• Lisa S. Larsen, PsyD

Dealing with Rejection

Rejection by another person, or even organization, can be an especially hard experience. Even if we are mentally healthy, we are social animals. We are hard-wired to want and need others’ approval and love, and in the past our survival depended on it. Now, we just want that approval and love because it helps us get along with others better and makes us feel good about ourselves. Perhaps that need to survive is what lingers with us now, in spite of our vastly more complicated social systems and circumstances. It’s perfectly fine to want others’ approval, but when that desire is too strong, it can cause problems for us.

There is also the missed opportunity of being part of a desired activity, whether it is getting a job, hanging out with cool people, having fun, being invited to parties we’d enjoy, etc. When you combine that with the sting of not being part of the “in” group, rejection can bring us back to being kids on the school yard when the “cool” kids didn’t want to play with us. It can hurt even more when the rejection is at the hands of our family members. Nonetheless, rejection is still the same: someone else has determined that there just isn’t a fit between you and them.

sad woman by herself
Rejection can lead to isolation, melancholy and low self esteem, but it does not have to.

The first thing to remember is not to take this personally. Yeah right, you might say. How do I not take this personally? Good question. There are a number of ways to not take it personally. First, remember that you are the same person whether accepted or rejected by others, and that your inherent worth is unchanged. Yes, you might feel cruddy right now in the heat of the moment, but that doesn’t have anything to do with how good or bad you are. Only you can determine your worth in absolute terms.

Knowing, liking and accepting yourself is a subject for another post, but basically it boils down to this: you have talents, gifts and limitations like anyone else on the planet. You might shine in one area where I am really not as talented, and vice versa. The more you know and accept these areas within yourself, the easier it is to gauge that against what others are saying (or not saying) about you. Other people might have a different idea of what they want in a friend, lover, employee, etc. that doesn’t make what you have to offer subpar; it’s just not a match.

Second on your agenda is remembering that not everyone has to like you, just as you don’t like everyone you come across. The idea that you can please everyone uniformly is not only unrealistic, it can make you subservient or angry, neither of which is socially attractive or effective. There are people with whom you will mesh well, and those who make your tummy turn when you're in their presence. That’s OK! It’s liberating when you think of it. You don’t have to be perfect for them and vice versa. If you want to take it a step further, YOU are just right the way you are and so are they -- it's just that your perfection and theirs don't mix well.

Finally, focus your attention on the people who you do enjoy. You might not have a large circle of close friends yet, but that can change over time. It is vital to remember that relationship-building takes time and effort. You can’t just walk into a room and have an instant friend. I don’t care what Hollywood movies try to portray at times – not very many people have that instant charisma, and if they do, I’m often a little wary of them. There’s nothing wrong with pursuing friendship with people, but don’t let your ego get mangled in the process.

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