Recovering from Rejection

We all get rejected at different times in our lives. Our lovers unexpectedly break up with us. Friends terminate relationships sometimes without rhyme or reason. The job that seemed a shoe-in was not to be had. The college you banked on accepting you with open arms sends a terse rejection letter.

Rejection hurts whether you are prepared for it or not. There is a whole series of emotions you go through when you are snubbed. These emotions are similar to what one goes through while grieving. At first it is extremely difficult to take in the rejection experience. It often feels like being totally abandoned and left to fend for yourself. Denial is the state that occurs here. The rejection does not feel like it actually happened. It feels surrealistic, a trauma someone else is facing, not you.

The next emotion experienced is rage. You are angry with the person who rejected you. You may feel this anger intently or it may be experienced as more distant. Often the rage becomes self-directed. You express anger at yourself for not being "good enough" for the rejecter. You dwell on second guessing and wondering what could have been. You blame yourself for his leaving and at that point you are indeed broken hearted.

The next stage, as grief expert Elizabeth Kubler Ross explains, is bargaining. You say to yourself, "If I keep living the clean life, she will come back to me." If I stop smoking, I will be reunited with my boyfriend." The next stage is depression when you begin to realize that the person who rejected you is not coming back. This stage is filled with sadness where the tears fall and the longing ache for the rejecter is realized. Bitterness is also part of depression. It is at this point that you feel extremely resentful that you gave so much of yourself to your lover and now he is gone. You also realize that your vision of your former lover is tainted and he is not the virtuous person that you believed him to be. it feels like he bought the heaviest boots he could find and stomped all over your heart.

The final stage is acceptance where you understand that the time to dwell on this loss is over and it is time to move on.

Theses stages don't have any set sequence and you can experience more than one simultaneously. It also takes time to work through rejection. It is not a matter of snapping your fingers in order to instantly remove the pain.

Some folks are so devastated by rejection that they avoid social situations or other settings that may lead to rejection. They learn to not take any risks that even hint at the possibility of becoming emotionally wounded. There lives become safe, but lacking passion and fulfillment.

Other folks attempt to escape the pain of rejection through drugs, alcohol, overwork or other nonproductive means of escape.

Often times the most recent rejection triggers intense memories of earlier rebuffs. Most likely the earlier rejections have not been worked through and resolved. These rejections are experienced as abrupt, horrifying abandonment.

We are not taught by our parents or society at large how to effectively deal with rejection. First of all, we need to be aware that rejection is an essential facet of life. If we take chances and risks like trying out for a play, writing a book, applying to college or asking out the attractive man, there is the distinct possibility that none of these pursuits will work out. Will your feelings be hurt? Of course they will, but if you don't follow your dreams, your life will be restrictive and perhaps most of all, boring.

The second truth about facing rejection is that you can recover from it. However, you will never resolve this loss if you push it away through denial or other self-destructive behavior. You can take the following steps to recover from rejection:

  • Be aware of the different stages of grief you are experiencing. You may be experiencing denial, anger, bargaining, depression, bitterness or acceptance. Knowing what stage you are going through help put your loss in perspective and provide a road map for recovery.
  • Keep repeating to yourself that rejection is part of life and if you continue to pursue your dreams, they will eventually come true. I vividly remember getting stacks of rejection letters from literary agents and publishers. I did feel hopeless at times, but I knew that rejection was as natural as the sun rising and if I kept pursuing my dream of being a published author, it would happen and sure enough it did.
  • Make plans to actively face the pain of rejection by writing about it in a journal, talking to your friends and family. Don't isolate yourself. Talking and writing about your pain are proactive means for reaching resolution, while isolation and silence prevents the pain from being felt and released.
  • Begin a regular exercise program and feel the pain of the rejection eventually move through your body until you feel the weight of it lift and float away. When you are exercising, the endorphins are kicking in and you are able to face rejection in a calm, confident manner that does not occur when you are sedentary.

Author: Bob Livingstone, LCSW, has been a psychotherapist in private practice for almost twenty years. He works with adults, teenagers and children who have experienced traumas such as family violence, neglect and divorce. He works with men around anger issues and adults in recovery from child abuse. He is the author of the critically acclaimed Redemption of the Shattered: A Teenager's Healing Journey through Sandtray Therapy and The Body-Mind-Soul Solution: Healing Emotional Pain through Exercise. For more information visit http://www.boblivingstone.com/.

Reviewed by athealth on February 7, 2014.