How To Cope With Rejection Sensitivity

Medically reviewed by Julie Dodson, MA
Updated April 30, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Being rejected from time to time is a common human experience. Whether it’s from having someone break up with you, not getting an invitation to a party, or not landing a job for which you applied, virtually all of us have experienced the sting of rejection at some time in our lives. It’s rarely easy; after all, researchers suspect that the natural human fear of rejection may be an evolutionary instinct that helped our early ancestors remain part of a group for survival.

That said, it’s also true that some people tend to have a harder time managing rejection than others—and some may even be predisposed to experience an especially strong emotional reaction to it. Below, we’ll explore different factors that may make rejection harder for some, and then we’ll cover strategies and treatment options that could help.

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Coping with feelings of rejection can be difficult

What is rejection sensitivity?

Rejection sensitivity (RS) is a personality trait that may cause a person to react more strongly to perceiving rejection. As an article published by the University of Rochester Medical Center reports, RS has been defined as “an innate neural tendency, a stable but non-permanent personality disposition, a learned response to recurrent rejection, or a combination of these three,” indicating that it’s likely caused by some mix of both nature and nurture

People with a tendency toward RS might be more likely to interpret neutral signs as negative or minor rejections as major. They may have a heightened fear of being abandoned and may be sensitive to even small changes in the behavior of a loved one, often fearing the worst. They may respond to these instances by seeking validation, engaging in self-blame, or self-isolating. While anyone can have the trait of rejection sensitivity, it seems to have an association with certain mental health conditions like depression and it may even represent a risk factor for developing an illness like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

What is rejection sensitive dysphoria?

Rejection sensitive dysphoria (RSD) is not the same as rejection sensitivity. RSD is when someone has an extremely intense emotional response to rejection. Rejection is painful for everyone and even more so for rejection-sensitive individuals, but people with RSD often feel deep and severe distress as a result of it, which can be more difficult to manage. Note also that rejection sensitive dysphoria is most commonly discussed in relation to attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, as many people with ADHD report experiencing symptoms.

RSD is not classified as a diagnosable disorder per the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V) at this time. However, some commonly cited signs of it may include: 

  • Having low self-esteem
  • Abruptly switching moods into extreme sadness or anger when feeling rejected or embarrassed
  • Frequently feeling self-conscious
  • Avoiding situations where there’s a chance of failure
  • Striving for perfection to avoid rejection, which can lead to intense anxiety

What sets RSD apart from the personality trait of rejection sensitivity is the dysphoria component, which refers to a general sense of significant discomfort or unease that can affect a person’s moods and behaviors and can be clinically identified in some cases.

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Tips for managing rejection sensitivity

If your reactions to rejection are causing you distress or negatively impacting your daily functioning or relationships, it’s generally recommended that you meet with a counselor or therapist for support; more on this below. The following tips may also be helpful in managing any level of rejection sensitivity. 

Practice self-compassion

Rejection isn’t always about something we did or didn’t do; sometimes it was completely out of our control. However, for the situations in which you could have benefited from making different decisions, tread carefully. Reviewing choices you may want to make differently next time could help you avoid problems or the repetition of mistakes in the future, but ruminating on the situation and beating yourself up is generally not productive. Looking back on the situation with self-compassion instead may help reduce distress and self-judgment and better help you rebalance in a healthy way after feeling rejected.

Manage stress through healthy habits

Perceiving rejection can activate the stress response, which may affect both the body and the mind. Finding healthy ways to manage stress may help you find emotional equilibrium again and potentially avoid the negative mental and physical health impacts associated with chronic stress. Some examples include:

  • Exercising regularly
  • Eating nutritious foods
  • Getting enough sleep
  • Expressing your emotions through journaling or art
  • Reaching out to friends or family for social support

Believe in your own growth

Research suggests that people’s basic beliefs about themselves can affect how they respond to rejection. That means that individuals who are able to cultivate a sense of flexibility and find ways to learn and grow from the experience may have a better time managing rejection than someone who thinks their personality is fixed. In other words, looking for opportunities for growth and change may help you look back on an experience of rejection with more kindness, gratitude, and helpful takeaways for the future.

Practice mindfulness

When we’re in the throes of a strong emotional reaction, it can be difficult to step back and distance ourselves from our harsh thoughts, which are often untrue. Practicing mindfulness regularly may help you become better able to pause and challenge untrue or unfair thoughts before believing in them and reacting emotionally. In fact, research from 2022 suggests that “dispositional mindfulness” is negatively associated with rejection sensitivity, as is self-compassion. 

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Coping with feelings of rejection can be difficult

Speak with a therapist

Another way to learn to identify and challenge distorted thought patterns is through cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), one of the most popular forms of therapy, which is used to address a variety of mental health conditions and emotional challenges. A cognitive behavioral therapist can also provide you with a safe space for expressing your emotions and learning additional techniques that may help you cope with them. They can support you in addressing any symptoms of a mental health condition or form of neurodivergence that may be impacting your sensitivity to rejection as well. 

If you’re uncomfortable speaking with a provider face-to-face or don’t have time to find an in-person therapist and commute to their office every week, you might find online therapy to be a more convenient option. When you sign up for online care through a platform like BetterHelp, you’ll be matched with a licensed therapist with whom who you can meet via phone, video call, and/or in-app messaging from the comfort of your home. You can generally feel confident in selecting either in-person or virtual therapy according to your preferences, since research suggests that both can offer similar benefits in most cases.

Takeaway

Rejection is generally unpleasant for everyone, but some people may have a harder time with it. Rejection sensitivity and rejection sensitive dysphoria could cause some individuals to experience the pain of rejection more strongly as well as have more extreme emotional reactions as a result. Meeting with a therapist for support is usually recommended in these cases. Practicing self-compassion, mindfulness, and self-care may also make a difference in how you’re able to manage feeling rejected.

Is rejection negatively impacting you?
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