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Rejection Therapy

Author: Radonda Rowton, LPC

I know what it feels like to be picked last for the team. I know what it feels like to be told, “You are not the person we are looking for”, after doing everything that I knew to do to land that job. I know what it feels like being left out of the conversation. Rejection is ugly. It’s humiliating. It’s painful.

According to Psychological Science, “Rejection, especially social rejection, increases anger, anxiety, depression, jealousy and sadness. It reduces performance on difficult intellectual tasks, and can also contribute to aggression and poor impulse control.” Yet, I have to wonder how well that therapists actually tune into the importance of exploring rejection. It’s easy to express sympathy to someone for experiencing rejection, but it’s it’s also important to view rejection from a traumatic point of view.

There are so many reasons for us as human beings to understand exactly how that rejection effects us. Humans have a fundamental need to connect. Some of the toughest stories that I hear as a therapist have to do with abandonment. We have a basic human need to belong. Matter of fact, from birth, we have relied on our need for acceptance to survive.

Researchers from Purdue University as well as the University of California have actually likened the pain of rejection to the pain of a physical injury. In studies of the brain, reliving the pain of rejection increased activity in the dorsal anterior cingulate and the anterior insula, the same 2 regions that show response to physical pain. In their opinion, a broken heart is not so different from a broken arm.

Fortunately, there are cases of rejection that we can recover from. The easier cases are usually brief instances, and usually with people we are not connected with. But in the cases that usually happen when we are rejected by those we are connected with, the length of the process and how we handle the process matter. The people that tend to take appraisal after the initial pain of rejection has happened fare better than the people who refuse to process. It’s really important to process our pain so that we can take stock and formulate our next steps. Another thing people tend to do is to seek inclusion elsewhere. If our sense of belonging has been impeded, we will need to reconnect. Sometimes that means understanding that some relationships have ended as a consequence for bad behavior, but reconnection with others is usually just a matter of time.

Getting over that breakup or recovering from getting fired will take time, but healthy recovery is possible. Talking through feelings of exclusion is important. The point is to understand what went wrong and what we can learn from this experience. Learning to act in ways that can bring us social success will strengthen our self esteem and broaden our confidence. Talking with a professional will also help us to avoid overgeneralizing and catastrophizing our point of view. This can also bring about change in self awareness and understanding that the needs of self are important, but the needs of the group are also a necessary consideration. Responding with aggressive behavior and insistence in exerting their own sense of control in order to get everyone’s attention can lead to a downward spiral emotionally.

As painful as it is, healing is possible. It may require some work on our part, but anytime that we can learn from a painful situation, growth is inevitable and that usually leads to good things down the road.

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