Rejection – What It Means and How You Can Handle It

It was Nov. 2009.

I was in the first job interview of my life. It was a financial markets related opening. I wasn’t interested in financial markets at all but was quite desperate for getting a (good enough) job out of business school.

As a result, I trembled.

In my mind.

On the surface I was the perfect candidate. I had mugged up the answers to every possible question they could ask, but somehow they managed to see my under-confidence through my well-rehearsed answers (unfair I know).

The result was – yes, you’ve guessed it right – a well-earned rejection.

I didn’t sit for any more interviews that placement season.

If it sounds creepily familiar, join the club. The normal club, that is. Rejection – both romantic and otherwise – is as normal a part of life as sipping your morning coffee. Yet each time it happens, it seems to make you (and I, and everyone else) feel shocked and surprised all over again.

Rejection causes pain and it’s real

What is rejection?

Fundamentally rejection is exclusion – from a group, information, approval, affection or emotional intimacy. If this exclusion is deliberate, our brain interprets it as rejection. Psychologists call this Social Rejection.

Is rejection painful? I know I don’t need to ask you – we all know it does.

Should it feel so lousy? A certain section of self-help experts might use the following myths to demonstrate to you that it shouldn’t.

Myth #1. You can choose happiness as your preferred mental state irrespective of your circumstances.

Myth #2. Having an emotional need for other people’s approval is sick.

Myth #3. Finding happiness alone is a key step to finding happiness in a relationship.

While life would be a lot easier if any of this were true, unfortunately that’s not the case – if scientific research in the field of psychology is anything to go by.

According to Prof. C. Nathan DeWall, PhD, of the University of Kentucky, human beings need emotional connections and a sense of belonging in order to survive, just like they need food and water. (Source: Research also shows that the reactions produced in the brain as a result of emotional pain inflicted by rejection is not very different from those produced by physical pain  (Source: Eisenberger, N.I. & Lieberman, M.D. (2004). Why rejection hurts: A common neural alarm system for physical and social pain. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 8, 294-300,

How to deal with rejection

Does that mean you can do nothing to deal with your pain of rejection constructively?

Fortunately, it doesn’t. True, your pain of rejection isn’t something you can wish away. However, you can control if you feel rejected, before it can hurt you. Here’s a 6 step strategy I use to do just that. While I had mainly romantic rejections in mind while writing this, you’ll find the strategies are equally applicable to dealing with any kind of rejection.

  1. Everyone is not you – No one sees the exact same world that you see. So in most situations, other people can and will react in different ways than you expect. You can’t let this simple expectation vs reality gap hurt you. Acknowledging the differences in people’s viewpoints is the first step to avoiding feeling rejected when you haven’t actually been rejected.
  2. Be prepared for various outcomes – I have a rule of thumb for avoiding surprise reactions from people in any situation. The rule is – I force myself to visualize at least two possible outcomes of any situation – one less favourable than the other. I also make sure each possibility is supported by sound reasoning.
  3. Reasoning out your outcomes: As an example, let’s say you’re about to ask a girl out.

Tell yourself, “There are two possibilities. First, she might agree to out with me as I’m a good-looking, smart, fun guy (use two to three good reasons). Second, she might reject the offer also. The reasons for this could be – she doesn’t want to go out on dates at the moment, she’s interested in someone else already/has a boyfriend, or she’s looking for different attributes than mine in a potential date/boyfriend.”

  1. Be objective: As you realize, we’ve achieved two goals with this reasoning. One, it has forced you to objectively picture both the positive and negative outcomes of the situation. Secondly, it has taken unwarranted emotions out of the negative outcome by logically analysing the possible reasons for it. Going back to the example – here we (you) have identified three possible reasons for a rejection, two of which are unrelated to you. Such analysis would stop you before you can overly personalize any negative outcome.
  2. Minimizing unwarranted personalization: As shown in this example, it’s important to understand that any rejection is largely unconnected to whether or not you’re good enough for someone (or something). It only means what you offer and what is required are different. When the lid of one box doesn’t fit another, we don’t say it’s because it’s not “big enough” or “small enough”. It happens because it’s made for a different purpose.
  3. Seek connections elsewhere: Unfortunately rejection in relationships is a tad more complex. From your partner not meeting your everyday expectations to infidelity – feelings of rejection can come from various sources. And I know that it’s not always possible for you to be prepared.

If it does hit you, the healthiest way to nurse your hurt feelings is to actively create other connections – rekindling your connection with friends and family, forming new friendships and investing in them emotionally, etc. According Prof. Eisenberger, expert in research on rejection, positive interactions release chemicals which produce pleasurable feelings in the brain.

Next time you feel rejected (life being life, the next times are always around) try these techniques. I promise – you’ll handle rejection with way less emotional travails and possibly even channel it to gain more clarity about life.


For the last 5 years Sulagna Dasgupta has been sharing her life lessons with the online community through blogging about relationships and personal development. Her relationships and marriage blog, Love in India is India’s first dedicated blog on the subject – with the mission to facilitate more open thinking about this topic in India in the long run. Everything that she shares here is something that she’s learnt in her own life, through her own relationships. Connect with Sulagna on Facebook to stay in touch.

