Emotional contagion is real, and you can use it to your advantage.
There’s a quote from Steve Maraboli that says, “Every time I thought I was being rejected from something good, I was being redirected to something better.”
I try hard to live by that quote. In fact, professionally, I’ve never let rejection weasel its slimy way into my soul and settle there. As a young professional, with more cockiness than I had right to claim, I once heard a mentor say if she didn’t get rejected twice before breakfast she wasn’t working hard enough.
And so I adapted that mantra. Rejection was welcome. It meant I was trying, working hard, putting myself out there. Since my profession was rejection-centric, maybe I got more practice than others but I learned early that I could move on from most any rejection likening it to the taking-my-toys-and-going-home days of childhood. Of course, that’s not to say there wasn’t an occasional sting, a tub of Ben & Jerry’s, an hour or two of wallowing before acceptance.
Sure, rejection is hard. We want the job, the house, the baby, the guy, the bonus, the promotion. Some rejections are harder than others. Let’s say personal ones, for instance. When my marriage was on its last legs, I had this come to grips weekend with my now ex-husband in which we hashed and rehashed each and every personal wound I felt he had inflicted. It was ugly and exhausting, and I was left emotionally and physically drained.
Then I took the dogs for a walk and a loose cannon of fluffy white fur bulleted out of his yard to attack my Cocker Spaniels. When the owners and I were finally able to separate the dogs, without injuries, the woman proceeded to scream at me and my dogs. Her dog, not properly leashed, had just attacked mine, yet there she was berating us for walking by. I was too stunned and emotionally fried to say a word. I simply walked away.
It was only much later I realized that if I hadn’t been lain so bare by rejection and hurt feelings from my personal situation, that I would have easily put that woman in her place. In essence, I had been emotionally wounded into acquiescence, one side effect of rejection.
When researchers put people in an fMRI and asked them to conjure up the last rejection they experienced, they were surprised to learn that the same areas of our brain become activated when we experience rejection as when we experience physical pain. That’s why even small rejections hurt more than we think they should, because they elicit literal though emotional pain.
What’s more, in order to see if pain relievers aid rejection, scientists gave volunteers over-the-counter acetaminophen (Tylenol) or a placebo daily for three weeks. Compared with the placebo group, volunteers who took the drug recounted fewer episodes of hurt feelings in daily self-reports.
Since rejection feels like crap, it’s no wonder a pain reliever actually works.
Nonetheless, being on the receiving end of a social rebuff actually causes a cascade of emotional and cognitive consequences, such as anger, anxiety, depression, jealousy and sadness that an over-the-counter pain reliever won’t likely touch. Being rejected can reduce your performance on tasks and contribute to aggression and poor impulse control. Plus, you’ll sleep poorly and get sick more frequently than your peers who are more socially connected. But let’s not let it come to that.
So how do you handle rejection? You didn’t get what you wanted, you were voted off the island or told no. How can you immediately understand that you’re being redirected to something better? Is that power only available to steadfast optimists, or is it something we all can harness?
Practice these six anti-rejection rules the next time things don’t go as you planned:
You didn’t get the thing you wanted but believe that something better is bound to come along.
Know that a little rejection must fall on us all. If you’re pursuing your passions and living up to your potential, you are bound to experience some rejection. Accept it.
Rejection often makes you stop and assess if something is wrong with you. Why didn’t I get the promotion, why doesn’t my crush like me, how come I never get picked for the best work projects? Assessment is a good thing if you think there’s something you should work on, like your reticence to speak up more at meetings, but nix the self-criticism, it doesn’t help you move past the pain.
Some rejections feel like they may lay you bare. Let them. When you have time, energy, love or passion in play, those dismissals can feel personal. So wallow, scream, cry, cuss, eat ice cream, rant to a trustworthy friend and then stop with the stinging portion of the program.
When your mind is running a mile a minute with all the reasons things might have gone wrong, take ten minutes to just breathe and note the thoughts as they pass. You didn’t get hired by that company? Another one will want you. Rebuffed by a love interest? There are plenty of fish in the sea. Don’t be stymied by single incidents where you weren’t chosen. Your self-worth does not hinge on any one occurrence of rejection. And ten minutes of meditation can help show you that.
See if there’s a tidbit of wisdom, a kernel of advice, a nugget of perception to be gained from each rejection—something you’ll know better next time.
Finally, if you suck at being rejected, practice. Jia Jiang, author of “Rejection Proof: How I Beat Fear and Became Invincible through 100 Days of Rejection,” was crippled by an investor’s negative response to financing his company. So he researched rejection therapy and practiced looking for rejection on a daily basis. He constantly made ridiculous requests to strangers, showing up at random parties and asking to join in, for instance. Rejection is constant, if you put yourself in its path often enough, you’ll eventually figure out not only how to move past it but that something better is usually on the horizon.
The author of this post is an editorial contributor to Headspace. These are their views, experiences and results and theirs alone. This contributor was paid for their writing.