Rejection

Our sense of rejection tells us that we care about the other person and that we care about some part of ourselves or our activities. The other element I think that contributes to how intensely we feel rejection is how it is done.

Tyron commented on a previous post of mine asking if I would write something on rejection. Here’s what I have to say — I hope it is useful to you.

We don’t like rejection, and yet it can be a bit puzzling why we don’t. To explain why I’m puzzled I’d like to tell a brief story.

Imagine a body-builder walks into the office of a body oriented psychotherapist. The body builder has been working out for years and so has ‘good development’ in the eyes of other body builders (his musculature is well defined and so on). The body oriented psychotherapist tells the body builder that he is ‘armoured’ in the eyes of body oriented psychotherapists (the musculature doesn’t allow free flowing expression of emotion and so on). Would the body builder experience this as a kind of rejection?

If it is experienced as rejection, what is being rejected? The muscular development remains the same before and after the body oriented psychotherapist’s comment. The body builder is still the same person.

If I was to imagine myself as this bodybuilder I would perhaps feel that my whole prior commitment was being questioned. If so, I would experience the body oriented psychotherapist’s comment as a rejection.

Could I imagine not perceiving the comment as a rejection? I think so. I might dismiss the body oriented psychotherapist as not worth listening to — perhaps because he has poor muscular development, for instance.

Why We Feel Rejection

It seems to me that the sting of rejection is in proportion to how much we care about the person rejecting us. Our feeling of rejection shows how much we care about the other person.

I think too that what is being rejected makes a difference. There is a difference between criticising our actions and our selves. Being told we have done a bad job, or even that we have done something bad, is different to being told that we are a bad person.

The intensity of the feeling of rejection depends not only on how much we care about the other person, but also on how much we care about what is being criticised.

If you were to say that a painting I have done is rubbish, I would probably agree with little trouble. (I’m not much good at painting — what happens in layers of paint I find baffling.) To say this to someone who is a painter may be very different. If you were to criticise my writing it may bother me more. We have a sense that some things are more important to us than others.

For many of us our sexuality is very close to our sense of who we are. Rejection of an invitation to go out can be felt very deeply. Rejection of an invitation to collaborate on a work project may be felt less deeply — even though the project may take up much more of our lives than a night out.

Our sense of rejection tells us that we care about the other person and that we care about some part of ourselves or our activities. The other element I think that contributes to how intensely we feel rejection is how it is done. Criticism can be voiced kindly or harshly. Having someone ignore me is different to them engaging in a tirade detailing what they dislike about me. It makes a difference to me if I think someone is being cruel or unfair.

Responding to Rejection

Rejecting the Rejection

With some people or on some things about us this will be easy. You can even have a kind of blanket policy that applies to most people along the lines of, “What you think of me is none of my business”. It is very unlikely that this will apply to everyone in your life.

Learning From It

When the rejection hurts, we have the opportunity to learn about one or more of:

  • what I value in the relationship or other person
  • what I value about what I do and who I am
  • what I value about how people are treated

Dealing With the Feelings

I think it is OK to distract yourself with stuff while you calm down and allow a little time to pass (others disagree with me of course).

It’s OK to indulge yourself when you are hurt. Do nice stuff. You don’t have to hurt yourself because someone else hurt you.

It helps me enormously to have people to talk to. It is better if they know me well and care for me deeply. Sometimes they just listen. Sometimes they tell me that the rejection or criticism was mistaken. Sometimes they support me in changes I want to make.

Dealing with the feelings may be necessary to have the space to learn from the rejection.

I hope this exploration of rejection is helpful. I’d like to hear about your experience. What kind of rejection do you feel most keenly, and how do you respond to it?

All clinical material on this site is peer reviewed by one or more clinical psychologists or other qualified mental health professionals. This specific article was originally published by on and was last reviewed or updated by Dr Greg Mulhauser, Managing Editor on .

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