How to Deal With Rejection

Shot of a young woman looking unhappy at home

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Rejection is when we seek out a connection and the object of that connection turns us down.

All people experience forms of rejection throughout their lives, whether they are turned down for a job they wanted, turned down for a date, or experience a friend or romantic partner ending their relationship.

Sometimes, rejection is harsh, and the rejecter might be rude or cruel in their rebuff. Other times, they may let us down gently, and we still experience a strong emotional reaction to the rejection.

Learn about types of rejection and how to cope with rejection in a healthy way.

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Why Rejection Is So Painful

Emotional pain can be intense and can even manifest physically. Research on our brain’s chemical and neurological responses to physical and emotional pain are the same. In other words, we literally feel rejection as physical pain.

We Often Engage in Cognitive Distortion

Sometimes we experience specific rejection as universal rejection. For example, if someone does not get a job that they really wanted, they may take the rejection and feel as if they're not qualified for any job in their field instead of believing that the position was just not a good fit.

This is a form of cognitive distortion that makes the rejection seem larger than it really is.

Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria

Some people, particularly autistic people or those with ADHD, experience rejection sensitive dysphoria (RSD). While RSD is not an official diagnostic term, RSD manifests as strong and severe emotional pain in response to real or perceived rejection. It can be difficult to cope with and cause strong emotional responses.

If you have a history of childhood trauma, you may be more sensitive to rejection as it may trigger memories of abuse and mistreatment.

Additionally, just like different people have different levels of tolerance for physical pain, some experience emotional pain more intensely than others.

Types Of Rejection

Rejection comes in many settings and in different forms. While all rejection is typically painful, you may have stronger reactions to some types of rejection compared to others.

In other words, you may have a different response to the same type of rejection depending on your vulnerability or investment as well.

Relationship and Dating Rejection

When many people think about rejection, they first think about romantic relationships. And during the dating process, rejection may occur at various times in romantic relationships.

Here are some instances of relationship-related rejection:

  • Rejection from a stranger: If you ask a stranger on a date and they say no, that is a form of rejection. This might be upsetting, but you might be able to roll with this experience because they did not know you very well and simply might not have been interested. 
  • Rejection from someone after a few dates: Someone might agree to a date and then either decline to continue seeing you or ghost you after a few dates. This tends to sting more than an initial rejection, as the person got to know you better before deciding they did not want to see you anymore.
  • Rejection from a long-term partner: More significant rejection occurs when you and your partner are in a committed, long-term relationship, and they end that relationship. Sometimes, the relationship is fizzling out, and both parties see it coming. Other times, one person feels blindsided about the breakup. Regardless, breakups tend to be stressful and difficult for everyone involved.

Social Rejection

Not all relationships are romantic. For many, social rejection can be as significant and often even more painful than romantic rejection.

Here are some examples of social rejection:

  • When someone doesn't want to be your friend: Being “dumped” by a friend can be incredibly painful. Sometimes friendships end due to circumstances, and you can gradually lose touch, but other times, friends experience a conflict and end the friendship abruptly.
  • Not being invited to an event or party: If you find out that some of your friends are planning to get together for a gathering and you have not been invited for some reason (maybe it's an event for couples only and you're single) you may feel rejected.
  • Some people still reject those who are neurodivergent/have mental health conditions: Autistic individuals often experience social rejection if they are unable to mask and conform to neurotypical communication styles and standards of behavior. This can leave the autistic person confused if they do not understand what they did “wrong” or why the friend ended the relationship.

Professional Rejection

Rejection can also occur in the professional setting.

Here are some examples:

  • Not being accepted to a college of your choice: If you have your heart set on a college of your choice and you receive a rejection letter, you may question your intelligence and your abilities.
  • Not receiving a job offer: It can hurt if you get turned down for a job you really wanted and you may feel that you aren't good enough for any other job.
  • Not receiving a promotion: You were hoping for a promotion and you may have put in a lot of work and feel that you deserve career success. When you're denied a promotion, it's normal to feel frustrated or even angry that it did not work out.

How Can I Move Past Rejection?

Emotions do not have a set timeline, so you might feel upset or hurt by a rejection for a while. While unpleasant, this is OK!  Here are some healthy and unhealthy ways for coping with and growing from rejection.

Healthy Ways to Cope With Rejection

  • Let go of self-blame. Sometimes rejection happens because of a mistake we made, but ruminating on blame can get in the way of moving forward.
  • See opportunities for growth. Even if the rejection is due to a mistake, you can take the opportunity to learn from it and change how you would approach a similar situation in the future.
  • Engage in self-care. It can be easy to get “stuck” in feelings of rejection, especially if you deal with rejection-sensitive dysphoria. Be gentle with yourself, and utilize coping skills that help you care for yourself.
  • Feel your emotions. Emotions demand to be felt. It can be tempting to bottle up unpleasant feelings to move past them faster, but this can cause them to come back more intensely later. It is OK to honor your feelings.
  • List your successes. Remember that rejection is specific to the situation, even if it feels bigger than that. It can help to remind yourself of times when you were successful.

Unhealthy Ways to Cope With Rejection

  • Don’t take it personally. Again, rejection in one situation is not an indication of your overall worth. Remember that it is specific and situational, and it likely has nothing to do with you.
  • Don’t compare yourself to others. Rejection can sting even more when we see someone else succeeding where we feel we fell short. We are all on our own journey, and it is OK if your story looks different from someone else’s.
  • Don’t downplay your feelings. Rejection is painful. You may feel tempted to downplay your emotional reaction if you feel like others have it worse, but your feelings are still valid and deserve to be felt.
  • Don’t give up. You can grow past this and be successful in the future!

How Can I Deal With a Fear Of Rejection?

As you go through life, you will inevitably encounter rejection. Understand that you can overcome these painful feelings and move forward. Remember that you are not alone, and your experience is valid. It takes vulnerability and courage to keep trying in the face of rejection, and you can get somewhere amazing when you continue pushing forward.

3 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Cacioppo, S., Frum, C., Asp, E. et al. A Quantitative Meta-Analysis of Functional Imaging Studies of Social Rejection. Sci Rep 3, 2027 (2013).

  3. Deguchi NK, Asakura T, Omiya T. Self-stigma of families of persons with autism spectrum disorder: a scoping reviewRev J Autism Dev Disord. 2021;8(3):373-388.

By Amy Marschall, PsyD
Dr. Amy Marschall is an autistic clinical psychologist with ADHD, working with children and adolescents who also identify with these neurotypes among others. She is certified in TF-CBT and telemental health.