Yes, setbacks hurt. Thankfully, our experts reveal how to tap your reservoir of resilience and tackle fear of rejection with calm, courage, and confidence.
1. Turn Hurtful into Heartful
“Rejection hits beneath the higher ‘thinking brain’ in the fear center, so the first thing we have to do is calm our nervous system”, reveals psychotherapist Linda Graham, MFT, the author of Bouncing Back: Rewiring Your Brain for Maximum Resilience and Well-Being. She advises placing your hand over your heart and taking three deep breaths for 20 seconds, all the time needed to “shift out of reactivity into receptivity, so you can admit, Ouch, this does hurt, but everyone experiences it, not just me. Normalizing it helps us begin to manage it.”
2. Consider Your Bigger Story
When part of your identity suffers a setback, look to the other facets that make you complete, urges psychologist Suzanne Degges-White, Ph.D, a professor and chair of the Department of Counseling and Higher Education at Northern Illinois University. “People who don’t take it as personally remind themselves of the many roles they play: I know I’m a giving sister; I know I’m a good friend; I know I’m a hardworking volunteer,” adds psychologist and author of Bouncing Back from Rejection, Leslie Becker-Phelps. “This shrinks rejection in comparison to your bigger sense of self.”
3. Allow Others In
Those of us who are the most sensitive to rejection often have trouble seeing others as “emotionally available”, and resist reaching out when we feel hurt, reveals Becker-Phelps, who says that cultivating your support network starts with one small step: Just tell a trusted friend about your challenge. “Rejection often makes us want to retreat, but healing from it requires the opposite impulse — soon, you won’t feel so exposed, and it’ll feel good to tell your stories.”
4. Bounce Back
We all have experiences that cause our fear of rejection to flare up. Rather than ignore that apprehension, turn it into a “mental movie”, suggests Becker-Phelps. If, say, you’re nervous about meeting someone for the first time, picture not hitting it off — and most important, envision yourself surviving the experience. Simply seeing yourself weather these storms builds trust in yourself that you can handle setbacks, boosting resilience.
5. Pocket the Positives
“Writing down your positive qualities on a slip of paper to carry with you increases confidence”, says Becker-Phelps. Just take out your self-esteem “cheat sheet” and read it when you’re feeling down. “I call it having a pocket full of positivity, so rejection affects you less and you believe in yourself more.”
6. Find Comfort in Ritual
Take rejection as a challenge — not a final answer, urges Degges-White, who advises pinpointing a “rejection ritual” to boost your optimism. “It signals that we can move on, stronger and wiser”, she says. This could be as simple as journaling about a time when not getting what you wanted ultimately led to greener pastures. Or it could literally be creating greener pastures: “If you love gardening, for example, you might plant something the next time you feel a bit rejected as a reminder that you can turn negative feedback into a positive and flourish.”
This story originally appeared in our print magazine.