How Does Frequent Rejection Affect A Person?

Medically reviewed by Andrea Brant, LMHC
Updated April 30, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

From not getting the job you wanted to being turned down for a date, rejection can hurt. However, it’s a normal part of life that virtually everyone will experience from time to time, so developing healthy ways to cope with it can be an important life skill. Let’s take a closer look at how frequent rejection can affect a person’s mental health and overall well-being and then examine some coping strategies to try.

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Heal from past rejection

The science behind how we experience rejection

It may not be surprising to anyone who has felt the sting of interpersonal rejection before that the brain experiences this type of pain similarly to the way it does physical pain. In fact, both are processed in the same area of the brain—the anterior cingulate cortex. Some theories suggest that this strong human response to rejection is due to our evolutionary roots. In the earlier days of our species, being rejected socially meant that survival became far less likely. This may be why social belonging is such a deep human need, even today.

Individuals may also experience rejection differently depending on their unique traits and experiences. Some people who are naturally more sensitive or who have a history of social rejection or rejection-related trauma, such as neglect, may have additional trouble coping with it later in life. Certain mental health conditions could also impact the way a person handles rejection. For example, someone with social anxiety disorder—a phobia of being watched and judged by others—could experience symptoms at even the possibility or perception of being rejected.

Rejection sensitivity

It’s also worth noting that some people may have a psychological trait that could predispose them to be more deeply affected by rejection. It’s known as rejection sensitivity, and it can be defined as a heightened fear of rejection, strong emotional responses to rejection, and the tendency to perceive rejection even when it is not present. This trait is especially common in individuals with certain mental illnesses and forms of neurodivergence, such as depression, borderline personality disorder, autism spectrum disorder, and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). People with high rejection sensitivity are more likely to feel frequently rejected and may struggle to form or maintain healthy social relationships as a result. 

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Potential effects of frequent rejection

One of the most noticeable effects of constant rejection is often its damage to a person's self-esteem. When rejected, especially repeatedly, a person may come to question their worth or abilities. This can lead to feelings of inadequacy and low self-worth, which can eventually translate into a sense of isolation and loneliness and may even develop into clinical depression. Some people may lash out in anger in response to being rejected, while others could develop people-pleasing tendencies in an effort to be accepted. Still others may withdraw socially even more as a result of embarrassment or shame, which can exacerbate negative feelings and harm.

Frequent rejection can also influence a person's self-concept and personal identity. When repeatedly rejected, an individual may internalize these experiences and believe that something is inherently wrong with them. This can lead to a distorted self-image and difficulty understanding their true worth and capabilities, which can lead to other negative mental health outcomes and interpersonal difficulties.

In addition to these mental health effects, frequent rejection could also impact a person's physical health. Feeling rejected and disconnected often could put a person in a state of chronic stress, which can increase one’s risk of a variety of health problems over time—from heart disease and diabetes to substance use disorder and arthritis.

Tips for managing the effects of frequent rejection

Developing healthy coping strategies is typically essential for managing the effects of frequent rejection. A few examples include:

  • Spend less time on social media. People can be harsh and even cruel online, and spending lots of time on social media can expose you to more of these behaviors. If you notice that your internet use is making you feel more rejected or isolated, you may want to cut back.
  • Learn from it if possible, but don’t ruminate. Though there’s not always a takeaway from an instance of rejection, some can be learning experiences. Being curious about these opportunities for growth can be helpful on your personal journey; just try not to ruminate endlessly on the situation, which could further exacerbate your stress or sadness.
  • Challenge negative self-talk. Frequent rejection could make you internalize false messages of worthlessness, which you could exacerbate with negative self-talk. Next time you realize you’re being harsh on yourself, you might try to pause, gather a sense of self-compassion, and say something affirming and kind to yourself instead.
  • Lean on social support. If you do have some social support in your life, such as family or friends, leaning on them when you feel rejected could be helpful. They can remind you of your value and worth and offer you a sense of belonging and acceptance.

When to seek out the support of a professional 

Although being rejected frequently can feel isolating, compassionate support is available. Through therapy, you can have a safe space to express and process your emotions, address any lingering hurt from past rejection, and learn healthy tools to increase your resilience. 

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Heal from past rejection

There are lots of reasons why a person may not be able to regularly attend in-person therapy appointments, from a busy schedule that doesn’t leave time for commuting to a sense of discomfort at the thought of meeting with a provider in person. Whatever the reason may be, more and more people are turning to online therapy as a convenient and effective alternative. With a platform like BetterHelp, you can get matched with a licensed therapist who you can meet with via phone, video call, and/or in-app messaging from anywhere you have an internet connection. Research suggests that online and in-person therapy tend to offer similar outcomes in most cases.

Takeaway

Interpersonal rejection can negatively impact a person’s self-esteem, mental health, and overall well-being, particularly if it’s experienced frequently and not managed in a healthy way. Spending less time on social media, practicing positive self-talk, and meeting with a therapist are a few suggestions for managing the difficult feelings often associated with rejection.

Is rejection negatively impacting you?
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