“Do not waste yourself in rejection; do not bark against the bad, but chant the beauty of the good.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

Rejection doesn’t feel good to any of us. But, some of you respond better to being refused than others do. It’s easier for you to separate out who you are, personally, from the rejecting person or circumstance, as you are secure. Because, no only means no, you don’t feel unlovable, unaccepted, or disrespected. Of course, you may hurt temporarily, but you do not waste yourself in barking against the bad.

In contrast, some of you respond to rejection more deeply than the average person. You anxiously expect, readily perceive, and intensely respond to rejection as a total dislike of you. To you, rejection is saying that everything about you is wrong.

If you experience rejection in this powerful way, you may have a clinical syndrome called Rejection Sensitivity (RS) that can undermine your well being. To you, being refused in love, career, or friendship means something is wrong with you. You have difficulty separating out self-worth and lovability from having a desire or need unreturned. In your mind, if you were only better looking, more agreeable, powerful, wittier, smarter, or thinner, you would have what you want.

Undeniably, it’s hard to be you, as you turn rejection against yourself, which makes you prone to long stretches of self-hatred, depression, and physical and emotional fatigue. To protect yourself, you have learned to avoid people and situations that put you at risk of refusal. This may work in the short-term. But, you are avoiding the exact experiences that you need to learn how to relate healthily.

Rejection Sensitivity

Sensitivity to rejection isn’t just a passing fancy of the self-help movement. It’s a serious symptom of the mood and personality disorders that results in an inability to regulate emotions, exert self-control, and the tendency to give too much personal meaning to life happenings that it undermines the ability to cope with frustrating experiences.

RS often accompanies disorders of mood, like Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) and the Bipolar Disorders (I & II), because, here, the operations of the ego are comprised. Together, medication and psychotherapy strengthen the biology so that the brain’s higher processes (the ego’s secondary brain processes) can be accessed. However, the effectiveness of treatment depends upon the strength of one’s identity and ego prior to the onset of the mood condition. If a personality disorder (Avoidant,Narcissistic, or Borderline) accompanies the mood condition, and has rejection sensitivity as a main symptom component, then, treatment effectiveness may be lessened.

AvoidantNarcissistic, and Borderline persons take rejection very hard. It’s a life and death situation, for them, and, sadly, sometimes literally. For example, having a romantic interest reject them, or being turned down for a job is taken so badly that they feel their lives are over, and that they have nothing for which to live. You hear all or nothing type statements, like “I can’t live without this person.” Or, “Now, I have nothing to live for.”  You may call them drama queens, as their emotional turmoil can feel like a Shakespearean tragedy. But, their upsets have less to do with creating drama for the sake of drama than it does a lowering of their fragile self-esteem. The shallow-rooted eucalyptus tree personifies their sense of self. Every look and communication has the ability to overwhelm and knock them down. If you find yourself in this description, let’s toughen you up, so that no amount of rejection can uproot you.

Chant the Beauty of Your Good

Learn how to stand firm in the face of rejection. You have to know three realities of rejection that will free you of its control and let you chant the beauty of your good, no matter the ill winds that come your way.

  1. Rejection is state of meaning. It’s true, you can be denied by a person or a situation. But, you decide what rejection means to you, by the way you explain the situation to yourself. Many of you tell me that you are “destroyed” and “can’t go on living” because your affection was unreturned or you didn’t get into the school or job of choice. When you assign life and death meaning to being refused, you have nowhere to go but broken and down. You’ve hemmed yourself into a trap by meanings that uproot you completely. Here, I’m talking less about being falsely happy or positive and more about changing the way that you speak about a situation, by the meaning you assign to it. You will be able to handle rejection, when you start to describe it in ways that don’t destroy your self-esteem. Turn a statement like, “I am destroyed and can’t go on living” into “I’m hurting, but not broken or down”. Your whole demeanor changes just by the meaning you give to the experience. Test it out for yourself.
  2. Rejection is a state of bodyResearch shows that a nervous system that is braced on threat is also fixed on perceiving rejection. You perceive rejection like a ferocious tiger was running toward you. But, instead of fighting the situation you fear, you have learned to avoid people and situations that put you at risk of rejection. You may feel safe in the short-term. But, in the long-term, you are avoiding the exact experiences that you need to reduce your fear and grow in the process (Science Daily, Pain Sensitivity and Social Rejection). To be resilient in the face of rejection, you need to lower your brain and body response to perceived threat. Deep breathing and relaxation exercises are vital to achieving this goal. Learning how to deep breathe through the Alternate Nostril Breathing exercise is an excellent way to lower your response to threat.
  3. Rejection informs you as to what you need to grow. Everything that happens to you is grist for personal development, including rejecting experiences. Perhaps, the toughest and also best learning experiences are those in which needs and desires are frustrated. If everything went your way, you’d have little to make you stop and think about what you really need to learn and grow. What a shallow person you’d be, indeed. Thus, carpe diem! Seize the moments of rejection to learn about yourself. Ask yourself, “How might this experience benefit me?” rather than crying over how it has ruined your life. So many of you let the details of the rejecting experience fill up your mind and heart so that there’s no space for you to self-reflect. Why this occurred dominates your reasoning process, rather than what can I learn from this experience. And, sadly, you do this to the point of depression and exhaustion. Know that we’ve all been there and understand your pain. But, to move beyond rejection, you have to stop asking why and start asking how you can benefit psychologically and spiritually from being denied.

Remember, it is less important that you may have started out vulnerable to rejection than knowing how to be resilient in spite of it. Thus, the next time you are denied, chant the beauty of your good, by letting these three truths of rejection guide your thinking and actions. Even if you have to fake it at the start, if you let these truths guide you, you’ll grow more secure and resist being knocked down.


By: Deborah Khoshaba, Psy.D.