Rejection is often more painful than physical wounds and physical pain. It affects our entire state of being. Rejection can linger and fester like an infected wound. Even mild rejections can send us into feelings of isolation and wound our sense of self-worth. Brain scans show that the very same areas of the brain are activated during feelings of rejection as those areas that experience real physical pain.
Rejection has deep roots. Even in early human history, our survival depended upon inclusion in the social structure of the tribe. Rejection and ostracism could easily result in death. Our brains evolved to feel rejection in our pain receptors.
Despite the many thousands of years of human experience, modern humans still live in tribes. We tend to call these tribes families and groups. But they are tribes nonetheless. Our brains developed an early warning system so that rejections felt painful enough to make us change our behavior before total ostracism could occur.
We learn early that rejection is a fact of life and we must learn to deal with it. We learn that rejection comes in different degrees of severity and from many different sources. However, even mild rejection can cause chain reactions of memories and painful experiences to recur in the psyche.
Rejections destabilize us. Belonging is our most precious asset and rejection causes us to lose the urge to belong. We withdraw. In severe cases, we can become angry. We can feel the need to strike back – sometimes going as far as mass shootings, aggression, or self-destruction.
Through my illness I learned rejection. I was written off. That was the moment I thought, Okay, game on. No prisoners. Everybody’s going down. – Lance Armstrong
Rejection causes self-doubt. It is a blow to our self-esteem. Yet, if you think about it, a runaway sense of self-esteem is not something to be desired. Social living requires that we temper our self-esteem. Rejection is a tool to keep our expectations and feelings of self-worth in check and balanced. Feelings of rejection do not respond to reason. We either pick ourselves or others apart looking for reasons for rejection. Perhaps we will find a real fault we need to correct and perhaps we will imagine a fault that does not really exist and make it real. Rejection lowers our intelligence and our ability to think clearly. That we will ponder the reasons for rejection is a foregone conclusion: that we will come up with a reasonable solution is not.
Rejection is a universal problem for everyone. Marilyn Monroe said, “Sometimes I feel my whole life has been one big rejection.” We all know where that led.
Billy Joel said, “I really wish I was less of a thinking man and more of a fool not afraid of rejection.”
Bob Dylan said, “The world don’t need any more songs… as a matter of fact, if nobody wrote any songs from this day on, the world ain’t gonna suffer for it. Nobody cares.” I am not certain when Dylan said this, but it had to be during some period when he felt rejected. What he says is both true and false. True, the world does not need any more songs. There are already masterpieces enough for any occasion. But it is false that the world is not going to suffer from the lack of new songs. Songs write and reflect the essence of an era.
The history of our lives is our journey through rejection and acceptance. Some of us are far more adept at recovery and recreation than others. Michael York said, “I think that you have to believe in your destiny; that you will succeed. You will meet a lot of rejection and it is not always a straight path. There will be detours––so enjoy the view.”
Writers, musicians, and artists are old hands at dealing with rejection, yet every rejection is different and every move that we must make to overcome the associated emotions of rejection and pain are unique to the moment.
Taking time to process the rejection is essential. Big rejections do not go away easily. All rejections have a cumulative effect on us. Perhaps only time itself will resolve the problem. Talking with trusted friends helps, so long as we do not do it incessantly. Wallowing in misery is never good. When we find ourselves doing that, we need to do something else.
Airing our feelings of rejection on the Internet is counterproductive. People do not want to hear about our emotional distress. Besides, the Internet never forgets and we will be stuck with our poor attitudes for much longer than we think. Your next boss or your next lover might get a bad opinion of the way you handle problems. The quicker we deal with rejection and move on, the happier we will be. Most rejections are not personal, so we do not need to make them personal. Knowing when to quit is hard, but essential. Some goals that we set for ourselves are bound to be unrealistic. We have millions of goals in a lifetime. Most of them are unrealistic. With time and the help of others around us, we learn to know the difference and teach ourselves to lead balanced lives. We need to realize that we give out rejection as much as we receive it. Giving a person a specific reason for rejection not only makes them feel better, but we are better people for having this ability.
If we cannot get rid of our feelings of rejection, can we treat it like pain and take medications for it? Functional magnetic resonance tests show that people who take acetaminophen daily for three weeks have less pain-related activity in their brains than people on placebos. Daily doses of acetaminophen, it seems, can cure some rejection pains.