How To Deal With Rejection: Strategies For Emotional Resilience

Medically reviewed by Nikki Ciletti, M.Ed, LPC
Updated April 30, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Rejection can hurt, whether it’s social, romantic, or professional. It’s a part of life, however, so learning healthy ways to manage the feelings associated with this type of experience can be important for overall well-being. First, let’s take a closer look at the evolutionary and neurological basis for why rejection hurts, and then we’ll examine a few tips for transforming the experience of rejection from a setback to a stepping stone.

Learn strategies for managing rejection in therapy

Understanding why rejection hurts

The emotional response most of us have to rejection seems to be fundamentally rooted in our evolutionary history as humans. In the early stages of our evolution, being part of a social group was crucial for safety and survival. Consequently, our brains likely developed with a strong propensity for social bonding and a need for acceptance throughout the millennia. Rejection presents a perceived threat to our deep-seated need for social inclusion, triggering a significant emotional response.

When we experience rejection, our brain seems to process it similarly to the way it does physical pain. In fact, neuroimaging studies have suggested that physical pain and social rejection activate the same area of the brain. This region—called the anterior cingulate cortex—is associated specifically with the “distress” component of pain, proving that the sting of rejection is real and can be intense.

From a psychological perspective, rejection has the potential to affect one’s self-esteem and sense of belonging—two fundamental elements of human motivation according to Maslow's hierarchy of needs. When rejected, an individual may question their worthiness and doubt their ability to maintain positive relationships. This can lead to a spiral of negative self-evaluation and increased sensitivity to future rejection. 

To balance these feelings, it can be important to remember that experiencing rejection is a universal part of human life. It can also lead to personal growth and resilience in some cases, potentially acting as a catalyst for self-reflection and adaptation. Some research even suggests that moderate levels of adversity, like occasional rejection, may help strengthen our coping mechanisms and problem-solving abilities. In other words, finding healthy and productive ways to handle rejection could help you set yourself up for success in the future.

Tips for handling rejection and building resilience

The way you may naturally respond to rejection can depend on many factors, such as the context, the gravity of the situation, and various components of your mental health. That said, equipping yourself with positive coping strategies for instances or feelings of rejection could help you move through these challenges in a healthy way and stay resilient.

Embrace your emotions

First, understand that feeling upset in response to rejection is normal and valid. Rather than trying to suppress feelings of disappointment, sadness, or frustration, embracing them and showing yourself compassion can be an important part of the recovery or healing process. Emotional wounds require attention and care just as physical wounds do. Emotions in general are the brain's way of signaling that something significant has occurred, and acknowledging them can allow for more effective coping.

Practice self-care

Engaging in self-care practices after experiencing rejection is often another important strategy. Self-care isn't just a modern buzzword; instead, it's typically a key component of maintaining mental and physical health. After facing rejection, self-care could mean ensuring you're getting enough sleep, eating nutritious foods, engaging in physical activity, setting aside time for activities you enjoy, and spending time with friends or family. Activities like these can help recharge your emotional battery and bolster your resilience in the face of adversity.

Getty/AnnaStills

Turn rejection into a learning experience

By adopting a growth mindset, you can position yourself to view rejection not as a failure or an endpoint but as an opportunity for learning and improvement. This perspective encourages resilience and adaptability, both of which may be key traits for personal and professional success.

Consider a job interview that didn't result in a job offer, for example. While it's certainly disappointing, this experience could present many learning opportunities. You can reflect on the interview process, the feedback provided, and your overall performance. Perhaps there were questions that you struggled to answer effectively, or maybe you felt unprepared for some aspects of the interview. Recognizing these areas can allow you to target them for improvement, potentially enhancing your performance in future interviews.

Furthermore, each rejection provides a chance to build emotional intelligence and resilience. Navigating your emotional landscape after rejection may deepen your understanding of yourself and your reactions. Over time, this increased self-awareness could help you manage your responses to rejection more effectively, ultimately turning a negative experience into a catalyst for personal growth.

Maintain your self-worth

While external feedback can be valuable for growth, it's usually important to not equate it directly with your intrinsic value—which is inherent and isn't determined by external factors or other people's opinions. Rejection is often about circumstance and perspective rather than a reflection of your worth. 

Getty
Learn strategies for managing rejection in therapy

When to seek professional support

In some instances, the emotional turmoil caused by rejection may feel too overwhelming to handle alone. In such cases, a therapist can provide effective strategies to help you cope with rejection and build your emotional resilience. For example, they may support you in building self-esteem, reframing experiences of rejection, and sharpening social skills for future encounters.

Sometimes, an experience of rejection can leave a person feeling emotionally sensitive, which can make the prospect of talking about it with a therapist in person seem intimidating. This is an example of a time when online therapy may be a more convenient or comfortable option. A platform like BetterHelp can match you with a licensed provider, and you can meet with them virtually on the phone or via video call. You can receive quality care through either format, as research suggests that online and in-person therapy typically offer similar benefits.

Takeaway

No one is immune to the pain of rejection, but learning to manage this type of common life experience can help promote mental health and emotional resilience. Engaging in self-care, remembering your self-worth, and turning the rejection into a learning experience when possible may all help you move forward. If you find coping on your own to be challenging, you might consider seeking out professional support from a trained therapist.

Is rejection negatively impacting you?
The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. For more information, please read our terms of use.
Get the support you need from one of our therapistsGet started