Want to be happy and successful? Build your rejection muscle

Everyone faces rejection at some point in their lives; it is how we deal with it that makes the difference

Man leaving distraught woman; rejection

Anna couldn’t believe the recent phone message from her boyfriend. He said he wouldn’t be calling her anymore. He said it was over. Eventually, after coaxing from a friend, Anna contacted me for life-coaching. We began the process of helping Anna understand how to move past this rejection, toward a more fulfilling life.

Most people will experience rejection multiple times in life. Researchers have found that people who’ve endured rejection experience biases in attention, expectations, and interpretations to further rejection. In order to counteract these reactions, you’ll need to first understand your reactions. Revisiting your ideas about rejection may even help you appreciate its role in your growth.

Why does rejection make me feel this way?

Rejection can be direct [such as being told no] or indirect [such as being excluded]. Humans are wired to seek group inclusion, and thereby we are also wired to experience pain when we’re excluded. Rejection, therefore, often feels painful, even if there’s a logical explanation for the rejection.

In response to painful emotions, your behaviours can range from withdrawal, self-isolation, face-saving attempts, to more aggressive tendencies toward the rejecter.

Humans are wired to seek group inclusion, and thereby we are also wired to experience pain when we’re excluded

How can rejection manifest at home and outside?

At home, a family member might exclude you or say, “No” to your request for something. They may reject you by denying companionship, conversation, closeness or intimacy. Family members may disagree with you, express disapproval or admonish you.

Outside the home, you may experience rejection of your ideas, your work product, your invitation, your application, your gesture for greater connection, and more.

How to deal with rejection?

Instead of letting it control you, you can use rejection to serve you. Let’s see how you can do this.

1. Stay aware

  • Realise that you’re not the only person in the world who has ever been rejected. Rejection is a typical part of almost every person’s life. We cannot inhale without exhaling. We will receive some yeses and some noes in life.
  • Acknowledge what you’re feeling. Identify the emotions you’re experiencing, such as relief, sadness, anger, fear, shame, disgust, surprise, or guilt. Labelling your emotions can help you to understand your experience, express yourself, and move toward feeling better.
  • Observe what you believe. Consider that not everyone feels the same way, following a rejection. For example, if you tell yourself that it is horrible to be rejected, you are likely to feel despair, depression and hopelessness. On the contrary, if you tell yourself that it is unpleasant to be rejected but it isn’t really horrible, you’ll feel less poorly. Be aware of what you are saying to yourself about being rejected, because it will determine how you respond emotionally. Also, notice how you are acting; you may be making things worse by denying the rejection. Instead, choose to centre yourself and seek new understanding through awareness.
  • Seek support. Sometimes speaking with a supportive friend or family member can help. If confidentiality and objectivity are important, consider a therapist or life-coach.
  • Develop your other interests. Initially, diving more deeply into other interests may just be a distraction from your emotional pain. However, over time, you may find yourself absorbed, entertained and fulfilled.

Be aware of what you are saying to yourself about being rejected, because it will determine how you respond emotionally

2. Stay away from…

  • Awfulising. This is when you tell yourself that being rejected is awful, horrible, terrible, and the worst thing in the world. Usually, if you stop and pause, you will be able to find something worse than the rejection you’re experiencing.
  • Quick fixes. Wanting to have instant relief from pain can prevent you from learning from the rejection. Instead of seeking a band aid solution, search for the lesson in the experience. For example, Anna learned that she had a tendency to behave in a needy fashion, relying on her boyfriend to “make” her happy. At first, Anna had low frustration tolerance, so she increased her attempts to seek comfort from her unwilling boyfriend. In coaching, Anna learned that taking time to focus on her own self-fulfilment decreased her neediness. In time, she developed better relationships because she had traded her neediness for happy self-reliance.
  • Self-rating. If you’re thinking that you’re unworthy, inadequate, bad or unlovable, you’re probably people rating. Self-rating is when you rate your entire being based upon one dimension; in this case, that of being rejected. You are not your circumstances, though your circumstances may serve to teach you. Rather than telling yourself the worst things about yourself, consider using this as an opportunity to improve your ability to self-soothe and grow.
  • High expectations of others. You may think, for example, that someone should have accepted you into his or her group; this will lead to anger at that person. Why should he or she accept you? In fact, the reality before you shows you that he or she didn’t accept you. Even though he or she could accept you, he or she has the freedom to say no. There is no law of the universe that forces him or her to act as you desire. Also, consider that if everyone were to accept you, then acceptance would mean nothing. Instead, it means something to you because not everyone accepts you, and so you can appreciate acceptance.
  • High expectations of yourself. You may think that you should please everyone and earn their approval. This is a recipe for sadness because you cannot control others, and demanding that you do so forces you to behave as a sycophant. When you are not there for yourself, you will feel a deep loneliness. Instead of approval-seeking, be true to yourself. Dance your own dance; march to your own beat. Those who are your match will move toward you, and those who are not will step aside.

If you’re thinking that you’re unworthy, inadequate, bad or unlovable, you’re probably people rating

3. Train yourself

What if you used rejection as an opportunity for greater self-reliance and social-mastery?

  • Build your “rejection muscles”. If you’re not great with rejection, you might consider building your rejection muscles so that you’re less afraid of experiencing it. How can you build this muscle? One idea is to practise getting rejected. For example, if you were to make four slightly unreasonable requests a day for 25 days, you will survive up to 100 rejections. At home, you could ask for someone to do your chores, ask to spend extra time with a busy family member, or ask for something you want but usually avoid requesting. Outside the home, you could request favours, apply for jobs that are slightly out of reach, ask for discounts, or invite a new person to join you for dinner. Practise accepting no as an answer; celebrate the victory of earning another no, and move to the next request.
  • Embrace a new way of viewing rejection. Practise a new way of talking to yourself about rejection. Here are some examples:
    1. This rejection means that I was brave enough to take a risk.
    2. I didn’t have the promotion before I asked for it, so I lost nothing by being rejected for the promotion. At least now, they know I’m interested in being promoted.
    3. Applying for this job gave me practice, even if I didn’t get the job. Each time I apply and interview, I get better and less afraid.
    4. Reaching out to my family member didn’t get me the result I wanted, but at least my family member knows I tried.
    5. I didn’t lose anything by asking! I gained practice for the next time!

This article was first published in the November 2015 issue of Complete Wellbeing.

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