behaviors. If you do things to focus your behaviors on the present and future (for example, incorporating mindfulness exercises into your daily routine, sticking to a strict work-out regimen, engaging in solution-focused psychotherapy, or setting ambitious goals for yourself), you may find your thoughts drifting less and less to those hurtful places of rejection until they eventually evaporate from your consciousness altogether.
#2. Learn to spot imaginary rejections
We all experience rejection; it's part of life. Some people, however, are so hyper-sensitive to it that they start seeing rejection where none exists. They may assume someone's body language conveyed a sign of irritation or boredom when, in fact, none existed. They might, without basis, infer someone's opinion about them by hearing it second or third-hand from someone else.
Duke psychologist Mark Leary, an expert on rejection sensitivity, has this to say about our faulty perceptions of rejection:
"We tend to have negative rather than neutral reactions to learning that someone feels neutral about us. What this means is that most people probably go through life feeling more rejected than they actually are. Furthermore, a history of actual rejection — by neglectful parents or rejecting peers, for example — seems to increase this tendency. Viewed in this way, the first step in addressing one's concerns with acceptance and rejection is to examine the evidence as objectively as possible, trying not to either sugar-coat others' reactions or read too much negativity into them."
In other words, be sure to fact-check yourself the next time you perceive rejection in an ambiguous situation. Don't be afraid to run the scenario by a friend or family member who might be able to offer an unbiased perspective on the situation. And, try your best to err on the side of inferring acceptance, not rejection.
#3. Count your wins as well as your losses
As humans, we have a tendency to preoccupy ourselves with negative information. This mode of thinking has an evolutionary basis — focusing on the potential threats in our environment kept us safe in uncertain conditions.
Unfortunately, it can cause us to misperceive how many slights, insults, and rejections we actually experience. One way to combat this mode of thinking is to keep track of your acceptances as well as your rejections. Life gives and life takes away. Make sure you celebrate and savor your victories at least as much as you lament your losses. This can help you keep life's inevitable rejections in context.
None of us want to feel like our experience with rejection and failure is guiding our life. To protect yourself from falling into this trap, (1) remember to focus more on the present and future and less on the past, (2) learn to fact-check your imaginary rejections, and (3) keep in mind that you likely have a win (or two) for every loss. Finally, it's important to cultivate a strong support structure (i.e., friends, family, resources, etc.) that allows you to bounce back from life's inevitable setbacks quickly.