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How to deal with getting rejected

Rejection is one of the most common reasons behind losing motivation. Even if people start out confidently, getting rejected can force them to question their capabilities and doubt the path that they've taken to reach their goals.

Psychologists call this 'learned helplessness'. People who have an external locus control i.e. they believe their successes and failures result from external factors beyond their control are more susceptible to learned helplessness.1

Why rejection feels bad

If you're completely sure about your capabilities and believe that your efforts will yield results, then rejection won’t bother you much. Rejection tends to create doubt in you but if your self-confidence level is high enough, it hardly has an effect on you.

People who are self-confident don’t depend on others to tell them who they are and what they can or can’t do. That’s because they know who they are and what they can or can’t do. They don't go around seeking validation from others because they don't lack self-understanding.

But even the most confident of people are sometimes plagued by self-doubt upon facing rejection. The reason why rejection hurts is that we all have a strong need for acceptance. We all want to be liked, loved and admired. Losing the approval of others tends to make us feel bad because it makes us feel unworthy.

Getting rejected by your tribe in the Paleolithic times could have meant death for our ancestors. From this angle, feeling bad after getting rejected serves as a survival mechanism that motivates us to change our behavior to become more acceptable to our tribe.

Studies have shown that the pain one suffers from getting rejected is akin to physical pain. The same neurochemistry and neural circuitry that underlies physical pain underlies the social pain of getting rejected.2

If you find a group of people who encourage you, motivate you and push you to chase your goals you can rest assured that they like you, believe in you and approve of you. This can cancel the effect of the rejections that you get. This way you'd be tapping into your approval seeking tendency to push you instead of hindering you.

What happens when we get rejected

When we get rejected, the first thing our mind does is scan all the reasons why we got rejected. The mind wants things explained and we usually explain any new phenomenon that occurs to us on the basis of our past experiences and knowledge.

dealing with getting rejected
Rejection slips your mind into 'reflection mode' where you try to figure out reasons behind the rejection.

When a person gets rejected, uncertainty befalls him and he thinks, "Was it me or was it them?" especially if the reason for rejection isn't clear to him.

This uncertainty is hard for the mind to handle and so it comes to the conclusion that the blame lies on the rejected instead of the rejector. If you blame yourself you can easily justify your blame with respect to your past experiences versus blaming the rejector whom you hardly know.

Also, if you perceive your rejector as more valuable than you, then also you're likely to blame yourself.

For example, if you apply for a job in a top company and get rejected without knowing why you're likely to blame yourself instead of the company. After all, they're a top company. How can they be wrong, right?

Note that I'm talking about situations in which there's uncertainty surrounding the real reason behind the rejection. If you're sure that the fault lies with you then you should definitely blame yourself and work on improving yourself.

But when a person doesn't know the reason behind rejection he usually attributes the rejection he gets to his own flaws even if the real cause of rejection had nothing to do with that. Sometimes, the reason why you get rejected may have nothing to do with you but everything to do with the rejector.

Unless you can be sure, why ruin your self-esteem by blaming yourself?

Rejection due to jealousy

If you're attempting to do something that others failed to do, or don't believe they could do, it can threaten other people and therefore they might try to stop you by rejecting or criticizing you.

Plus, we all see reality according to our own unique perceptions so you cannot really expect everyone to agree with what you're doing.

Someone has rightly said that if you want to do something that everyone approves of, you won't get anything done. That's true because no matter what you do there will always be people who will find a fault with it just because they see the world differently or they don't like you.

Examples of famous people who got rejected

The mind gets better programmed with proofs. So instead of going on all day talking about why rejection shouldn't bother you, I thought that reading some real facts can convince you better. This list was inspired by a video that I really liked...

Cut from the high school basketball team he went home, locked himself in his room and cried

- Michael Jordan

A teacher told him that he was too stupid to learn anything

- Thomas Edison

Fired from a newspaper because he lacked imagination and had no original ideas

- Walt Disney

Told by a concert hall manager that he was better off driving trucks, his previous job

- Elvis Presley

Accused of corrupting the minds of the youth and forced to drink poison as a punishment

- Socrates

His first book got rejected 30 times. He threw it into the trash but his wife recovered it, read it and then convinced him to re-submit it

- Stephen King

There are hundreds of similar examples out there of people rising despite rejection. They all prove that many of the greatest people who ever lived had to face rejection at some point in their life.


1. Hiroto, D. S. (1974). Locus of control and learned helplessness. Journal of experimental psychology102(2), 187.

2. Eisenberger, N. I. (2011). Why rejection hurts: What social neuroscience has revealed about the brain’s response to social rejection. Brain3(2), 1.

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