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.