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What Rejection Does to You – The Psychology Behind Rejection

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Most people who have succeeded in life have encountered rejection at some point. Regardless of age, social class, and gender, rejection is a universal experience that every human is bound to encounter. For many people, rejection can lead to pain and anxiety.

Yet, it’s important to note that rejection often serves as a catalyst for growth, encouraging individuals to strive harder and reach for their goals. It’s through these challenges that we learn resilience and develop the tenacity to navigate life’s complexities. Ultimately, the way we handle rejection can shape our trajectory, transforming what might initially seem like a setback into a powerful stepping stone towards success.

What is rejection?

Rejection is either the decision not to accept someone for a job, course of study, etc., or the actual experience of not being accepted. Rejection can take many different forms; for example, not being accepted into a diploma program, not receiving your ideal job offer, not having your work published, or having your marriage proposal rejected are just a few examples of rejection across different areas of life. Accepting rejection can be a bitter pill to swallow, and it can hurt more than expected, especially when we feel we’ve already endured our fair share of disappointments.

What is the psychology behind rejection?

The psychology behind rejection reveals the problems rejection can cause and how to manage them. Evolutionary psychology focuses on the study of behaviors, thoughts, and feelings as they relate to our evolutionary survival instincts. This field of psychology explains that pain receptors that process bodily pain transfer pain impulses to the brain in the case of rejection. The human brain processes the pain of rejection in the same way it processes physical pain. Evidence suggests that the same part of the brain is triggered when we experience physical pain and rejection. In other words, how you feel when you break your shoulder is similar to how you feel when your crush gives you a cold shoulder, when you don’t get your ideal job, or when you never hear back from a company about an application you submitted.

The sting of rejection hurts. It inflicts psychological wounds that can affect our self-esteem, leading to self-blame, shame, humiliation, etc. However, most of the time, we are so uncomfortable with rejection that we avoid doing the very things that might benefit us. If your food is so hot that it burns your tongue, you would likely wait until it cools down. Similarly, emotional pain, which is a natural response to rejection, often makes us consciously or subconsciously avoid getting into situations where we have experienced rejection or expect it to happen again. This mindset can affect the goals we intend to accomplish and the ideal life we dream of.

How should rejection be handled?

  • Recognise your emotions. Experiencing rejection can be painful and hurtful, similar to accidentally touching a hot iron. Accept the circumstance that made you feel rejected and allow yourself to experience it. When rejection happens, we may want to act like it never occurred, which prevents us from effectively confronting and handling it. However, we must constantly remind ourselves that the pain of rejection is a normal feeling, and just like physical pain, it will pass.
  • Shift your focus. Learn to Put in the Work Success in life is largely about effort and diligence. The majority of the rejections we face should not be taken personally. For instance, if your piece was not published, it might be because it didn’t follow the guidelines for the journal to which it was submitted, not because you weren’t good enough. Maybe your proposal was not selected because you couldn’t meet the submission deadline.
  • Practise self-love. We all have our strengths and weaknesses, and no one is perfect. At some point in our lives, rejection happens to us all. The greatest way to deal with the feelings of rejection is to love yourself. Self-love originates from within, and a healthy dose of it can make the emotional scars brought on by rejection less painful. Be kind to yourself and take care of yourself. Recognize that there are some things you cannot control. This will enable you to develop self-confidence that is not dependent on validation from external sources.
  • Turn rejection into an opportunity for learning and growth. Imagine applying for an internship at your dream company. You have a great interview, but you don’t get the internship. You might feel dejected at first, but upon closer inspection of the organization’s goals and the skill sets required for the role, you realise that there are major skills you don’t have. This realisation can lead you to build on your existing skills and develop new ones. After a few months, you might find that your new skills have helped you secure an even higher position in your dream company. Rejection can provide opportunities for growth. So, view rejections or rejection emails as opportunities and position yourself for growth.


Rejection is an inescapable facet of life. It’s something we all grapple with, often accompanied by a raw, piercing emotional pain. But it is essential to remember that rejection is not the end but a significant component of our journey. It serves as a stepping stone to success, instilling resilience and providing opportunities for personal growth and self-improvement.

Embracing rejection and learning from it enables us to build a sturdy foundation of self-confidence, unaffected by external validation or approval. In doing so, we build an indestructible inner strength that allows us to overcome obstacles and ultimately achieve our dreams. So, the next time rejection comes knocking, greet it not with fear but with courage, knowing that each rejection brings you one step closer to your destination.

Grace Sanusi is a counselling psychologist. She indulges in her passions outside of her professional pursuits.

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