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Understanding and Overcoming Rejection

Each one of us has felt some rejection in our lives. Rejection is a part of everyday life, but some rejections are harder than others. Whether professional, family-related, or romantic, rejection can be painful. Rejection is the act of pushing something or someone away, so it is no wonder that it brings up feelings of shame, sadness, and grief.

In business, we may have been turned down for a promotion or investment, or had our ideas shot down or ignored. Most of us have received rejection letters or been denied the grant we've applied for. In turn, we may take it personally and suffer from not being totally accepted. Because human beings desire social acceptance, rejection can incite negative feelings.

Fear of Rejection

The feeling of rejection is believed to have developed as an evolutionary tool to alert early humans who were at risk for being ostracized from the tribe. A painful rejection from those in the tribe would likely encourage a person to modify any problematic behavior in order to avoid further rejection and ostracism from the tribe. Those who were able to avoid further rejection were able to more likely survive. In this way, humans have evolved to experience rejection as painful.

Today, many people isolate themselves and hold back from connecting because they are afraid of being rejected. Fear or sensitivity to rejection can cause someone to pull away and this can lead to feelings of loneliness, anxiety, and depression.

Those who are more resilient to the psychological effects of rejection are more likely to recover from the deep feelings of disappointment resulting from rejection. We can learn resilience skills to cope with the negative feelings that hold us back from moving forward in building our business.

How Does Rejection Affect Us?

Not only does rejection cause psychological pain and suffering, but research suggests that being ostracized is linked to physical pain and somatic symptoms. In many languages, the word “pain” refers to both physical and psychological distress. It is often said that one dies of a broken heart. There is now empirical evidence to support this idea.

When we receive rejection, almost immediately a cascade of neurochemicals flood our bodies. In turn, the human body responds with inflammation. Over time, the inflammatory response can contribute to the onset of autoimmune disorders, heart disease, and other somatic issues.

Rejection is an emotion most people try to avoid. The fear of being ostracized can keep us from taking necessary risks in many types of relationships including potential successful business relationships. When these connections are thwarted, it can hold us back from our true potential.

It is important to point out that constructive criticism is not rejection. Criticism is a form of feedback that depends on a number of factors including the situation, the deliverer of the criticism, your respective agendas, fears, and motivations. Receiving feedback in a constructively critical manner may be difficult, but it does not mean that one is being rejected. It may take a moment of reflectivity to know the difference.

How to Work Through Feelings of Rejection

When we experience rejection, it is natural to want to get away and/or push away the unpleasant feelings of discomfort and shame. An immediate tendency is to build walls and shrink back from our friends, family, business associates and so forth. However, if we sincerely want to work through the rejection, we must consciously face the feelings and allow ourselves to suffer the negative emotions.

In therapy, the unpleasant feelings can be explored and connections to earlier rejections (and our earlier responses) can be examined. We can also engage with the rejection and take steps to break down and metabolize these feelings by:


Keep a journal of the roller coaster of emotions you may be having. Name the specific uncomfortable hurt feelings. Actually, any creative act (painting, sketching, dancing, etc.) counts as a way to work with the discomfort and engage our bodies in our quest for healing.

Get your heart rate up.

Engaging in aerobic exercise is a form of self-care. It is the number one best way to relieve stress! A brisk walk or a boxing class will boast many health benefits, including feeling stronger and more clear-headed.

Connect with your community.

Our community can be our family, our friend group, or our business buddies. When the tendency is to shrink back and avoid social contact, push through that “wall” and allow others to nurture you.

Confront the inner dialogue.

Many people have an inner voice that tells them they are unworthy, unsuccessful, and incompetent— especially when we have been ostracized or rejected. Garner the strength to confront that voice and replace it with another story that acknowledges our gifts and strengths versus our struggles.

Cultivate Resilience

Everyone experiences rejection at some point in their lives, especially individuals who decide to start a business. Developing resilience skills can make all the difference when we are turned down, criticized, or outright rejected. Resilience is a multi-dimensional concept, thus, there is more than one way to build it. A person can often develop and strengthen resilience by doing the following:

Identify a support network.

It is often even more important to have help from others during times of difficulty. A support network might include friends, family members, fellow business associates, and support groups.

Keep things in perspective.

Situations may seem worse or be more challenging to face particularly when one is already overwhelmed. It may be helpful to consider a broader context and to avoid catastrophizing. Recalling other times when circumstances were difficult may help people to realize a current situation is not quite as bad as it may seem. Remembering past challenges and rejections, and how they were addressed, may also strengthen one’s faith in the ability to cope

Accept change as a part of life.

Adverse situations may prevent some people from living the life they had imagined. Acknowledging a change in circumstances, rather than focusing on the could have been, may be a helpful step in the formulation of realistic plans for the future.

Remember self-care.

Recognize personal needs and feelings is believed to be an important step in cultivating resilience. Allow time for exercise, relaxation, and get plenty of rest. These self-care guidelines can improve mental and physical well-being and help people become better able to handle difficult situations.

Maintain hope.

The ability to remain optimistic can be an important component of resilience. Rather than allowing one negative event to completely change one’s outlook, it may be helpful to remember there are still good times to come. Sometimes the most tragic events can bring out compassion and courageousness. Focusing on those aspects of a situation may help shift some focus away from the painful situation and allow hope to flourish.

All human beings long to be wanted, valued, and accepted. We often feel the pain of rejection as it is a common (but challenging) experience in love relationships, family systems, friendships, and in the building of a business. Making meaning out of a painful rejection can be life-changing. Know that you are resilient. If you commit to strengthen your resiliency skills, the next time you experience a set-back won’t feel so overwhelming.


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