Rejection: Can you reject it?

by AnomalousArtist

When thinking about an issue such as rejection, the general consensus is that it's not worth feeling bad about...but can you really control how you feel?

I was in therapy for several years. I admit it freely and openly, I'm *proud* of it. For one thing, going through therapy taught me to re-think my perceptions of what therapy was; I came to see that attending sessions with a counselor of some sort was much less like the ancient, sour "traditional" concept of something you do when you're weak or broken, and more like something you do as an act of inner strength.

Secondly, the company I worked for PAID for counseling if we wanted it...why WOULDN'T a person go?

I always looked at therapy the same way I looked at getting a physical trainer when I first started going to the gym; the expert teaches you proper techniques to build up your strength in order to prevent you from harming yourself!

Of the many things I worked on with my therapist, and one of the bigger issues that came up repeatedly was:


I'm an artist. I bruise easily. I'm a Pisces. I bruise easily *even when no one hits me!* And I have worked in Hollywood for several years. They should take down the big "Hollywoodland" sign and replace it with neon letters spelling out "REJECTION LAND!" It's common knowledge people who work and dwell in entertainment-based arts have to build up a "tough skin."

But you don't have to be a performer or artist to feel rejected. Everyone has wanted something or someone and not gotten it at some point. How does it make us feel? Like jumping for joy? Not likely.

A dictionary defines rejection as refusal of something (i.e., an active action), but I think most of us see rejection as an act of being denied what we want out of life at any given moment (i.e., a passive action you can't control). It is, naturally, something most people avoid, either way. But IS rejection avoidable? And CAN you "deal" with it?

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1) What is rejection?

I would be surprised if any thinking organism over an hour old could not give an answer to the question of what rejection means to it:  A mother "rejects" a baby from her body and this begins a lifelong journey on the part of this being to maintain a sense of security and a balance between what is desired and what is attained.

It's different for everyone; one person will laugh at being rejected by a potential suitor or partner...another will cry when the mail is late, taking this affront personally.  As with everything in life, every individual has her or his unique set of "laws."  For the purposes of this article my definition of "rejection" is the passive version; being refused something or someone you wanted.

2) How does it work?

When you were a child one can assume you were more ego-based and wanted nothing but ice cream all day if you could get it.  Dad or Mom probably told you you COULDN'T have it at some point and you were disappointed, maybe even confused or upset, and learned a lesson about life.  When we're really young we're unable to yet understand how it can be that if we want something, we can't have it.

As we grow we learn how to keep our childish ego in check with rational thoughts and become socialized by interacting with other individuals.  We become our own inner-parent and remind ourselves that sometimes if you grab for all the cookies in the jar you don't get any cookies at all, things based on life experience. 

As an adult, theoretically we "should" know that if we want something and are refused by someone who has the power to refuse us, it's either for our own good, out of our control or we can get what we want some other way.  But it's likely, and common, that the initial refusal will "sting" a little, tap into that childhood feeling of our needs and desires being regulated by a parent or guardian. 

It's possible that this refusal can make us feel worthless, sad, depressed, angry and eventually bitter.  It can be incapacitating, forcing a person into seclusion to avoid being rejected ever again.

The important thing to remember is these feelings associated with rejection aren't automatic.

If you ask someone to hang out and the person says "no thanks" or submit something for approval and it gets rejected you may instantly feel a twinge of upset, and this feeling may be tied into feelings that have seeds in your childhood.  You are not necessarily reacting to the current rejection but some unresolved rejection from your formative years, and since the situation is similar you end feeling the same, without even giving any thought to the matter:  "I got rejected, I feel BAD."

3) Is it OK to feel bad when rejected?

There is a cliché phrase out there that is used to answer this sort of question:  "How is it working for you?"  But it really is a valid question. 

If you are the type of person who can shrug off a lot of rejection (example: You are a writer who has tried to get published and have a notebook full of rejection letters, and expect you'll probably get more before you get published!), if it isn't something you think about you *probably* aren't even reading this, and good for you!

If you are someone who feels a kind of agoraphobia, crippled by fears of the constant rejection of the outside world, you would probably benefit from some professional counseling to help you re-establish healthy contact with the world and get what you want out of life.

