Let’s Talk About Rejection

Having, once again, crossed that annual hurdle that is Valentine's day, there's no better time to discuss the topic of rejection than right now.

To be human is to experience the gut-wrenching, stomach-dropping feeling of rejection. Unless you never interact with other human beings (in which case it’s unlikely you’d spend enough time on the internet to have come across this article) you’ve probably been there. Having, once again, crossed that annual hurdle that is Valentine’s day, there’s no better time to discuss the topic of rejection than right now.

Source: Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

It’s frequently been said that women don’t handle rejection as well as men do, purely because we’re less used to it. I mean, think about it. In a society that bases arbitrary dating rules on unrealistic and cheesy romantic movies, it’s often expected that the guy will make the first move, right? It therefore makes sense (according to these silly rules in any case) that if men are doing the asking out, women are doing the rejecting, and therefore experience the feelings of being rejected a lot less often.

but does that mean that women experience rejection differently than men, or can’t handle it?

Hate to break it to you, but probably not. A lot of men are extremely poorly equipped to handle rejection (and you can find examples of these trolls all over the internet), and a lot of women are the same. According to Brittany Wong at Huffpost, men and women are just socialised to deal with the pain in different ways, but it doesn’t necessarily make it easier for anyone. Wong spoke to clinical instructor of psychiatry at UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine, Kimberly Resnick Anderson, who said that “if a woman is ghosted or blown off, she will be more likely than a man to take it personally”. She’ll internalise the rejection and assume that she did something wrong to cause it.

Men, on the other hand, frequently externalise the experience.According to Resnick Anderson, “Young men often assume that malice is involved in the rejection,” and can justify aggressive reactions to themselves because they’re already convinced that they’ve been intentionally wronged. Now, obviously there are women who externalise and men who internalise too, and generalising doesn’t get us anywhere

The problem with both these internalised and externalised experiences of rejection is that someone else is triggering those feelings. They represent a lack of understanding of the other person’s experience as a human being, making his or her way around planet earth, doing things and feeling feelings, just like you. In addition, being rejected serves as a giant knock to our self-esteem only when the foundation of that self-esteem is based on the approval and acceptance of others. Herein lies the problem, regardless of the gender of the rejected party.

Resnick Anderson recommends that rejection be reframed as an opportunity for self reflection, writes Wong. “It never feels good to be rejected, but allowing another person to dictate your self worth is a problem”. It’s hard in the age of social media, when we’re all putting our lives on display, practically begging others to double tap our selfies, but it’s important to base our self-worth on factors other than outside approval. Easier said than done, admittedly, but it is possible to work on this, improve it, and in turn strengthen our resilience against rejection.

Source: Vera Arsick on Pexels

Why does it hurt?

It’s not only romantic rejection that stings the ego. Being excluded from a birthday party, or drinks with co-workers can feel just as bad. So bad, in fact, that it’s been suggested by researchers that the pain of perceived rejection is not very different from the pain of physical injury. C. Nathan DeWall, PhD, a psychologist at the University of Kentucky says that this is because “Humans have a fundamental need to belong. Just as we have needs for food and water, we also have needs for positive and lasting relationships” and this need is rooted within our evolutionary history.

According to Kirsten Weir in this article for the American Psychological association, human beings rely on social groups for survival and have evolved in cooperative societies for most of our history. We’re no longer running around hunting our food on the Africa Savannah, and undoubtedly, it’s possible for a person to get by solo with all our modern conveniences, but thanks to millennia of natural selection, being excluded or rejected still causes pain. In fact, social rejection can lessen our quality of life in a number of ways DeWall explains that it can cause an increase in anger, anxiety and depression, and lessen the quality of sleep.

What can we do about?

According to this article by Huffpost, psychologist and author, Guy Winch, Ph.D says that often the rejection only does half the damage and the other half we do to ourselves. “We start with this high volume of negative self-talk and criticism that takes the rejection to another level”.

While being rejected is always going to feel pretty lousy, it can help to know that there’s an evolutionary purpose for those crappy feelings. It’s also crucial to remember that because this negative response to being snubbed is ingrained in all of us, you’re never alone when you’re feeling it. The person who rejected you has, most likely, also been rejected a few times in his or her life.

Furthermore, you probably have, or are going to reject or exclude a few people yourself. The rejection is often less of personal attack, and more about the fact that what’s being offered by one person is not what’s right for another in that moment. And, well, that’s just how life goes. Quite simply, it’s not always about you.

Instead of getting angry, or engaging in negative self-talk when your intended Valentine turns down your romantic gesture, think about it this way: you extended an invitation, and they simply declined it (and such is the nature of invitations!).

So, if you’re one of the many people who asked someone else out for Valentine’s day, and your invitation was not accepted, don’t let it get you down. Not only has that initial sting you felt when they said no kept humanity going for millions of years, but you put yourself out there, and that’s something to be proud of. I’m not saying be an overly persistent creep or anything, but a little rejection should definitely not put you off asking people out (whether you’re a man or a woman). Besides, there’s always next Valentine’s day, and all the days in between. And as they say, there are many fish in the sea (and every one of them has been rejected by another fish too).

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