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How to Brush Off Rejection


The potential for rejection is everywhere—friendships, romance, jobs, activities—and it can be a primary reason dysregulated eaters seek comfort in food. Since there’s no way to escape rejection, why not develop ways to help you live with it. 

A Toast to All Rejects teaches us why rejection is so painful and how to manage it more effectively. Cognitive-science professor Barbara Sarnecka and her graduate student team have been changing the experience of professional rejection by encouraging people to “run straight toward it.” At first, that may seem like a crazy idea, but it turns out that it works, especially if we don’t keep rejection a secret but share it with others.

Studies explain that rejection can hurt like the dickens because it “threatens our self-esteem and our sense of belonging.” In fact, we’re highly sensitive to rejection because “many of the same networks in our brain that activate in response to physical pain are also stimulated when we feel rejected by others.” This makes perfect sense: We are hard-wired to connect and want to belong to feel safe and secure, so when someone says they don’t want us, the meaning we make of that is that we aren’t worthy or acceptable and this threatens our sense of feeling okay.

When we feel ashamed, we tend to keep rejections a secret, but that only deepens our sense of wounding and isolation. What helps us overcome our fear and experience with rejection may seem counter-intuitive: sharing our hurt with others to both unburden ourselves and get support and to discover how others deal with similar wounding. Because we often wrongly think that others are succeeding more than we are (or are happier, healthier, wealthier, or talented), talking with others about rejection sets the record straight and helps us realize that everyone experiences rejection.

Rejection makes us feel vulnerable, while sharing removes that sense of vulnerability because we find out we’re all in the same boat. How many times have you told someone about a terrible experience with a doctor and they top it with a horror tale of their own? How often do you confess to someone that you got fired or failed to get a promotion, and they empathize by detailing the roller coaster of their career?

I see the saddest part of fear of rejection every day via clients who won’t leave abusive marriages in fear of not finding anyone better, are un- or underemployed and living with emotionally unhealthy parents because they’re afraid of job rejections and isolate themselves because they’re scared of trying to make friends. Ask yourself this question: What would I do if I weren’t so afraid of rejection? Then do it!