If you are someone who feels fairly functional and healthy but is also blocked by a fear of potential rejection, or if you believe that your way of reacting to rejection either real or perceived is a kind of nuisance getting in your way, you can definitely consider "re-thinking" some of these ideas and change your thought patterns with a little work.  Again, uncomfortable feelings you associate with rejection are just that; feelings YOU have assigned.

4) Self-esteem

As with most issues, sensitivity to rejection is mostly likely a matter of self-esteem and feelings of personal worth.  The less self-esteem a person carries, the more likely she or he is to be sensitive to rejection situations.  If you don't feel you "matter" in the first place, a person refusing you what or whom you want can hardly be taken any other way but personally, and those feelings can hurt a lot. 

Self-esteem generally is built (or destroyed) in the developing years of childhood, usually between the ages of 1 and 6, but it's an ever-evolving thing.  It takes time to "set" who you are as a person and how you feel about the world and it takes an equal amount of time to RE-set these things, but it can be done. If you find yourself getting hurt to the point of not trying things for fear of being rejected you owe it to yourself to look into where your fears and bad feelings are coming from, address them and evolve.

5) So what can you do?

As with most issues, the first step is recognizing a situation you'd like to correct.  I'm not a therapist but I  feel confident mentioning the first step is to ask yourself if you feel you have any issues with being rejected and go from there.

The next step is to root out what triggers your unwanted feelings associated with rejection.  Again, not everyone reacts the same to the same things; some people seem to have skin of metal as they try for things and get rejected again and again, some get anxious buying something from a store out of fear of being rejected in some way by the person behind the cash register. 

It's a good idea to carry around a notebook of some kind and jot down when you feel anxious or uneasy as a result of some type of rejection, real or imagined.  You should write down not only what happened to trigger your feelings but how you felt about it ("I felt sick when I asked my co-worker if she'd like to have lunch with me and she said she was too busy, it made me feel like she thinks I'm pond-scum!") When you look at what you've written later it's much easier to see patterns developing.

Once you see these triggers in print it's easier to start asking questions:  "Does my co-worker REALLY think I'm pond scum?  Or was she really just busy?" "AM I pond scum?  Not really, so it must be something else." "Did I not get that promotion because I didn't deserve it or because someone else was more qualified/it wasn't the right time/wasn't in the budget?" "Did my boyfriend not call because I'm not someone worth calling, or because of something going on with him I have nothing to do with?" 

The goal is to establish, in each case where you felt bad about being rejected, whether or not you "needed" to feel bad about it, whether or not there was anything you could even do about it.  If you are refused something you wanted or if someone "turns you down," it's natural to be disappointed, and there's nothing wrong with that feeling at all. We simply can't be happy ALL the time. The unhealthy part is internalizing a refusal and creating a scenario of destructive feelings that go with it.


  •  "I offered some ideas to my boss/friend/partner and got shot down and I felt rotten about it, because I thought my ideas were good." If the person who didn't like the idea "shot it down" does that mean the idea wasn't a good one?  Should you quit coming up with ideas?  Or is there another alternative?
  •  "I really wanted to go out with her/him and worked up the nerve to ask and s/he said no thanks.  Now I'm wondering if ANYone will ever go out with me again!"Can you really see into the future?  Is it realistic to assume you will NEVER date again?  Do you have people in your world--friends, family--who care for you?  Is it possible that you put the person too high on a pedestal?  Maybe you wouldn't have wanted to go out with her or him if you knew the person better.

These are just two examples; the possibilities are endless but the point remains the same:  rejection in and of itself isn't an issue to be dealt with, it's how you FEEL about the rejection.  You can't control how someone else is going to think or act but you CAN control how you react to him or her. 

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6) Exercising muscles of self-esteem

Like everything else, changing a behavior takes time and practice but if you work at it--if you 1) identify rejection situations that make you feel bad, 2) if you identify the feelings you have in these situations/why you have them and if you 3) make a concerted effort to fight those instinct feelings with healthier, rationale thoughts, you are guaranteed to find yourself better at accepting rejection of any kind eventually. 

You can, in fact, reject Rejection!

If any of these resonates with you or someone you know I'd love to hear about it, and please let me know if you have any situations that relate or further clarify ideas on the subject, I'm always interested!

Updated: 05/23/2013, AnomalousArtist
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AnomalousArtist on 06/02/2013

Thank you!

ologsinquito on 06/02/2013

Great advice.

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