Let’s just acknowledge up front that it is not a good idea to tell someone to befriend rejection—especially when they are in the midst of a recent encounter with this hard emotion. Yet, developing an inner practice in the face of rejection is essential. Whether starting a new relationship, business venture or position—rejection is inevitable. It is a part of life and comes with the territory of trying anything new.
When we learn to respond well to the sting of rejection, we gain courage. We are reminded of our tenderness, vulnerability and humanity.
When we learn to respond well to the sting of rejection, we gain courage.
Some rejections can take our breath away and leave us reeling and disoriented. When we learn to embrace rejection, we get clear on our own truth, values and standards. The sting informs us of changes we need to make, while also offering respect to our brave and bold hearts.
The common response to rejection is to armor up and go on lock down in order to protect ourselves from this painful emotion. Taking time to convalesce is essential. Yet, be wary of guarding your heart completely against hard emotions like rejection because it too has important lessons that come with it.
The Impact of Avoiding Rejection
When we avoid rejection, we foster isolation, fear and living life on the defense. Avoiding rejection shuts down creativity, innovation and optimism. When we go through life protecting ourselves from rejection, we also end up keeping out the good: love, belonging, joy, hope, faith and connection. These positive emotions are essential to our emotional and relational well-being.
A life avoiding rejection is not a life well-lived. It decreases our capacity to tolerate vulnerability, which Brené Brown, PhD defines as risk, uncertainty and emotional exposure. While it feels safe, avoiding rejection actually keeps us in bondage to fear. We fear the pain so much that we forget to trust in our strength to recover. Responding well to rejection is a muscle that is built over time. Patience and practice are needed.
Avoiding rejection actually keeps us in bondage to fear.
It is important to be gentle with ourselves and others when experiencing rejection. Some rejections that betray safety, trust and dignity take longer to heal from. It is wise to be cautious about when and with whom to open ourselves up to possible rejection during the seasons of healing from deeper trauma.
Finding the Sweet Spot of Caring too Much and Caring too Little
An innate response to rejection is to protect ourselves from feeling pain at all costs. We hear a common cultural message that it is best to respond to rejection with apathy, marked by swagger and hubris. This is a dangerous and lonely path. Our deep desire for love, belonging, respect, dignity and meaningful work still remain despite the rejection—no matter how thick the protective armor we have set in place.
Another response to rejection is going into over-functioning and people-pleasing mode—trying to make everyone happy and ensure results by working harder than others and never disappointing anyone. This is a fast track to burnout, exhaustion, repeated rejection and violations because you are operating out of alignment with your boundaries and values.
Responding to Rejection
When looking at responding to rejection, remember to:
- stay curious about any patterns that show up
- find out what the fears and concerns you have about opening up to rejection again
- assess what fears and concerns are aligned with your values and which ones will move you further away from your integrity and well-being
- witness and respect the pain of rejection and ask your inner critics for space
- practice taking small, intentional risks that focus on what matters most
- offer permission to be imperfect while sorting out which rejections are a part of living a life true to you and which ones are flags on where to realign and repair
How do you respond in the face of rejection? How do you separate your identity from the rejection?
Images via Jason Barbagelott, Darling Issue No. 13