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The science of rejection.

Updated: Mar 9, 2022

Rejection hurts.

Interestingly, there is science behind the pain of rejection. Studies incorporating Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) have found that the same area of the brain that is activated when we experience physical pain is activated when we experience rejection. Explains a lot!

When we are rejected, be it the rejection of a love interest, partner, friend or potential job opportunity, it stings. And no-one is immune. Rejection is an inevitable part of living. When we reach for something and our wanting isn't reciprocated, it will naturally feel unsettling, if not demoralizing. Our emotions might range from disappointment to anger, shame, confusion and sadness.

And whilst it hurts, this is all very understandable because rejection destabilises our most basic of needs - the need for belonging. It can be said that the pain of rejection is in fact an evolutionary phenomenon, alerting us (in the days of hunting and gathering) to the danger of being ostracised by the tribe, a threat to our survival.

Rejection is a question of mismatch. An incompatibility or a misalignment of needs and wants - that is all.

The experience of rejection is also hard to forget. It can be re-lived (thanks to our memory stores), particularly where there has been reinforcement or where a pattern has formed that has given the rejection some form of meaning. In other words, we internalise the rejection and attach it to a story about ourselves or to a long-held or disempowering belief.

In the modern day, rejection can result in a significant blow to the ego and to our sense of self-esteem. We might interpret rejection as a question of worth - is this happening because I am lacking, at fault or inadequate in some way? But of course, rejection has no bearing on self-worth, even though it might feel that way.

Whilst it can be difficult to rationalise feelings in the midst of chaos (emotion overrides logic where rejection is concerned), it is important to recognise that rejection isn't personal but more a question of mismatch. Rejection is an incompatibility or a misalignment of needs and wants - that is all.

How to navigate rejection.

Feel it to heal it.

Start by acknowledging the pain of rejection. It doesn't matter how old or young you are, the emotions associated with rejection are real and can be incredibly challenging. Allow yourself to feel through them. Also allow yourself time to process your feelings. Be patient and gentle with you.

Re-frame and affirm.

Once you've had time to process your feelings, decide how you would like to reframe the experience of rejection in a more neutral way e.g., it's not personal, it's also inevitable. Focus on affirming your positive qualities. Remind yourself what you bring to the table.

Connect with people who value you.

Place your time and energy with people who accept and value you. It can be tempting to isolate yourself during times of rejection but connecting with others can help to reignite your wider connection to the world and to re-boot your sense of belonging.

Align with your higher self.

Take time to go within. When we are operating from a cognitive based state, negative thinking can significantly distort the picture. Take a walk in nature, meditate, jump in the ocean, light a candle or practise some deep breathing. When we take time to connect in with ourselves, we are reminded of our truth and from here we are more likely to see the bigger picture.

Consider taking a different approach.

If rejection is a signal of misalignment, perhaps it's worth considering whether something in your life and / or your approach requires some tweaking. Whilst you didn't do anything to welcome the rejection, is it alerting you to a re-route? To obtain a different outcome, would you benefit from doing something differently? Is there an old habit or a pattern that requires examining? It's worth considering.

Try and try again.

To protect yourself from future rejection, you might feel pulled to withdraw from certain scenarios - to stop putting yourself 'out there' and for good reason. Give yourself time where needed but when you're ready, don't give up. The longer we avoid something, the scarier it becomes. Shake the dust from your feet and decide to bounce back. Next! It's the only way forward. And how else are you going to receive all of the wonderful people and opportunities that do want what you have to offer.




The Honour Project.

Disclaimer: the above is informative in nature. The information is not complete or definitive for individual cases, and is not intended as professional intervention. The information in this article does not replace the one to one advice of a registered health practitioner.

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