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The Secrets to Dealing With Rejection, According to Experts

7 minute read

Rejection hurts. And it hurts regardless of who is rejecting you or how you’re getting rejected.

Research confirms it, finding that when people get rejected, they often feel jealous, lonely and anxious.

What’s more, we tend to incorrectly interpret the hurt we feel, viewing rejection as an indication of our self-worth, leading us to feel even worse, says Guy Winch, a psychologist and author of Emotional First Aid: Healing Rejection, Guilt, Failure, and Other Everyday Hurts.

But even though it’s painful, rejection can actually benefit you. Getting rejected can build resilience and help you grow and apply the lessons you learn to future setbacks, Winch tells TIME. Of course, to reap the benefits, you have to deal with rejection in the right way.

Here’s how to deal with rejection in almost any common scenario, according to experts.

You had a career setback

When it comes to careers, the pressure to get into the best school or land the perfect job is high. Too too often, people look to external forces instead of internal ones to feel validated, says Beverly Flaxington, a life and career coach. “Many people haven’t learned healthy self-esteem,” she says.

That means that rejection when it comes to your dream opportunity can be shattering. If you have a setback, try to remember that your career path is not a straight line and not every experience is going to move you forward. “Sometimes we are meant to add to our experiences and go in another direction, sometimes we are meant to reinvent ourselves and sometimes we are meant to put something to the side and say goodbye to it forever,” Flaxington says.

If you find yourself seeking the next promotion or job title in an attempt to validate your own self-worth, consider checking in with yourself to make sure it’s your current career that’s truly fulfilling without those things. If not, it may be time to look for other opportunities, she suggests. A job you love can fulfill you in important ways by building self-esteem because you’re enjoying your meaningful work, not to measure your worth based on a job title or something that seemingly checks some box. That, along with practicing positive self-talk and self-compassion (yes, even giving yourself compliments in the mirror,) can change the perception of rejection from a “goal-ender” to a “pivot.” Chalk it up as growth and think of it as a new path that could eventually lead you to where you were meant to be. A setback doesn’t make a goal unattainable, it just might take longer to get there.

You’re going through a breakup

Whether you’re dealing with a breakup or a casual date stops responding to you, Winch says it’s easy to idealize both that person and the relationship amid feelings of rejection. We tend to only remember the good times. To make matters worse, sometimes a relationship’s ‘failure’ can make us feel inadequate and unworthy, he cautions, adding, “that’s an incorrect assumption.”

Try this. After a split, make a list of all the traits you didn’t appreciate about your partner. Reading this every day can help you become aware of the ways you weren’t compatible and pinpoint the characteristics you want in your next partner, Winch says.

In looking for other potential partners, try asking questions about the values that are truly vital to you. “It’s important to match on what matters,” says Melissa Hobley, chief marketing officer of OKCupid. This can help you form a closer connection, increasing the likelihood of a lasting partnership, she notes.

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A friendship ended

Friendship breakups are oftentimes more hurtful than romantic ones. But Flaxington says to remember that while a friendship’s end can be painful, it’s also normal for friends to come and go.

Just as you would with a romantic relationship, flip the narrative, says Winch. Consider it your opportunity to ask yourself if this is the type of person you want to be friends with. He says if the answer is no, it makes the pain hurt a little less and helps you seek out friends who are much more compatible with you.

After some time has passed and if you find yourself missing that person and that friendship, Flaxington suggests reaching out to see if the person wants to get together. Timing is key here. Time can allow people to approach a friendship with a new perspective, she notes.

You may want to also consider redirecting your attention to the friendships worth keeping. Focusing on strengthening your existing friendships — and reaching out to people you haven’t been close to before — is also important for maintaining a strong social network, says Winch.

A family member cut you out

We are often taught that our family’s love is unconditional. But both Flaxington and Winch agree there are exceptions to this rule. For example, when married couples divorce, children can sometimes side with one parent and alienate another, Winch says. And when family members reject each other, it can be excruciatingly painful.

If you’re feeling rejected by a family member, turning to online forums to connect ((Winch suggests Reddit) or reaching out to friends to find support from others going through similar situations can help you see how others have effectively handled the situation.

“Our assumption is that there’s nothing we can do [about getting rejected] and we should just sweep our feelings under the carpet,” Winch says. “When you educate yourself and learn more about [the rejection], you begin to understand why you feel the way you do.”

Social media has you feeling down

Research finds social media can negatively impact our self-esteem and damage our well-being.

Sometimes we think we’re being rejected when in reality we’re not. Not collecting a lot of likes on a post, not getting followed back, or not having a mass following or seeing your friends at a party, event, or anywhere having fun without you can feel like a rejection and leave you feeling like an inadequate outsider, says Flaxington.

But there are ways to use social media in a way that makes you feel included and connected to others. Winch recommends using social media for conversations — send direct messages to friends or comment on friends’ posts instead of just scrolling through photos so you can be a part of the conversation and interact in a positive way.

Following people online and surrounding yourself with those in real life who make you feel like you belong can also help you feel secure and included and more connected. “We’re tribal; we want to feel that our tribe is with us…[and] make you think, ‘yes, these are people of my tribe,” Winch says.

Most importantly, when you find yourself feeling left out or feeling jealous over a social media post, be mindful of the way you talk to yourself. Remind yourself of all of the positive things and people in your life or what you have to be grateful for, says Flaxington.

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