Let’s be real—rejection sucks. Actually, “it sucks the big one,” says Rachel Wright, LMFT, a licensed marriage and family therapist in New York City. Research even shows that the brain reacts to rejection a lot like it responds to, say, a slap in the face, or a punch in the gut: by releasing natural painkillers to help blunt the agony of the blow. “Heartache is real—it’s not just some metaphorical thing,” says Wright. “Our brains literally experience rejection as physical pain.”
But as long as there are colleges, employers, credit card companies, sports teams, and, of course, relationships, rejection is here to stay. So you better get used to dealing with it STAT.
1. Scratch the word “rejection.”
If someone rejects you, it implies they actively chose against you because of you. But about 90 percent of the time, what happened was because of them, says Terri Orbuch, PhD, a research professor at the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research and author of Finding Love Again: 6 Simple Steps to a New and Happy Relationship. “If you think about it as them, you don’t really have to cope with it,” she says. And, as Wright puts it, “view this as happening for you, not to you.”
2. Don’t blame yourself.
Let’s reiterate: It’s probably not about you. To drive this home, try thinking about the situation using what psychologists call “other-oriented blame statements,” like “He wasn’t ready for a relationship” or “She didn’t get my sense of humor.”
“If you blame yourself,” Orbuch says, “that affects self-esteem and mood and how you feel about yourself going forward.” And that’s not good. Research shows that when people integrate experiences of rejection into their own self-image, the impact lingers. When in self-doubt, remember that rejection has nothing to do with you as a person—it’s more about the other person not being the right match.
Rejection has been around as long as humankind, but dating apps make rejection a lot more in-your-face these days. After all, before swiping left there was… not getting asked out by someone you didn’t even know existed (ah, the good ole days).
Rejection may also just happen more now since dating apps and sites make it seem like there’s an infinite pool of potential partners. “There’s the notion that you can always do better,” says Orbuch. The point (again): It’s not about you. “If you can talk to your friends in the situation, you’ll realize you’re not alone,” says Orbuch. “That helps you with depersonalizing it.”
4. Ask for praise.
Sometimes, you just need people who actually know you and love you to tell you how rad you are. Requesting positive feedback, if you will, can help those loved ones—who, btw, may be tiptoeing around your heartache—feel empowered to help. “Why not just tell your bff or sister, ‘I’m so down, I just got ghosted, can you tell me why I’m OK?'” Orbuch suggests. “That person will have a million compliments to give you and help you feel better about yourself.” After all, what are friends for?
All hail Elle Woods, who said in Legally Blonde, “Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy. Happy people just don’t shoot their husbands, they just don’t.”
But that’s not just an #iconic movie quote, it’s also some solid advice. “Elle had a really important point here,” says Wright, and that’s that movement helps you process emotions and recruit happy feelings to your brain and heart. Plus, research has shown time and again that exercise is a mood enhancer and can also help you feel powerful and in control—exactly what you need after being rejected.
Like exercise, sleep makes pretty much everything better, including rejection. Onestudy showed that sleep-deprived people not only feel lonelier and naturally isolate themselves, but they actually appear more “socially repulsive” to others (according to brain scans), which just perpetuates a vicious cycle of loneliness. Um, bedtime!
Rejection hurts because, on the most basic human level, you want and need to feel like you belong. So, while getting turned down basically makes you think you don’t, volunteering can help you feel like you belong somewhere because you become a part of something bigger than yourself.
Beyond that, volunteer work helps get you out of your head and do something good for the world, Orbuch says. Plus, research has linked volunteering with less depression, greater life satisfaction, and boosted well-being.
8. Get crafty.
The self-blame spiral is real, Wright says, and if you want to break out of it, you may need to activate a different part of your brain than the one the rejection activated. “Allow your brain to go from the rational side to the creative side,” she suggests, by doing something like pottery or art, or listening to mood-boosting music. One studyfound that listening to powerful music like 2 Unlimited’s “Get Ready for This” elicits feelings of power—especially if you’ve cranked up the bass.
9. Be thankful.
Whoever rejected you did you a favor. “Every person who ‘rejects’ you is giving you information about what you want and don’t want—and frees you up to be available for your forever person,” says Wright. “If you want one super successful and happy relationship in your life, a lot are going to have to ‘fail’ to find it. It’s like finding the right pair of jeans… you gotta try a lot on before you find the one that fits your body like a glove.”