There’s no denying it: rejection hurts. It happens regularly in life and each time it takes us by surprise. But we’re not alone and there are things we can do to help soothe our battered self-worth and breaking hearts. It can be a big life event such as divorce or redundancy, or small daily niggles such as social media silence or not enough ‘likes’, but it all feels painful.
There’s a lot going on in the brain when we experience rejection. In fact when we talk about the ‘sting’ of it, we’re not far wrong. Studies have shown that the same areas of the brain are activated during physical pain that light up in times of rejection. As always our brains are trying to tell us something. This probably stems from our evolutionary past when ostracism from the tribe could actually prove fatal. We have developed a requirement to belong in order to survive, so if we are not welcome in a social setting our ancient neural pathways light up in alarm. This brings pain, confusion and that familiar enemy – self-doubt.
When we are rejected we too often turn it inwards and blame ourselves. Suddenly we’re not good enough, attractive enough, funny enough, successful enough to be accepted. This attack on our self-esteem deepens the pain of rejection and delays emotional recovery. And perhaps unsurprisingly rejection does not respond to reason. We remain hurt, angry and wallowing in self-blame.
Creatives certainly hear the word ‘no’ a lot. Putting your work out there for approval is vulnerability in action – much like putting your heart on the line in relationships. Being vulnerable is leaving yourself open to rejection. It’s difficult. But so much is lost if we hide and try to avoid it.
Think of a world without Harry Potter, Apple devices, or Disney movies. JK Rowling famously received dozens of rejections for her boy wizard. Steve Jobs was fired before returning twelve years later to transform the company. Walt Disney was let go from a local paper when the editor noted that he “lacked imagination and had no good ideas.”
So here’s the lesson: accept vulnerability and know that rejection may follow. And when it does, remember that it is subjective. Soothe your emotional pain and stabilise your need to belong by surrounding yourself with supportive people who love and accept you.
“Vulnerability is not weakness, and that myth is profoundly dangerous; vulnerability is our greatest measure of courage.” Brené Brown