Practical Strategies for Treating Rejection, Guilt, Failure

Apr 28, 2014

Credit Liz / Creative Commons

From Faith Middleton: The emotional cuts of daily life are endured by all of us, but one of the most frequent cuts, rejection, can lead to profound consequences -- four different psychological wounds. According to our show guest, Dr. Guy Winch, The Squeaky Wheel blogger for Psychology Today, "Rejections elicit emotional pain so sharp it affects our thinking, floods us with anger erodes our confidence and self-esteem, and destabilizes our fundamental feelings of belonging." 

While many rejections are mild and we eventually recover from them, even the most mild rejection, like a physical wound, can become "infected" and cause serious psychological complications over time. Brain scans reportedly show that even mild rejection registers "significant emotional pain." In fact, the pain from rejection is perhaps the most severe of any psychological wounds, says Winch.

The Greatest Hits of Rejection:

  • Dumped by your mate or date.
  • Fired from your job.
  • Your friends meet up without you.
  • Your boss singles you out for frequent abuse.
  • You are bullied or shunned.

How NOT to Deal with Rejection, according to Dr. Winch:

  • Reason, logic, and common sense are usually ineffective to erase the pain.
  • Anger and aggression are typical responses to rejection.
  • Media are filled with stories of jilted lovers who seek revenge, or harm themselves.
  • Humans are wired to want to feel accepted by others. This is why self-esteem takes a hit. It is common to kick yourself when you're down, despite whether the rejection was justified.

How to Recover from Rejection:

  • Acknowledge that it hurt as soon as possible.
  • Argue with self-criticism. List in writing any self-critical or negative thoughts you have about the perceived rejection. Then list counter arguments for each of them.
  • If it is romantic rejection, understand that people reject romantic partners and prospects for many different reasons, most of which have little to do with anyone's shortcomings. Most often it is a simple matter of chemistry, says Dr. Winch.
  • If you're living through workplace rejection, "carefully consider the extent to which it is motivated by conforming to a negative or bullying corporate culture, acting out of ambition and rivalry, or making efforts to appeal to higher-ups  and superiors. Doing so will help avoid unfounded assumptions about ability and character." (Faith adds, unless of course you are truly screwing up!)
  • Revive your self-worth by making a list of your character traits that others find valuable and desirable.
  •  Seek support from friends and those you trust, or volunteer to help someone else.
  • Find places, people, and work that is a better fit.
  • Desensitize yourself, if you think you can handle it. Apply for jobs, ask romantic partners out on dates. After a while, you will become desensitized to hearing "no." Another word for persistence is resiliency. (Though no means no the first time in certain situations.) 
  • Consult a mental health professional to deal with old persistent pain, or psychological pain so deep that it is wrecking your self-esteem. If you have thoughts of harming yourself or another person, seek immediate help from a professional or head to the nearest hospital emergency room. Remember, feelings change, even when they seem like they never will.

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  • Dr. Guy Winch is author of Emotional First Aid: Practical Strategies for Treating Failure, Rejection, Guilt, and Other Everyday Psychological Injuries. He has a private practice in Manhattan. When he is not working with clients or writing his Squeaky Wheel blog for Psychology Today, he performs stand-up comedy at clubs in the Greater New York area.


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