Coping with rejection

Our resilience when rejected can depend on our childhood experience. Photo by Eric Ward on Unsplash

Rejection is the disregarding of one being by another.  It happens in love relationships, when one party to a relationship decides not to continue in intimate alliance.  It happens at work, when a boss decides not to continue employing an employee.  It happens in all sorts of ways in daily life, when others do not seem to be giving us the importance we have decided we deserve.


Small rejections begin in childhood, when we experience our carers moving away from us for periods of time.  We learn the physical feeling of being let go, and experience the temporary loneliness that it brings.  We learn to cry out, and that crying sometimes brings back the object of our attachment, and sometimes it does not.


From time to time, we experience very important attachments.  These can be to a parent or carer, a close friend, or even to a community.  The attachments are important because we learn to trust them for continuity and wellbeing.  When those attachments are broken, we can experience a huge feeling of loss.  If we are feeling proud, and trying to protect our ego, then the loss is complicated by our own pretence that it doesn’t matter.  We turn it around, and make out that actually we rejected the other.


At some point in our life, we become self-aware enough to be capable of judging ourselves and our behaviour.  We may experience our own behaviour as unhelpful to our own welfare.  For instance, we might fall into addiction.  At such times, we may feel worthless.


At other points in our adult life, we re-encounter small and large rejections similar to those in our childhood.  If our childhood experience of rejection was manageable, and had a flow towards good recovery and replacement, then we are more likely to demonstrate resilience in the face of adult rejections.  However, if our childhood experience of rejection involved unexplained abandonment, or push-pull behaviour that was hard to reconcile, then we may carry this into adulthood.  When others move away from us, we might find it unbearable, and try desperately to pull them back towards us with lies, manipulation, emotional blackmail.  Alternatively, we may give up trying, and assume the world is an uncaring place.

Here are three tips for managing your own feelings of rejection.  Exactly how you choose to cope will depend on your personality and circumstances, but at least here is a guide.


Many people spoil the flow of their own recovery by failing to own their own feelings of loss.  They fly straight into anger, focusing on why the other person’s behaviour was so wrong, and what punishment the other person deserves.  This is a possible survival method, but it has the serious drawback of making us reactive.  Blame makes us the servant of the blamed, since we spend too much mental energy keeping them in the wrong in our minds.  Better to acknowledge the ‘ouch!’ in our own minds, and deal with that.  We can use artistic expression (writing, visual art, music) to express how we feel.  This keeps recovery within our control, instead of making it dependent on the rejector.


When someone rejects you, your attention is temporarily focused on that experience.  You notice the pain, you trace the source of the pain, and you turn towards that source and get angry.  It’s a natural animal response.  However, this can be as silly as putting your hand back into a fire that has just burned it.  It may be better to notice that one resource has removed itself, and set about establishing alternatives.  If it is the end of a friendship or alliance, then seek new friendships or alliances, with the benefit of your recent learning.  If it is the end of a job, then seek new work.


A common reaction to rejection is to try too hard to persuade the onlooker how well you are doing.  But this wastes energy putting on a performance.  We can be honest about the ‘ouch!’, and honest about moving to alternative resources, without ramming it home with false bravado.  Another common reaction is to overdo victimhood – to exaggerate how badly we are doing, in order to provoke the guilt, sympathy or return of the rejector.  This can cause a vicious cycle where the rejectee is locked into demonstrations of suffering as the only way of getting the other’s attention.  If the rejector is not to be trusted, then it may be wiser to remain silent and move on.  If the rejector is trustworthy, then we can be honest, and say it hurt, but that we’re moving on.


We are all rejected at one time or another.  It is the other side of the coin of attachment.  Other beings have other things to do.  We discover that it is not all about us.

When coping with, and recovering from, rejection, try firstly to own your feelings of loss.  It may be a tiny pinprick if someone is dismissive; or significant pain if someone ends a whole relationship.  Acknowledge the ‘ouch!’  Then perhaps increase your focus on alternative sources of support, so that you can rebuild your trusted framework.  Finally, in your communications, try not to exaggerate either how well or how badly you are doing.  Just be yourself.  If you don’t trust the old relationship, remain silent and move on.  If there is still some trust there, openly acknowledge that there was a loss, but still move on.

A final note: this is not to say that rejections cannot be reversed.  Of course they can.  But we will be better placed to renegotiate a rapprochement if we are in touch with our feelings, have other support networks, and stay as open and honest as the situation will allow.