24 Responses to Rejection – What It Means and How You Can Handle It

  1. Farouk says:

     great post
    success in life is all about learning how to get past rejection

  2. “When the lid of one box doesn’t fit another, we don’t say it’s because it’s not “big enough” or “small enough”. It happens because it’s made for a different purpose.”
    This is a great way to view rejection. 

    Difficult, no doubt. 

    When in the midst of an emotional state it is hard to feel anything other than rejection. But when a little rationality returns, it helps to remember that it is not rejection, just an incorrect fit.


  3. Tina Morgan says:

    This post is perfect timing.

    I am asking the man I am in love with tonight if he feels the same way… thankfully I read this beforehand so that I will be a little prepared for both options. And if it doesn’t go the way I would like… maybe you are right. Maybe it would have been an “incorrect fit”.

  4. Dan Erickson says:

    As I get older, I’m less worried about rejection.  I rarely even look at rejection as rejection.  I look at it as another experience on my overall journey living a successful life.

  5. Aaron Morton says:

    great article – one that highlights a big obstacle for people in achieving their outcome. The fear of rejection will stip people in their tracks.

    The Confidence Lounge

  6. Ian in manc says:

    A trick I use is to remember that you only need to be successful once, the number of fails don’t matter. If you get 15 failed job applications does that matter if you go and get the 16th?

  7. LoveinIndia says:

    That’s wise Ian – applying the simple principle of statistics that each job application is an “independent event”, their probabilities of success are not correlated! 
    Thanks for commenting :)

  8. LoveinIndia says:

    As in the dictionary, in life too success comes after failure. 😉
    Thanks for dropping by Aaron. 

  9. LoveinIndia says:

    With experience comes wisdom. And with wisdom comes perspective. 
    You’re bang on when you mention that a failure is just another experience, just another lesson. Thanks :) 

  10. LoveinIndia says:

    Tina – you made my day! 
    Fingers crossed you should find true love in your life no matter what happens in the immediate present. :) 
    Thanks for commenting. 

  11. Ben says:

    Hi Sulanga,
              Yes rejection is a part of life. You may not be able to completely eliminate the need for approval, but I still think it’s important to work on it. Since i’ve done that things have improved so much.

    The things you refer to as myths in my experience are all important things to work on. Though I wouldn’t go as far to say as the need for approval is sick. Just that having less of that will make your life better and make you happier.


  12. LoveinIndia says:

    Thanks for commenting Trevor. :) 
    True, it’s challenging to build a structure of logic in the midst of the raging ocean of emotions, when rejection hits you. But when was anything worth achieving ever easy? 😉

  13. LoveinIndia says:

    You’re right Farouk. 
    Thanks for commenting. :) 

  14. LoveinIndia says:

    Thanks for your thoughtful comment Ben. :)

    I think you and I are completely aligned here. :) Let me tell you how. 
    By nature humans are social animals. A need for belonging – which drives the need for approval – is as basic to human nature as the need for food and water. Having said that, I agree with you on the fact that a particular form of it is downright wrong and unhealthy – the need for UNIVERSAL approval. We certainly need a sense of belonging – in SOME group. To SOME people. However, we don’t need it from everybody we meet. I think when you say we should work on our need for approval, you mean the unhealthy need for approval from people in general. And I’m totally with you on that. As for the other principles, I look at them this way – they are like band-aids. 

    Do they serve a purpose? Definitely. Namely that of providing temporary calm and balance to someone who believes them. 

    Can they serve as a long term cure? Probably not, since they’re at loggerheads with human instincts as Mother Nature created them. For example, the commonly held belief that if your’e not happy alone you’ll never be happy in a relationship. Well that’s not scientifically tenable, you see. Man is a social animal, Man is NOT meant for being happy alone. The tiger for example is a solitary animal – MEANT for being happy alone. You see the basic biological difference?

    Loneliness is not a thought, it’s an instinct – given by Nature to us so that we’ll go out and find other members of the species and socialize. That’s Nature’s intention. 

    Having said that, as intelligent thinking beings, humans are individuals. Some of them have a greater capacity of being at peace with being alone. Some of them even prefer it to being with someone/in a group. But if it doesn’t come naturally to you, don’t blame yourself – it’s just Mother Nature working her way inside you. :) 

    Thanks again. :) 

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  19. I really liked the little analogy you made to the lid not fitting on the box- sometimes that’s all it really is. Unfortunately, some people are just already so insecure that they can’t help but take things personally.

  20. LoveinIndia says:

    Thanks Rynessa. :)

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  23. Redbay19 says:

    I struggle with universal approval. This holds me back from asking the girls of my dreams out. Holds me back from doing what I love. Holds me from being myself because I might be excluded or humilited or someone will get mad. I think this article has opened up my eyes more so about why I am holding back. It really put a new light on things! Thank you!

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